A Less Glitzy Detroit Auto Show Returns

DETROIT (AP) — When it came time to introduce its Chevrolet Equinox electric SUV to the public this year, General Motors decided not to do so at the big Detroit auto show, as it would have done in the past. . Instead, he unveiled the Equinox six days earlier.

GM’s move symbolized just how much smaller this year’s auto show will be, with fewer new model launches, less glitzy screens, fewer journalists and possibly a drop in attendance.

While the pandemic is partly to blame, bigger forces are also at play: automakers have realized that new models can cause a stir when unveiled to a digital audience on a day when they don’t have to share star. with their rivals. Not to mention that debuting at an auto show can be extremely expensive.

So despite moving the show from January to mild September and adding outdoor events, the North American International Auto Show won’t be the glitzy event it was last time around. held in cold January, more than three years ago.

“The industry has changed – the world has changed,” said Karl Zimmermann, vice president of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association, which runs the show. “Do I think it will be like before? No. It’s a very different format. We use indoors. We use outdoors.

This year’s show will be more consumer-oriented and less industry-oriented. General Motors and Volkswagen will offer test drives. There will be rides in new electric vehicles from Ford and others.

“I think that’s the likely way forward – more consumer-focused than industry-focused, because consumers don’t need all the fanfare,” said Jeff Schuster, president of global forecasting for LMC Automotive, a Detroit-area consulting firm. solidify. “They can basically make it look like a showroom.”

At Detroit’s Huntington Place convention center, the elaborate multi-story displays cost millions and took months to build. There won’t be any thrilling stunts, like driving cars up steps and through entrance gates or a skating rink with figure skaters. Although many automakers, including some from Europe and Asia, decided not to attend, dealerships in the region stepped in to provide cars and displays for their brands.

Instead of around 50 new model launches like in previous years, there’s just one really new one: the Ford Mustang, which will be unveiled Wednesday night at a big outdoor event along the Detroit River. Instead of the usual 5,000 journalists, only around 1,900 were accredited this year. The list of press conferences has been reduced and supplemented by auto parts manufacturers, electric vehicle charging companies and aeronautical startups.

“We try to show the full range of mobility,” spokesman Frank Buscemi said.

Zimmerman said it was all part of a global trend that started about a decade ago and forced the cancellation of the auto show in Geneva, Switzerland this year. Other auto shows are also becoming a place where customers in their area can see and even drive the new releases.

Even with the changes, the show still amounts to a major production. So much so that President Joe Biden, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and other cabinet members will attend.

Biden, a gearhead who owns a 1967 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, is expected to tout his new Climate, Tax and Health Act that offers tax incentives of up to $7,500 for the purchase of an electric vehicle. Whether Biden will get behind the wheel of a sleek new car, as he has done on previous visits to Detroit, remains to be seen.

The show won’t be entirely devoid of glitz. Ford, Jeep, and the Ram brand of Stellantis have built screens that will hold vehicles when driving down steep grades. Soil and trees were trucked in for a natural look. There will be tracks where customers can ride in new electric vehicles, including Ford’s F-150 Lightning pickup.

Zimmermann agreed that attendance will likely be lower than the roughly 800,000 people the show has drawn in past peak years. He said he would be happy with 500,000 for the 12-day show. This year, those who attend outdoor activities alone will not be counted, reducing the total.

One thing is certain: electric vehicles will be great attractions for the public. Many will be on display to customers for the first time even though automakers unveiled them earlier.

“They want to know how they roll, how they drive and have experience with them,” Zimmermann said. “It’s not enough to see a car on a carpet or see a digital display on a screen, but to really interact with the vehicle.”

It’s the interaction, with the vehicles and with other people, that Zimmermann says will enhance the show after the long pandemic hiatus.

“We like to think that after 3 and a half years of absence, we will only grow,” he said.

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