NAIAS Detroit Auto Show May Get a Reboot by Disgruntled Auto Brands

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Detroit NAIAS 2018 KIA Hamsters

Come 2020, the annual North American International Auto Show that takes place every January in Detroit may no longer take place in January. Nor will it probably still be called the North American International Auto Show. And it may be less international than in years past.

The future of NAIAS, better known as “The Detroit Auto Show,” is being debated by the Detroit Automobile Dealers Association, which is weighing how to shape the exhibition to adapt to the new realities of the North American and international auto industry.

The NAIAS organizers will decide this month whether to move to a different time of year that would allow the event to take advantage of the outdoors in and around Detroit, which remains the center of the U.S. auto industry for the foreseeable future. Moving the event to June or October, for example, would steer clear of competitors such as the Los Angeles Auto Show each November and CES each January.

The Detroit show has spent the last few years seeing automakers’ tech and mobility news being announced at CES, where brands including GM, Ford, FCA and Toyota have been making big presentations and even announcements, such as the Chevrolet Bolt in 2016, instead of waiting another week or so to do so at NAIAS.

Given the plethora of connected partnerships that auto brands engage in these days, the move to CES and Las Vegas was natural—and Motor City dealers tried to strike back.

Last year NAIAS introduced a parallel event, AutoMobili-D, featuring 180 brands including Waymo to showcase autonomous driving and other mobility advances, blunting CES stealing its thunder in making noise around around this crucial area of automotive technology.

But NAIAS hasn’t been able to transform its experience to relieve the strains on the auto show format itself. More and more, automakers are choosing to introduce new models and features in isolated events where assembled media have no choice but to focus solely on what that brand is doing and saying, as contrasted with a typical auto show where throngs of automotive journalists, photographers, bloggers and videographers assemble.

German auto brands helped precipitate NAIAS’s decision by announcing that they would skip the Detroit show in 2019 and perhaps beyond. Other brands already avoiding NAIAS including Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo, Porsche, Mini and Mazda, even though they might attend the Los Angeles and New York auto shows.

GM and Ford, the biggest members on the Detroit Auto Dealers Association, have been agitating to change NAIAS and move the event. Some executives point to the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed in West Sussex, England.

Goodwood features a made-for-social-media four-day celebration of the automomobile including a thrilling hill climb, supercar runs and a “moving motor show that gives the  media and would-be buyers a chance to experience the new vehicles,” as the Detroit News puts it.

The “Drive Home” event with classic cars making the trek to NAIAS through sleet and snow doesn’t have the same pulse-pounding cachet of Goodwood, taking place July 12-15, when a robocar will be one of this year’s hill-climbers.

It’s somewhat ironic that the Big Three Detroit automakers have been lobbying to remake NAIAS to highlight Detroit when it was the auto industry who added “International” to its identity in order to not seem parochial.

Now that Detroit has significantly recovered from the Great Recession and the auto industry’s slump, it’s regaining some of the buzz that has been missing for decades. What better time than now to christen the new Detroit Auto Show?

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