The 2022 North American International Auto Show in Detroit opened its doors to the media and industry professionals this week, with public dates starting tomorrow. NAIAS was once the pinnacle of US auto racing, with huge screens, outstanding and revealed from domestic and foreign automakers. But the competition was starting to fade even before the pandemic hit, and going round the 2022 show – First Detroit auto show since 2019 – the event is almost imperceptible.
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, in 2019, NAIAS felt like it was slipping. Ferrari, Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce and Bugatti were not present at the convention center – their only presence was at a private show at a nearby casino. Porsche has also left the building. Big, elaborate revelations have become more subtle. Vendors and collections that had previously been brought down to the basement now appear on the main display floor.
In 2018, the organizers proposed a solution: Starting in 2020, NAIAS will switch from the traditional cold January days to a more pleasant week in junearound time IndyCar’s Detroit Grand Prix. The show will have an outdoor component, expanding showtimes for automakers and suppliers, and hopefully attracting more people to spend time in downtown Detroit.
Of course, it never turns out. In June 2020, the state of Michigan had just emerged from the most severe phase of the pandemic shutdown. The 2020 show never took place – the event center is converted for use as a FEMA Coronavirus field hospital – and The program in 2021 was also canceled about Covid concerns.
So, this is 2022, with the program now pushed to September. People are going in and out, pandemic restrictions are (mostly) gone. But the catwalk is in a more depressed state than ever.
Stellantis made a big mark at the show, showcasing products from Ram, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep – but much of the carmaker’s space is used for demonstration drives, Jeep 4xes Climb through man-made rough terrain and drag Ram 1500s.
At the opposite end of the corridor is General Motors. Cadillac has a small, sad display set against unadorned concrete walls. Buick has an equally small presence. Chevy has the biggest footprint of all the GM brands, but even this pales in comparison to pre-pandemic shows.
Ford takes up most of the main floor space, with screens dedicated to New Mustang 2024. But more than anything, what’s most remarkable is the emptiness – the walls are blank, the space between cars is amazing.
In 2019 and earlier, not only were the showroom floors filled with cars and displays, the media days were a nightmare to navigate. Journalists had to fight through the crowds shoulder to shoulder to get a glimpse of any of the newly revealed cars.
For 2022, the biggest crowd at the show was the line for the Secret Service to sweep through security while President Joe Biden was touring the exhibit floor. The show’s single biggest news event of 2022, Launch of the new seventh generation Ford Mustangtakes place after the show closes for the evening, across the street at Hart Plaza.
Honestly, third on the list of most talked about things from the Detroit Auto Show is this giant inflatable duck, just outside Huntington Place, off the coast of Jefferson.
There was a time when this place was packed with screens. You can get lost in the fight, bring a floor map for defense. I have been going to NAIAS every year since I was 5 years old. I remember the year Jeep put aerial dancers dangling from ribbons hanging from the rafters of the convention center. I remember when Cadillac had its brand new Northstar engine on display for the first time – and sat on the empty show floor late at night, watching my dad, an engineer at Roush at the time, repair the show engine. presented in another introductory day. In 1999, I stood in what felt to be the longest line in the world to get a Micro Machine miniature of the Volkswagen New Beetle that toured that year’s show.
But that wasn’t this year’s Detroit Auto Show.
Instead, Ken Lingenfelter displayed a number of cars from his massive collection in the center of the convention center, in a space once contested by the world’s biggest automakers. A large patch of bare floor separated his cars from the Stellantis display. On the other side was a replica Ghostbusters ambulance, along with Fred Flintstone’s car.
So which car companies have appeared? All Stellantis, Ford, Lincoln, GMToyota, and Subaru. I saw a single Lucid Air at a small booth next to small booths dedicated to mobile technology vendors. Lexus already has a screen somewhere outside. Most of the automakers present revealed their new cars a few days before the show – if they had anything new to reveal.
In the age of pandemic shutdowns, with auto shows canceled, automakers have pivoted – first with live streaming for new car launches, then events. organized separately. Bringing a handful of journalists and influencers to an interesting venue for the unveiling of a new model is likely to be more cost-effective than securing a spot at dozens of auto shows. vary throughout the year – and at a single event, an automaker doesn’t necessarily have to compete with every other brand in the market to get eyeballs on the latest model.
On my drive home from the 2022 Detroit show, I thought a lot about the future of NAIAS. What was once the most hotly anticipated show of the year has become a dull shadow of its own. Aside from the Mustang (which debuted at a private Ford event) and the visit by President Biden (which was an acceleration move for journalists covering the show), there wasn’t any excitement or hype. . The crowd had essentially disappeared by Wednesday afternoon, and Thursday’s idle attendance demonstrated how sadly things had turned.
The pandemic has changed so many things about life, and the organizers of NAIAS can’t be blamed for that. The movement of the program from January to June to September is hampered by the unpredictable changes of life under the influence of COVID-19. But coming out of the 2022 Detroit Auto Show, I’m still wondering if auto shows have a future.