Three nations. Three auto shows. Three different plans that illustrate the challenge of finding the right balance between putting on an effective show and protecting people from COVID-19 exposure.
- The Beijing show is set to begin in September — after being postponed from April by the outbreak. Safety protocols are promised, though it's unclear whether there will be capacity limits. China, where coronavirus infections were first reported, enacted strict measures to contain the spread. While reports from the government-controlled media on how well the virus has been managed should be considered with a dose of healthy skepticism, that delayed show is ready to go on.
- The start of the Washington Auto Show has been pushed from January to early April next year, with the goal of ensuring attendees' safety. Planners outlined safety protocols that will be in place, but it's far from assured that the virus will be sufficiently contained by then or that a vaccine will be available to protect attendees (and everyone else in America). The Washington-Maryland-Virginia region has endured more than 6,800 deaths and 234,000 positive tests for infection as of last week.
- Meanwhile, organizers of Toronto's Canadian International AutoShow, scheduled for February, are considering whether to go fully virtual. Canada has largely flattened the curve using strict measures after major spikes in Ontario and Quebec, but its provinces are on guard against a second wave. The decision "has to be based on what is right for the public and what is right for the industry," said show General Manager Jason Campbell.
The examples of these three events demonstrate the clear linkage between squelching the virus and economic recovery.
Automakers and dealers want to have public shows when they can, because it's a great way to connect with consumers. But for reveals, automakers clearly have digital options.
The Los Angeles show is still officially on the calendar in November — whether it stays there remains to be seen. What's at stake now is whether people can stop spreading the virus or the pharmaceutical industry can come up with a vaccine in time for the New York and Detroit shows next spring.