DETROIT — When it came time to show off its Chevrolet Equinox electric SUV to the public this year, General Motors decided not to do it at the big Detroit auto show, as it normally would have done in the past. Instead, it introduced the Equinox six days earlier.
GM’s decision symbolized how much smaller this year’s auto show will be, with few new model introductions, less glitzy displays, fewer journalists and possibly lower attendance.
While the pandemic is partly to blame, there are also larger forces at play: Automakers have found that new models can make a bigger splash when they’re introduced to a digital audience on a day when they don’t have to share downtown. of attention. with his rivals. Not to mention, debuting at a car show can be very expensive.
So despite moving the show from January to a warm September and adding outdoor events, the North American International Auto Show won’t be the glitzy event it was the last time it was held in frigid January, over three years.
“The industry has changed, the world has changed,” said Karl Zimmermann, vice president of the Detroit Automobile Dealers Association, which runs the program. “I think it will be the same as before? No. It is a very different format. We are using indoors. We are using outdoors.”
This year’s fair 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 trajectory of the future: more consumer-focused than industry-focused, because consumers don’t need all the fanfare,” said Jeff Schuster, president of global forecasting at LMC Automotive, a Detroit-area consultancy. signature. “Essentially they can make it look like a showroom.”
Gone from Detroit’s Huntington Place convention center are elaborate, multi-story exhibits that cost millions and took months to build. There won’t be any attention-grabbing stunts like climbing the steps and through the front doors or an ice rink with figure skaters. Although many automakers, including some from Europe and Asia, chose not to attend, area dealers stepped in to provide cars and exhibits for their brands.
Instead of about 50 new model debuts like in years past, there’s just one truly new one: the Ford Mustang, which will be unveiled Wednesday night at a huge outdoor event along the Detroit River. Instead of the usual 5,000 journalists, only about 1,900 received credentials this year. The list of press conferences has been reduced and has been supplemented by auto parts manufacturers, electric vehicle charging companies and aviation startups.
“We’re trying to show the full range of mobility,” spokesman Frank Buscemi said.
Zimmerman said it’s all part of a global trend that started a decade ago and forced the car show in Geneva, Switzerland, to be canceled this year. Other auto shows are also becoming a place for customers in their region to see and even drive what’s new.
Even with the changes, the show is still a major production. So much so that President Joe Biden, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and other cabinet members will attend.
Biden, an avid owner of a 1967 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, is expected to tout his new health, tax and climate law that offers tax incentives of up to $7,500 toward the purchase of an electric vehicle. Whether Biden will get behind the wheel of a fancy new car, as he has done on previous visits to Detroit, remains to be seen.
The show will not be completely devoid of glitter. Ford, Jeep and the Ram brand of Stellantis have all built screens that will hold vehicles while driving up steep inclines. The 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 drew during past peak years. He said that he would be satisfied with 500,000 for the 12-day program. This year those who only attend outdoor activities will not be counted, which will hold the total.
One thing is for sure: electric vehicles will be big draws for the public. Many will be on display for the first time to customers even though automakers unveiled them earlier.
“They want to know how they ride, how they drive and have experience with them,” Zimmermann said. “It’s not enough to see a car on a carpet or just see a digital screen on a screen, but actually 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 three and a half years away, we will do nothing but grow,” he said.
AP White House reporter Colleen Long contributed to this report.