Despite big online numbers, most automakers still believe in the auto show format because of its long-demonstrated performance introducing new vehicles to both active buyers and enthusiasts.
When the Geneva show was suddenly canceled, Aston Martin, Bentley and McLaren briskly pivoted and held video debuts. Instead of being under the bright lights of Palexpo exhibition center, the brands introduced the vehicles from their home bases throughout England.
Aston Martin unveiled the wild V12 Speedster, Bentley took the wraps off the posh Mulliner Bacalar roadster and McLaren showed the world one of its most extreme models yet, the 765LT.
In addition to the Mulliner Bacalar video reveal, Bentley had a handful of replacement activities to make up for the Geneva show's cancellation.
Mike Sayer, Bentley's head of product communications, said with the automaker's efforts that went into those activities, the brand saw a 1 percent drop in overall reach compared with Geneva 2019 but added that the number of published articles increased by 15 percent.
In May, Lamborghini utilized augmented reality on its website to unveil the rear-wheel-drive Huracan Evo Spyder. The technology allowed people to use an iPhone or iPad to virtually check out the sports car, even on a 1:1 scale, all from the comfort of home.
"I am still bullish on auto shows and we are still committed to auto shows," said Toyota's Carter. "It's that one-on-one engagement with consumers that is irreplaceable. We're all trying to figure out what the new consumer engagement looks like," within an active pandemic.
Carter also said that while virtual product launches are more cost-efficient — perhaps 90 percent less expensive than traditional auto show reveals, he said — they can wear off quickly if every automaker does them for every vehicle, leading to what he called "video fatigue."
He also said doing virtual events can allow automakers to reveal products at a time that works best for their own plans, instead of being "trapped" by the show schedule.
"Our investments in auto shows are here to stay," Carter said. "But you may see more of a balance going forward."
Hannah Lutz, Michael Martinez, Jack Walsworth and Laurence Iliff contributed to this report.