After a three-and-a-half-year delay due to COVID, the North American International Auto Show will stage a splashy return next week – but it will be quite a bit different from the event Detroiters might remember from years past.
The giant rubber duck going up on the roof of what’s now known as Huntington Place is the first sign that things have changed, with organizers adding plenty of new events to draw in showgoers and keep them entertained. But so is the thin list of automakers who will stage product debuts during the annual auto show media preview. Only five manufacturers are on the schedule – though the launch of the next-generation Ford Mustang should draw plenty of attention.
If anything, the 2022 NAIAS will return to its roots as a more consumer-focused show, aimed at getting visitors pumped up and ready to go car shopping.
These are challenging times for auto show organizers. Even before COVID struck, they were facing declining interest on the part of both the public and the industry. The Frankfurt Motor Show, once the world’s largest car show, ended its long run in 2019 and the big Geneva Motor Show recently announced it won’t reopen until at least 2024. Other key shows, including those in Paris and Chicago, have been struggling for survival.
“All auto shows are going through the same thing,” said John McElroy, the host and producer of automotive TV show Autoline, and a long-time auto show attendee.
Even before COVID struck, the Detroit Auto Dealers Association was working to “re-energize” NAIAS, in the words of the group’s long-time executive director Rod Alberts.
Of all the changes, the most obvious is the shift from frigid mid-winter to the final days of summer. There were a number of reasons behind the move – but one of the most significant benefits is the ability to leverage the Detroit Riverfront. The annual event will spill well beyond the confines of what many still think of as Cobo Hall. And there’ll be lots more than just cars on display.
Six air mobility companies will sprawl into Hart Plaza and along the riverfront to show off their wares, everything from hoverboards to jet suits to sport planes and air taxis. Hart Plaza also will host a climate-controlled arcade, as well as a monster truck display and motocross demonstrations.
The custom-built Flintstones mobile, from the 1994 movie, will be on display and, fittingly, there’ll be 80 dinosaurs on display in the Huntington Place Ballroom.
That rubber duckie would need a Detroit River-sized bathroom, meanwhile, as it measures 61 feet in height and weighs 30,000 pounds.
Of course, this is still a car show and there’ll be scores of cars, trucks and crossovers – whether
powered by gas, diesel or electric – on display. This year, however, showgoers will get a chance to drive some of them. Volkswagen and Chevrolet will take over a portion of the circuit that will be used when the Detroit Grand Prix returns to downtown in 2023.
As has been the case since the original Detroit Auto Show became the North American International Auto Show in 1989, this is really a show within a show. And it will kick off on September 14 with a media preview. There, however, the 2022 NAIAS will be decidedly downsized.
At its peak, organizers claimed to have as many as 70 separate product unveilings over the course of three days. This year will see the media gathering shrink to a single day. And only five manufacturers will be on the docket, though at least six suppliers also were expected to stage news conferences. The 2019 NAIAS Media Days attracted more than 4,500 journalists to see 31 world debuts. This year, barely 1,000 media members are expected, with only about eight debuts planned.
While downsized, there’ll still be some big news to come from the media day, notably the debut of the seventh-generation Ford Mustang. Fans of the pony car have been invited to watch in person. As part of the “Stampede,” those with their own Mustangs will even be able to join a convoy from Ford World Headquarters to Huntington Place Convention Center along the Detroit riverfront.
When we conceived the idea of an indoor-outdoor Detroit Auto Show, The Stampede was the kind of event we hoped and believed was possible,
said DADA’s Alberts.
Following the September 14 Media Day, industry insiders will get their own two-day window to preview the show – and Industry Tech Days will coincide with AutoMobili-D, a two-day series of seminars offering a look at the technology set to reshape the transportation world. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. is sponsoring this year’s AutoMobili-D and plans call for 140 exhibitors, including 71 start-ups.
Of course, the NAIAS Charity Preview will make its return on the night of Friday, September 16, kicking off the public show running from Saturday, September 17, through Sunday, September 25.
The decline of the annual NAIAS media previews may take away a little bit of the luster, but it’s a challenge that all of the major auto shows are facing, from Paris to Los Angeles. And McElroy says it’s just part of the way the industry continues evolving.
The shows are still very important for the public. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that auto shows are the perfect place to teach consumers about (the) electric vehicles,
that are quickly coming to dominate the industry, said McElroy.
Expect to see a number of them on display at Huntington Place, including homegrown models like the all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning and Cadillac Lyriq, as well as the plug-in hybrid Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe.
To find out more about the 2022 NAIAS, and to purchase tickets for Industry Tech Days, the Public Show and the Charity Preview, click here.
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