Now that there are no auto shows — or other public automaker events — we can reignite the debate over whether they are worthwhile. Automakers have done an admirable job scrambling to arrange live-video car debuts, and even driving events, through online presentations and no-touch vehicle loans.
So, it can be done.
And it's fair to say that some of the older show formats have become stale. Too many presentations are heavy on slick video and short on public participation. Now that the virtual alternative is real and not theoretical, it's fair to consider as an option.
And Zoom ain't it, chief.
Car shoppers and auto writers need more interaction with engineers and product specialists, not less. Post-coronavirus reality needs splashy debuts and eye-rolling hype and old-fashioned kicking of the tires and sitting in the seats — in real life.
Some of the virtual presentations by automakers have been very well done given the circumstances. But the real value of auto shows is what happens after the presentations. That's true for reporters interviewing executives on the show floor or having less structured conversations outside the convention center. It's also true for the public as more automakers focus on live demonstrations of safety and tech features.
Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst for Navigant, remembers the last big financial crisis when automakers tried virtual presentations to save money. Once the worst of the crisis passed, automakers went back to real-life events because they made sense.
"My guess is that once this subsides, and people can start mixing again, automakers will go back to the way it was," he said. "While the online presentation is fine up to a point, one of the advantages when you are at the events is being able to talk to subject-matter experts. And you miss out on that sitting on your couch watching it on your computer."