The first Detroit Auto Show kicked off in 1907 and next year, the 2019 show will mark 112 years of auto makers, car fanatics and industry insiders coming together to check out what’s on the horizon. But next year’s show is already shaping up to feel a bit … lacking.
In the early months of 2018, BMW and Mercedes-Benz announced they would be skipping the 2019 show and it wasn’t long before Audi gave the event a pass as well.
This recent announcement comes on the heels of a lackluster show this past year. Jaguar, Land Rover, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Porsche, and Volvo were all absent from this year’s show. Meanwhile, many manufacturers who did participate seemed to phone it in. Aston Martin, Bentley, Ferrari, and Porsche all had limited displays and Alfa Romeo, Audi, Chrysler, and Dodge didn’t hold press conferences.
The beleaguered city has fallen a long way since its heyday of America’s Auto City. Losing the tourism that comes with the auto show would be yet another nail in the coffin for the city of Detroit. The Detroit Auto Dealers Association, the show organizers, managed to get the city of Detroit to foot a $279 million bill to upgrade the Cobo Center in 2014. The local economy depends on the show as well. The auto show attracts thousands of people from all over the world, pumping much needed money into the local economy. If the auto show truly phases out without something to take its place, it will be another tough punch for the city that was once the epicenter of the auto business.
Car manufacturers, however, simply don’t want to wait for an annual show to unveil their latest and greatest. Not when they can live stream events or showcase their newest models and tech upgrades online. Critics say the auto show is about to go the way of the World’s fair – a quaint relic that simply has no place in the modern world.
Supporters say the show can still be saved, but only if Detroit makes some smart maneuvers. Moving the show from January to October, for example, would position it to happen on the heels of each year’s new model release. It would also move the event away from the harsh Detroit winter as well as moving it away from the CES Tech Event that is, quite simply, a bigger draw.
Can Detroit save the Auto show and retain, in some way, its unofficial recognition as the Auto Capital of the US? It may depend on Detroit’s willingness to adapt not only in the timing of the show, but the feel. In a world where new car technology is released in Tweets, an annual show needs a new angle to stay relevant and draw the crowds needed to keep the tradition alive.