Detroit's international show keeps getting stronger

Keith Crain is editor-in-chief of Automotive News

It doesn't seem that long ago that the Detroit auto show was just one of many sleepy, regional shows around the country that didn't excite the public or auto manufacturers. The Detroit show was focused on dealers moving the tired sheet metal in showrooms, not highlighting what was coming next.

McCurry: Promised Lexus world premiere

But 25 years ago, some dedicated auto dealers in Detroit, along with my old friend Bob McCurry, who had left Chrysler for greener pastures in California with Toyota, transformed the show into the North American International Auto Show. And it has never been the same.

The late Dan Hayes, who was the manager of the Detroit show, wanted to change the entire idea of the show. Dealers Ken Meade, Gordon Stewart, David Fischer and the late Robert Thibodeau Sr. were involved from the beginning.

I remember when they came to visit me. They all wanted an international show but weren't able to figure out how to make it happen.

I said, "The first one who says it, gets it," and that was the beginning of the North American International Auto Show.

After that, Meade got in touch with McCurry to see whether Toyota would do something splashy. McCurry promised that Toyota would have the world premiere of its new automobile brand, Lexus, in Detroit. When Nissan executives heard that, they agreed to have the world premiere of their new luxury brand, Infiniti.

The North American International Auto Show was off and running.

That first year, hundreds of Japanese journalists descended on Detroit to see the introduction of two very important cars, the Lexus LS 400 and Infiniti Q45. Hundreds more journalists arrived from Europe to see the new brands that were going to be challenging the reigning stars from Germany.

There were plenty of other vehicle introductions that year because other automakers realized the media coverage would be incredible.

Keith Crain speaks at the final regional Detroit auto show in 1988.

It has been that way ever since. The journalists come to see the executives and the introductions -- prototypes and production. The cars and trucks debut in Detroit because there are thousands of journalists looking for great stories.

Twenty-five years later, there are still plenty of new-car introductions. And there are still more journalists in Detroit during press days than at any other car show in North America.

The dealers in Detroit added the official tag that gave them the international status up there with Geneva, Paris and Frankfurt.

In this ever-changing world, nothing is forever. Some car shows, such as Geneva and Detroit, become fixtures while others quietly fade away.

I have fond memories of the auto shows in Turin and London; both are now just a pleasant memory. Tokyo is now being challenged by not one or two but three major motor shows in China.

But the Detroit dealers who had the vision for the North American International Auto Show started something that has gotten stronger over a quarter of a century.

New cars are the life's blood of the car industry, and there is no better place to introduce them than the Motor City.



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