New auto show in Novi aims to fill January void for Metro Detroit dealers

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Saturday hours for the Southeast Michigan Auto Show are 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.

A new auto show will open this weekend in Metro Detroit as larger, more established shows around the world struggle to attract participation from the industry's biggest automakers.

The Southeast Michigan Auto Show plans to occupy 200,000 square feet at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi from Friday through Sunday. Showrunners hope it will fill a void in January left by the North American International Auto Show's 2020 move to June.

Twins Hailey and Hannah Melios, both 9 years old, peer through the windows of a 1958 Cadillac Special on display during final preparations for the first annual Southeast Michigan Auto Show at Suburban Collection Showcase in Novi.

But automakers will have no direct participation in this weekend's show. Displays are entirely mounted by area dealers looking for buyers during the slow, cold winter months.

"It's a great opportunity for all the consumers and the buyers in our area to get a hands-on experience with the vehicles that are actually available," said Dan Rank, director of business development for Novi-based Varsity Lincoln. "The southeast show is going to focus more on the consumer experience. We really hope that we see a sales lift from this."

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Where global brands like Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and  American Honda Motor Co. typically pay millions to mount elaborate floor displays and stage new-vehicle premieres at the North American International Auto Show, the Southeast Michigan Auto Show will house 35 brands represented by local dealerships. Those in charge hope to see 40,000 people walk through the event space this weekend; compare that to 800,000 who attended the final January edition of the Detroit auto show last year.

And the Southeast Michigan show won't be any help to the downtown Detroit businesses that won't see the annual January swarm of international executives and members of the news media.

But as brands like Mercedes-Benz pull out of auto shows completely, and others like Ford find ways to capture media attention outside the showroom floor, the newest auto show to the area is moving to combat that with a different style of show, according to McKenzie Bowman, spokeswoman for the Southeast Michigan Auto Show.

The organizers tried to avoid stepping on the toes of the Detroit auto show, which decided to move to June in order to allow participatory events and demonstrations to be held outdoors. Though the Novi event will take place before the Detroit auto show has a chance to show people what the move to summer is all about, the Novi show organizers were careful to avoid confusion over the name, among other things. 

A highly customized Lingenfelter Eliminator Series 2018 Camaro ZL1 with a 1000 HP engine is on display during final preparations for the first annual Southeast Michigan Auto Show at Suburban Collection Showcase in Novi, Thursday.

The Novi show will host local dealers and focus on existing models that consumers can buy today, not concept vehicles and far-off plans for future products that the larger international auto shows focus on.

"It's really going to be cars on carpet," said Bowman. 

For dealers, the new show is a welcome chance to test out a new investment aimed at boosting the slower-selling months of January and February. Rank said Varsity Lincoln plans to have all the available Lincoln models on the floor this weekend, including a $70,000 2020 Lincoln Aviator Grand Touringa hybrid version of the new SUV.

Twins Hailey Melios, 9, and Hannah Mellios, "I'm 50 seconds earlier," look over a 1958 Cadillac Special as their parents work on the Cadillac display at the first annual Southeast Michigan Auto Show at Suburban Collection Showcase in Novi Thursday, where final preparations for the show were being done.

The dealers won't sell any vehicles directly off the floor at this weekend, but they'll look to generate leads by staffing salespeople who can walk consumers through a vehicle and answer questions.

"The Detroit auto show is more for the industry people," said Rank. "We really hope to see a sales lift from this. This is going to be a new way forward. It's something where it's not just the manufacturing presenting. They've got the dealers involved in the same market they sell in."

The Southeast Michigan Auto Show is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Suburban Collection Showplace, 46100 Grand River, Novi. Admission is $10 for ages 12 and up, $5 for ages 6 to 11, with those younger than 5 admitted free.

More information can be found at

The tail pipes and brake lights of a Ford Shelby GT look impressive as final preparations continue for the first annual Southeast Michigan Auto Show at Suburban Collection Showcase in Novi, Michigan.

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau