The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) is sponsored by the Detroit Auto Dealers Association (DADA). Which makes a whole lot of sense. Dealers want to sell vehicles, and what better venue than an expo hall full of shiny sheet metal and a wide array of interactive displays that can draw people in to spend hours looking at things ranging from the bread-and-butter to the exotic, from the gotta-have to the if-only.
NAIAS has historically been held during January, as the timing provided a variety of benefits. For one thing, it was always the first major auto show of the year. That was beneficial to the OEMs who wanted to get their newest of the new—and even what could be coming in the years to come—in front of the public, sooner rather than later.
There isn’t exactly a whole lot going on in Detroit in January, which is when winter really starts in earnest, so this meant that those consumers who were looking for something to do had it.
But then there were some issues that arose, one of which was a huge one: CES. The event that was previously known as the “Consumer Electronics Show.” Two key words there: Consumer. Electronics.
Auto OEMs are interested in consumers, of course, and, more importantly, they have been, especially as Tesla became something more than a quirky company sticking computer batteries into a Lotus Elise chassis, trying to position themselves as electronics, or tech, companies.
CES was happening adjacent to NAIAS. OEMs (and suppliers, which has not been a huge part of NAIAS, but one that was growing) started doing introductions at the massive show in Las Vegas (where, let’s admit, the weather tends to be friendlier than Detroit in January). Journalists were going out to Las Vegas. OEM execs from places like Germany had to weigh where they’d travel to (see previous parenthetical remark).
So NAIAS made a move. It decided to skip its show in January 2020 with plans to hold a SXSW-like experience in downtown Detroit in June 2020.
But then there was March 2020 and the beginning of the seriousness that is COVID-19.
The reimagined event was canceled.
And yesterday, Rod Alberts, executive director of both DADA and NAIAS, stated, “While auto shows remain an important platform to promote new mobility innovations and to help people make major vehicle purchase decisions, the traditional auto show model is changing.”
Not changing a little bit. A lot. Which has to be a tough thing for an outfit that has gotten so proficient over the years putting on tradtional auto shows.
Alberts announced an event that will be held in Pontiac, Michigan, September 21-26, 2021, named “Motor Bella.” It will be held not at a traditional expo center but at the M1 Concourse, which features car condos, a 1.5-mile track and is having a restaurant and event space built.
Tellingly, it is built on property that was once covered by the General Motors Pontiac West Assembly Plant. Things change. Factories give way to race tracks. Auto shows give way to something else.
While NAIAS is a show, Motor Bella will be more of an event, one that will take advantage of the grounds of the M1. There will be a concentration on the outside, not the confines of a building. People will not just look. They will also do. It will be active, not passive.
Credit to Alberts and his associates for recognizing “the traditional auto show is changing.”
More credit to them for doing something about it.–gsv