Detroit's final January auto show prepares to go out with a bang

The NAIAS may have fewer debuts, but Cobo will still be packed with cars

Paul A. Eisenstein
Special to The Detroit News

Correction: The Gallery luxury car event will take place at the MGM Grand Detroit. The location was wrong in an earlier version of this story.

 There are two things you normally can count on if it’s January in Detroit: cold, snowy weather and the North American International Auto Show. 

Volkswagen, the only European automaker coming to the auto show floor this year, plans to show an all-new version of its largest sedan, the 2020 Passat.

  So far this year, Mother Nature has been unusually kind, and as for the NAIAS, this will be the last time you'll need to hand over your parka at the coat check.  Beginning next year, Detroit's auto show becomes a June event. 

The show's gradual downsizing in recent years due to mostly European brands taking a pass on Detroit continues for the 31st running of the NAIAS.  With BMW and Mercedes-Benz opting out this year, Volkswagen will be the only European brand with a booth at the Detroit show.


That said, it remains one of the most important automotive events in the country, with hundreds of new cars, trucks and crossovers set to fill Cobo Center. That includes about 30 models that will make their global or North American debut during the annual media preview.

Among the new models coming to this year’s show:

  •  Cadillac’s newest SUV, the big and lavishly equipped XT6;
  •  An all-new version of the familiar Ford Explorer;
  •  All-electric concept vehicles from Nissan and its upscale Infiniti brand;
  • The biggest Kia ever, the three-row Telluride SUV;
  •  The eagerly awaited Toyota Supra, making its return after a nearly two-decade absence;
  • More hot performance cars, including Ford’s 700-hp Shelby GT 500 and the Lexus RC F Track, and
  • Ram's massive new HD pickup, pushing the boundaries in the fierce truck competition.

The two-day press preview, Jan. 14-15, has typically drawn as many as 5,000 automotive journalists to Detroit from every corner of the globe. For those who don’t have a press pass, there will still be plenty of reasons to head downtown. The auto show has, in recent years, been transformed into a collection of events with appeal to consumers and industry insiders alike.

Again this year, there's a special event for those interested in some of the world’s most exclusive vehicles. The Gallery will showcase brands that include Aston Martin, Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche and Rolls-Royce at the MGM Grand on Saturday, Jan. 12.

For those who prefer old classics, this year’s auto show actually already has gotten underway with the start of “Drive Home IV,” a 10-day road rally in vintage vehicles that, organizers explain, “celebrates America’s motoring legacy throughout the country.” Participants began their tour in Houston on January 3rd and will wrap up their drive with a run down Woodward Avenue on Saturday the 12th.

The increasingly well-attended show-within-a-show called Automobili-D explores the vast transformation expected to sweep through the automotive world over the coming decade with the arrival of connected, autonomous, shared and electrified vehicles – “CASE,” in industry lingo.   Reflecting the growing ties between Silicon Valley and the Motor City, Automobili-D draws a mix of classic “gearheads” as well as the “geeks” leading the digital revolution, for four days of networking and symposiums, Jan. 14-17.

"Each year AutoMobili-D has built upon the prior year's success with growing startup participation," says 2019 NAIAS Chairman Bill Golling.  "In fact, we'll see a 20 percent increase in participation at the upcoming show with startups encompassing a wide range of technologies and businesses – from autonomous and connected cars to mapping and journey planning to ride sharing and smart cities."

Following press preview days, the show floor is open Jan. 16-17 for those in the auto business to examine the competition.

Capping off a busy first week of special events will be the annual NAIAS Charity Preview, which is once again expected to raise millions of dollars for local charities. The black tie event drew 13,000 celebrants last year and is expected to match that turnout this time around.

Then, everyone is invited downtown to Cobo Center from Jan. 19-27 to check out the new vehicles and get some insight into the dramatic changes sweeping through the industry. According to industry data, as many as 20 percent of those who attend the auto show each year go on to buy a new vehicle over the next 12 months, so it’s a great place to kick the tires and compare products before signing on the dotted line.

If you go

 The Gallery will take place on Saturday, Jan. 12 from 6:30 to 11
p.m. at the MGM Grand Detroit, and starts with a strolling dinner. Tickets are $500.

 The Industry Preview opens on Wednesday, Jan. 16 from noon to 9 p.m. and again from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday the 17th. Tickets are $110.

 The Charity Preview throws open its doors on Friday, Jan. 18 at 6 p.m., and at 9 you’ll be able to rock the night away. Tickets are $400, of which $390 is tax deductible. If you have questions about the Charity Preview, call 888-838-7500.

The Public Show begins at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 19, with Cobo staying open every day until 10 p.m. except on the final day, Sunday, Jan. 27, when the event closes at 7 p.m. Tickets are $14 for adults, $7 for seniors over 65, and $7 for children over 7. Those younger are admitted free with parent or guardian. There are special discounts for groups.

Tickets: Call  248-283-5173.

More information: