It's no secret that major auto shows have had a tough go of it lately as auto executives blanch at the high costs of creating and operating a booth amid shrinking marketing budgets. And in a predictable pattern, one executive's decision to pull out of a show provides justification for others who were on the fence. The result, as seen in Paris and Detroit, is a cascade effect that threatens the economic survival of the shows.
But there's more at stake than that.
Last month, Hyundai Motor America's top marketer, Dean Evans, made this exact point in an interview with Automotive News. An auto show, Evans rightly pointed out, is "the only place I know where I can put my car and people will pay money to look at it. And we don't like that why?"
Evans also rightly noted that auto shows are an especially useful way to increase engagement with the dealer body. Dealers "like auto shows," Evans said. "They like running a special during auto show week."
With the notable exception of Tesla, the axiom still holds true: Automakers build cars, dealers sell cars, and the two must work together to market their shared product. Yet when automakers skip out on auto shows, they shirk their shared responsibility to their dealers. They also send a cold message to their existing customers, who visit an auto show searching in vain for the latest model from the brand they've already chosen.
The floor space and potential sales they're so cavalierly ceding to competitors — often the hungry challenger brands that no one saw coming — may not be available when they return.
There's no doubt that the traditional auto show format — two days of costly, manufactured media hype, followed by an anticlimactic public expo — is overdue for an update. The media landscape today is vastly different from even five or 10 years ago, and automakers have a right to respond to the changes.
But the answer is not to pull out of auto shows altogether. It's to elevate them again to their original purpose: marketing — and selling — automobiles to consumers.