January's Detroit auto show looms, but eyes are on June 2020
Two numbers tell the tale of January's Detroit auto show: After 69 vehicle introductions in 2018, organizers expect just 30 debuts next year. That's largely because major European luxury-makers and other companies have decided not to attend.
But the Detroit Auto Dealer Association, which runs the event, is looking ahead to 2020 when the show transitions from chilly January to sunny June.
Representatives from the DADA teased details of the 2020 autopalooza on Friday. While Cobo Center will still be the epicenter with manufacturer auto displays, the show will expand outdoors to provide show-goers with opportunities to drive cars and interact with Detroit's resurgent downtown restaurant and social scene.
The show will take over 14 acres of Hart Plaza along the Detroit waterfront, spilling into Spirit Plaza and Campus Martius. There will be food trucks, live entertainment and experiential displays. Automakers are determined to move beyond static displays to give customers an opportunity to experience their products in motion — a staple of the sunshine-drenched Los Angeles auto show that takes place in early December.
"The 2020 show will be transformational," said North American International Auto Show Vice Chairman Doug North, a local Ford dealer. "Exhibitors will display outdoor experiential brand activations and immerse attendees in actual product experiences. We will... show the world the renaissance the city of Detroit is experiencing with cultural attractions, a phenomenal waterfront and cuisine second to none."
Since announcing the June date this fall, organizers have compared the 2020 show to the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England, a sprawling four-day July extravaganza.
"We're impressed with the ways Goodwood has diversified into a festival atmosphere with food and entertainment in addition to cars," said Detroit Show Executive Director Rod Alberts who visited Goodwood this summer. "It's an opportunity for showgoers to get out and have fun with more than cars."
The show this January will preview the idea of "experiential activations": Two yet-unnamed automakers will use the Cobo floor for car rides. Organizers are encouraging innovation this January, given the extra floor display space opened by by the loss of show staples like Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Porsche and Mini Cooper.
The 2019 show continues to expand its Automobili-D tech conference — which debuted in 2017 — running from Jan.14-17 this year. Automobli-D will coincide with media debut days Jan.14-15, industry days Jan. 16-17, with the Charity Preview ball wrapping up the week on Jan. 18 (an event that has raised $120 million since 1976 for local children charities).
Public days will follow Jan. 19-27, including a family day Jan. 21, which is Martin Luther King Day. Of the 30 reveals, expect muscle cars like the Mustang GT500 and Toyota Supra.
Come 2020, everything will be completely different.
The show will become part of a month-long, downtown Detroit summer celebration, beginning with the Belle Isle Grand Prix that runs May 29-31, and ending with the river-front Ford Fireworks display June 22.
The show will be the meat of the sandwich, running from the opening of the tony, exotic-car Gallery event on June 6 until the end of Public Days on June 20. In between will be a circus of media debut days, charity ball and sprawling public day activities.
"The event will continue to have a media focus," said Alberts of a show that attracted 5,078 journalists this year from 67 countries. "But it will have much more engagement with product for the public."
The DADA, which upped the Detroit Show to an international showcase in 1989, is working closely with the Detroit Three automakers to take advantage of Detroit's assets, including breezy June summer days.
"The Big Three are all collaborating on this because it's good for the city," said Terry Rhadigan, a GM spokesman.
Organizers are throwing everything at the wall to see what will stick, including using Belle Isle, post-Grand Prix, as a test facility for auto rides both personal and autonomous.
Speaking of autonomous, by 2020 autonomous auto services will be live across the country with Google's Waymo and GM's Cruise promising major programs in San Francisco and Phoenix. Detroit organizers are aware that Toyota will be the official auto sponsor of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in July to showcase their self-driving tech in venue-to-venue shuttles.
"We have already had inquiries from two companies about a similar arrangement here," says a DAD spokesperson.
The DADA is eyeing the Cobo Roof — an expanse as big as the show floor inside. Though traditionally used for parking, the DADA sees an opportunity for food and interactive displays there as well.
"We can do things that nobody has ever done before," said North. "It's an opportunity to see Detroit in a whole different light."
"Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.