Auto shows – even the big international wingdings like Detroit, Frankfurt/Paris, Beijing/Shanghai and Geneva – aren’t what they used to be. So as we kick off 2017 with the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, it’s easy to pick up on a few developing trends.
Automakers are moving away from staging giant, show-stopping product reveals during media days, and the biggest reveal events often are conducted off-site (or even out-of-town) on the day (or days) leading up to the actual press events at the convention center.
A perfect example? FCA, remembered for its jaw-dropping product reveals back in the Chrysler heydays, isn’t on the NAIAS press conference schedule and has no plans to introduce a world-premiere vehicle at Detroit this year. These are the same folks who crashed a Jeep through the Cobo Hall front glass and ran a cattle drive down Washington Boulevard featuring real longhorns and authentic cowboys. This year: crickets.
Instead, FCA’s big news will come at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas where the Italian-American automaker will reveal its all-electric Chrysler Pacifica minivan – a vehicle no doubt destined for a role in the FCA-Google-Waymo autonomous-car development program. Waymo CEO John Krafcik suggests such an autonomous Pacifica might drive itself on stage during his NAIAS presentation Jan. 8.
Krafcik’s upcoming speech points up another shift in auto-show focus toward revealing ideas, rather than actual vehicles.
Case in point: A year ago, just when Ford would’ve been on script to reveal its biggest product or products for the coming year, CEO Mark Fields announced the Dearborn automaker’s plans to become a mobility company, complete with an all-new app called Ford Pass. Big story, indeed, but definitely not the same as seeing the latest Ford GT, F-150 or Shelby Mustang roaring onstage amid dense smoke, heart-pounding audio and a laser-light show.
Automakers also are discovering unique and interactive ways to show off technology and brand attributes to journalists, dealers and consumers within the same event. World premieres of vehicles by Ford and Jaguar at the Los Angeles auto show in November provided two clear examples.
Jaguar chose to use virtual reality to reveal its futuristic i-Pace battery-electric CUV concept. Journalists in LA and London were outfitted with VR goggles and handheld controllers to “explore” the vehicle and its underpinnings as Jaguar design boss Ian Callum and Vehicle Line Director Ian Hoban, appearing as live virtual images, did the usual design and engineering walkarounds of the new concept. The effect was stunning, allowing journalists to individualize the experience by independently zeroing in on specific components or rotating the car to observe certain styling lines.
One downside: It was impossible to take notes, or even record, while strapped into VR goggles and a headset during the event. But once the virtual tour ended, Callum and other executives were on hand – along with the physical concept vehicle – to answer questions and provide insight and commentary.
Ford, meanwhile, took over a few blocks just off Hollywood Boulevard to show off its EcoSport small CUV via a backstage journalist-only preview followed by a monster, public-invited stage show and world’s-first Snapchat vehicle reveal hosted by Ryan Seacrest and featuring rapper DJ Khaled. The surrounding area featured a variety of interactive displays and food trucks emphasizing the EcoSport’s “Go Small, Live Big” theme.
While the EcoSport event provided exactly the kind of movie-premiere feel one might expect in Tinseltown, it clearly was geared to social media rather than actual media.
As the news value of auto show reveals seems to decline with each passing year, automakers will continue to move toward events that showcase their vehicles, brands and ideas in the best light and with singular media attention, away from the crowded auto show schedule where they might get a mere mention in a larger show story or report.
Once again, perhaps, actual news might be made.
[email protected] @bobgritzinger