As Detroit auto show nears, a scramble on Cobo’s floor

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

You wouldn’t know Cobo Center will host the nation’s largest auto show in less than a week by looking at the state of the showroom floor on Monday.

“We pull it off every year,” North American International Auto Show Chairman Ryan LaFontaine said Monday while escorting Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and members of the news media through a maze of unfinished displays, shipping crates, construction equipment and forklifts. The carpet hasn’t even been laid. “We’ve got a great team of people, everyone participates, all the workers do a phenomenal job, and it’s just a rally right until the end.”

The show kicks off Sunday for media preview days. Public days begin Jan. 20, and the show expects around 700,000 people to visit Cobo for the week-long auto show.

And that makes the show marking its 30th anniversary this year a massive inflection point of a city in the global spotlight as Duggan and others continue to guide a once-bankrupt city back to ranking among other world-class destinations.

People used to come “to the Cobo structure, see the show and leave,” Duggan said Monday before walking the show floor. “What we’ve seen the last couple years is people visiting the restaurants, visiting the shops, enjoying the city of Detroit. It’s a really important time for the city.”

The auto show is a big tourism draw for the city, but it’s also a chance for Duggan and Gov. Rick Snyder to court businesses on locating new facilities in Detroit or Michigan. Duggan said the Detroit auto show’s expansion and extension of the AutoMobili-D facet this year follows the industry-wide focus on autonomous vehicles and new technology.

Politicians and the show leaders are angling to keep Detroit and its auto show a key parts of the global industry.

“I spent a week in China with the governor talking with the top tech companies,” Duggan said. “There’s a debate if you’re going to invest in the United States, do you go to Silicon Valley or will you come to Detroit? And I think we made a very compelling case that if you’re an auto tech firm, you want to be here.”

Duggan said there will be major announcements in the areas of autos and technology this year at the show, though he would not say when exactly those will come, or what they will entail.

The mayor was focused on the metal at the show during his quick tour Monday. Representatives from Toyota Motor North America, General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV gave Duggan a rundown of their plans for the show.

Duggan couldn’t hide his own intrigue, at one point prodding a Fiat Chrysler spokesman for more information about plans for the show.

“Are we gonna see a Wrangler pickup?” Duggan asked. The Fiat Chrysler employees laughed the question off. The Wrangler pickup is expected on sale in late 2019.

That said, pickups are expected to rule the 2018 show. Detroit’s Big Three are expected to make big news there, including a new Silverado, Ram redesign and Ford rumored to be preparing to show a Ranger small pickup.

The show opens Jan. 20 to the public. Public Days hours are 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Jan. 20-27, and 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Jan. 28. Early access is available for handicapped individuals at 8 a.m. daily. Tickets are $14 for adults, $7 for seniors and children ages 7-12; under age 6 free.

Detroit auto show

The North American International Show is coming, with media days Jan. 14-16 and public days Jan. 20-28. Here are the events open to the public.

The Gallery of luxury cars, 6:30-11 p.m. Saturday. Tickets: $250.

Charity Preview, 6-9 p.m. Jan. 19. Tickets: $400.

Public show, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Jan. 20 - Jan. 27; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Jan. 28. Tickets: $14; $7 ages 7-12 and 65+.

Tickets and information: