Do Auto Shows Matter Anymore?
Today the automotive press will descend upon Cobo Hall in Detroit for the 2013 edition of the North American International Auto Show. It is a celebrated gathering of the biggest names in the automotive world by both automaker and media. There is always plenty of flashy debuts and free booze, resulting in the over-the-top reputation some automakers get for their auto show antics. This got us thinking: In the age of the internet, do auto shows matter anymore? It depends on how you look at it. The first sign of the weakening significance of the major auto shows came around the time of the US financial crisis and auto industry bailout. The nations economy was in the metaphorical shitter, and automakers did not want to put on the same glitzy, expensive displays, lest the masses rise up in rebellion. Not only did the free booze disappear, but so did some automakers. Nissan pulled its presence from some American auto shows in 2007 and 2008, slowly returning to all three major shows (LA, Detroit, NYC) by 2009 and 2010. As things got better for the economy, the show returned to the status quo of splurging, but to see the auto industry, and its largest trade show, look so weak certainly shook our long-held notions about the status quo of the industry. While times were tight, automakers took to online debuts, separate from the shows. With the growing power of the internet at the time (remember, in 2007 it was like the wild west) this practice was sure to grow with time. Flash forward to the present, and online debuts are just part of the news cycle in the ramp up to the show. A news outlet could cover a show entirely from the comfort of one's home office, wearing sweatpants. The internet at its best, baby.
So what are the benefits of attending the major shows? One part of it is access to the key people in the automotive industry. At the end of the day, it is still a trade show. As such, you can bump into some of the most influential people in the industry in passing. Deals are made and fates are created on the show floor– you just have to have the balls to go up and introduce yourself to a CEO.
As long as automotive executives continue to enjoy having their egos stroked, there will always be major auto shows. The press and PR reps might be there to hustle and bust their asses, but for the executives, its all about being seen and being complemented by mid-level executrices while drinking a glass of complementary Clos Du Bois. As long as this continues there will always be a major auto show that we can turn to, it will just share significance with Twitter and the web as places where news about cars is created. We'll keep doing our thing; auto show or no auto show.