Monday, May 1, 2017

What Is The Future Of The Auto Show?

Alexander Carabitses

(Image credited to Boston Auto

As tedious as it seems for me to still be writing about the topic of auto shows, I feel that the time has come for me to address the many doomsday theories regarding the future of the auto show as we know it, as well as some of the common trends that we have started seeing.

First and foremost, in the last few years, we have seen automakers that want to show off a new product at an auto show hold their reveals offsite.  Why? Well to put it simply, automakers want to grab media attention for their new vehicle, without being surrounded by dozens of competing brands and cars.  At that moment, the automaker has the spotlight all to itself, as the media that is present cannot go off running to the stand next door in order to catch the next press event. On top of all that, the automaker also gets a jump start on the competition if they decide to show their new product on the eve of the show. Of course, the effects of this marketing strategy have been somewhat mitigated since every automaker started doing the exact same thing out of desperation.  Look at the New York Auto Show for example, and you'll notice that the majority of automakers showed their new vehicles on the eve of the auto show, and in the case of Ford, two days prior.

(Image credited to NAIAS)

Something else that has started happening at auto shows involves the influx of the tech industry into the walls of the convention centers that host these events.  LA was the first domestic auto show to allow this and now Detroit has introduced its own future transportation exhibit for media days, called Automobili-D.  These sub-events have undoubtedly arisen due to the fact that CES has been able to draw a lot of car companies and suppliers into its doors to showcase their future technologies.  2017's CES show featured the unveilings of many new concept cars and technologies, while the following week, the 2017 NAIAS featured many debuts that seemed lackluster when compared to the intriguing stuff that was shown in Las Vegas.  However, I am of the firm belief that auto shows need to do everything in their power to entice automakers to reveal their new autonomy and mobility tech during these in-shown tech events.  I also firmly believe that these events need to be open to the general public so that the OEMs and suppliers appear forward thinking and tech savvy, which will in turn only boost consumer interest in each brand's current line of vehicles, while also building enthusiasm for what's to come.  I know for a fact that Detroit is planning on leaving Automobili-D open during public days in 2018, which should prove to be more lucrative to automakers who are only able to showcase their major news at CES for only a few media days.  If other auto shows begin to follow Detroit's lead (and to some extent LA), CES will no longer be a part of the auto show calendar, even if it does take some time.

How can I make that claim?  Well according to Autoline Detroit, all companies related to the automotive industry want to be perceived as tech companies because if they are, their stock multiples increase. Now with that in mind, if future auto shows become a blend of what we know to be the traditional auto show and CES (almost like what Detroit is doing), the tech company perception that the automakers want will be maintained, while the health of the auto shows are strengthened.  There's one more point that I want to make about CES and Detroit.  This year's Automobili-D event featured a "product reveal" from Google's autonomous car firm, Waymo.  However, Google as a company did not participate at CES.  It is very ironic that they are doing the exact opposite of the automakers; I can only assume that their mindset was that in order to be deemed credible by the automotive industry, they had to launch themselves and their vehicle at an auto show, and seeing as how Detroit had an event that is modeled after CES, it proved to be a great fit.
(Image credited to Waymo)

One thing that does concern me is the recent trend that we have seen with automakers choosing not to participate in auto shows, with them instead deciding to focus on other marketing and consumer engagement options.  Some automakers may also choose to sit out an auto show if they have no new vehicles to show, although most automakers now solve that problem by launching a strange one-off model or a special edition.  The 2016-2017 auto show season hadn't even technically ended when a number of automakers, such as Nissan and Peugeot, announced that they wouldn't participate in the season opening 2017 Frankfurt Auto Show, giving the aforementioned excuses while also adding that the cost of participating didn't seem viable.  Well, unless the consumer engagement involves showing off your entire lineup to consumers and letting them sit, feel, and touch the cars in person, then your consumer engagement is ineffective.  The entire point of an auto show and the reason that they're successful is not because of media days, but in fact due to the public show dates.  These are the days in which people who love cars and those who are shopping for one can weigh in on and compare all of their options in one place.  In the last year alone, the majority of auto shows in the US are announcing record attendance numbers on public show days, which is a significant reminder that consumers still value these events for what they're worth.

At the end of the day, the auto show is not going anywhere.  It would be too risky to cut off the consumer-product interaction that takes place during public show days, and while some automakers tend to do this on a show-by-show basis, it is highly unlikely that mass market automakers will dump auto shows altogether.  Also, with these in-house tech events slowly becoming a part of the auto show as we know it, the viability of these shows also seems more likely.  However, I cannot stress enough that these events must be open to the general public and not the media alone, as it will boost interest in the automakers and the industry.  I would even go as far as to say that the SEMA Show (also in Las Vegas) should also be left open to the public, as the product shown at that show speaks to the most youthful, and in many cases, the oldest of gear heads.  In the end, it may not matter what the media thinks of automakers' actions during these large shows.  There are countless auto shows all over the world, some would argue too many, and as long as the automakers can have positive impacts on the consumer with what they show during these events, then the auto show will live.

Thanks for reading and have a good week.

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