Over the past several years, the Detroit auto show's press preview has evolved into a neatly compact event that celebrates new cars for about 36 hours, give or take.
That’s very efficient. Very considerate to executives who have important meetings somewhere. But it’s a missed opportunity.
The Detroit show ought to be longer -- not shorter.
It ought to be a week-long out-of-control celebration of everything automotive -- new cars, new trucks, new commercial vehicles, new technologies, new portfolio strategies, new advertising campaigns, new management practices, new factory achievements, new racing activities, new industry forecasts, new interior trends, new whatever.
Especially now, as the business is entering this golden new era of 16 million-plus sales years, with automakers pouring on the luxury, delving into new generations of sports cars, racking up enviable profits, recruiting thousands of new workers and rolling out advanced technologies that weren’t even dreamed of in sci-fi movies of a decade ago.
Granted, there are many related events that occur in Detroit after the industry’s presentation of new cars.
But there is misguided industry attitude about the show, brought on by the past few years of economic crisis and budget-obsessed global executives.
The industry has pushed the annual celebration back into a tidy little corner that doesn’t inconvenience anybody. CEOs, brand managers, designers and forecasters can now make their obligatory appearances somewhere between Sunday night and Monday afternoon -- maybe stretching it way into Tuesday morning if absolutely necessary. And the explosion of fantastic new car debuts can all fit neatly into Monday morning now.
Afraid everyone will be on a plane going home Monday night before your scheduled Tuesday vehicle unveiling? Just go ahead and unwrap the concept car and leave it on the show floor Monday morning for the hundreds of eager global auto journalists to find on their own with no fanfare.
Or just skip the show altogether.
What are we doing?
Think of the fashion industry, with its tradition of “Fashion Week.” Apparel brands and designers hold events and product line reveals all over New York, or all over Paris, one design house competing with the next to wow visitors and the public. Think of the Cannes Film Festival, showing a catalog of new movies jam-packed into the course of 10 days or more, with discussions and presentations and business meetings going on in between them. Film industry movers and shakers and rising stars all come to be seen and heard -- or dare to miss it at their own career peril.
Think of that same sort of celebratory atmosphere for cars, with brand events going on all over Detroit -- unveilings of new cars here and presentations of technologies and styling studios there. Think beyond Cobo Center in Detroit -- not to abandon it, but to expand beyond it. Forget the tidy little schedule of back-to-back, paint-by-numbers press conferences. Let’s spread the event over days.
You’re too busy? Maybe you’ve got your priorities wrong.
Let's be clear. The Detroit Automobile Dealers Association, which owns and manages the show, has elevated the show to one of the greatest in the world.
But they are holding a hundred tigers on a leash -- let them run. Let the press preview portion of the show become what it really deserves to be. Not a convenient drive-by, but a brash extravaganza of “Auto Week” that challenges automakers and marketers to outdo each other to show the world what they’re really all about.