By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. In my summation of my impressions of the Detroit Auto Show in last week’s column, I had this to say: As I’ve said repeatedly, the Detroit Auto Show is headed down the wrong road, and this year’s debacle should be a giant red flag to anyone involved in putting on the show because it was a giant steaming bowl of Not Good. Yes, the mobility/autonomous love-fest handily masked the fact that the show just isn’t happening anymore and in desperate need of a new idea, but it could only conceal so much.
Apparently my column set off a firestorm of indignation among certain homers in the local auto media, a few PR minions at the auto manufacturers and others in the Detroit Auto Dealers Association (DADA), the group that is responsible for putting on the show every year.
Now, it’s obviously not the first time I’ve managed to get factions in this industry’s collective shorts in a bunch - and I can assure you it won’t be the last - but the hue and cry generated by the unbridled temerity of my suggestion to move the show to a completely different time on the calendar was just too much for some to bear, obviously.
I’ve read all of the comments about it and it’s clear those opposed are quite certain that it would upset The Righteous Order of Things in the auto business, which means that when it comes to the major automobile shows Frankfurt and Paris alternate with each other every other Fall; the Los Angeles Auto Show is in November; the Detroit show – which is now being interrupted and usurped by the Consumer Electronics Show – is in January; Geneva is in early March and the New York show is right before Easter.
Those opposed to the idea of moving the Detroit Auto Show are vehemently agitated about the alleged “disruption” it would cause, apparently, and insist that if such a cataclysmic event occurred our very way of life as we know it would be irrevocably harmed. One resident homer in the automotive press suggested that jobs would be destroyed, the money generated from the charity preview would be neutered, Cobo Hall would be decimated and chaos would ensue.
Really? Let’s take a deep breath and look at this rationally.
Is it etched in stone on sacred tablets buried in secret catacombs underneath the city that Detroit would have this one and only auto show date on the calendar, and nothing else? Hardly. Was there a pact among the overlords who run the world’s auto shows that dictated that Detroit in January is the way it shall be and no deviation from “the plan” would be accepted or tolerated? No, of course not.
Here we are in the midst of another (alleged) Detroit Renaissance, and the city and industry elders can’t see fit to pick their heads up out of their very shallow troughs of so-called “vision” and imagine something new and different, and just maybe… better?
The biggest argument I’m hearing is that Cobo Hall in particular and the city in general couldn’t possibly deal with this change, that these conventions are planned years in advance and the disruptions to the city would be devastating. Again I have to say, really? You’re kidding, right? Would it be that difficult to say that the Detroit Auto Show in 2020 would now be in June and to start planning for it right now?
The overall recalcitrance to embrace something new in this town and in the business as it's played here has been well documented. Change is anathema, there is comfort in caution, and at the end of the day, it’s easier to let someone else take the risks. All of that has been pushed to the wayside, allegedly, with a new, can-do attitude in the city and with the revitalized auto companies reading from a new, invigorated hymnal, and moving the Detroit Auto Show would be an emphatic way of demonstrating it.
I remember when the Detroit Auto Show was once a little regional event designed to boost sales in the doldrums of January and February, the two most forgettable months on the calendar around here. The shows were dismal, lackluster affairs and nothing to write home about. I for one don’t want to return to those days.
This city and the auto industry as it's practiced here could do themselves a giant favor by stopping the whining and by coming to the realization that if they don’t collectively come up with a new idea for the Detroit Auto Show, someone or some entity is likely to do it for them.
The organizers can start by calling it the Detroit Auto Show and at least fix that part of it. Amazingly enough, even the local TV commercials promoting the show by the DADA use the words, “The Detroit Auto Show” so even they have come to the realization that the hoary “NAIAS” moniker is obsolete. Then, they need to move the show to June, immediately after the Detroit Grand Prix weekend, because the difference between January and June around these parts is dramatic. Detroit is actually a beautiful city in the summertime, and the world’s automotive press could stand to see it in an entirely different light.
And I have no doubt that all of the tradespeople and craftsmen employed to get the show ready could just as easily do it in late April into May, as they do now from November into December. And, of course, the charity preview would be just as successful in a nice warm summer month as it is in January.
Would there be much consternation and hand-wringing in the auto show world, as we know it? Count on it. It will take vision and strong-willed leadership to make this momentous change happen, but I will guarantee that if the change is made the prevailing comments in no time would be, “Why did we ever wait this long?”
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.