DETROIT -- The head of the North American International Auto Show is eyeing September 2022 for resurrecting a Detroit auto show that's been sidelined by the coronavirus pandemic after being moved from its traditional January date on the international circuit.
Rod Alberts, executive director of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association and NAIAS, told the governing board of Detroit's TCF Center on Thursday that this year's show, originally planned for September, had to be canceled because of the financial risk of the virus upending another event like the June 2020 show that got canceled.
Alberts appeared before the Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority board Thursday in a Zoom video conference call, addressing the five-member public body for the first time since NAIAS organizers pulled the plug on Detroit's auto show for the second year in a row.
"Our plan is to do something in Detroit next year. We want to do it in September," Alberts said. "... From a media and coverage standpoint, September's a great month" with new vehicle reveals in the fall.
Alberts also defended his decision to not inform TCF Center management or the convention authority board of DADA's plans to cancel this year's show ahead of a surprise announcement on Jan. 11. NAIAS is the single biggest annual event held at TCF Center, formerly Cobo Center.
"That one really hit us hard," said Larry Alexander, chairman of the Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority board. "It would have been good to have a little advance notification. But I understand why you had to keep it secret and keep it quiet, because you've got to go at your own pace and communicate it in your own way."
Alberts, a central figure in Detroit's auto show for three decades, said he knew there would be backlash this month when organizers decided to cancel the September show now rather than wait until summer to assess the state of the coronavirus and vaccinations.
"I couldn't really share it because I didn't want to make it a political decision," Alberts said. "I knew there was going to be some difficult parts to it in the backlash. And I knew I was maybe going to lose a couple of friends out of the deal."
Alberts said he kept half of his staff in the dark about the decision to cancel the show, saying the cancellation had been in the works "for a long time." He did not elaborate, only saying he couldn't take a chance that the news would leak to the media.
"I apologize to some degree, but I couldn't bring people into the loop," Alberts said.
Lisa Canada, a member of the authority's board and political director for the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, chastised Alberts for not informing the convention hall's board.
Alberts asked Canada how many people should he have told in advance of the announcement.
"We can talk about that until the cows come home," he said. "We're a customer trying to do the best we can under uncertain conditions."
"I just wanted to point out there was some hurt feelings," Canada said.
"Yeah, OK," Alberts replied. "Thank you."
Canada pressed Alberts on whether he could assure the convention center's board that the DADA will honor a contract to hold annual auto shows through 2026.
Alberts acknowledged the secrecy behind this year's cancellation "does create a little bit of distrust on your end — you're not very happy with me."
"But it was the call I made at the time and at this point I think we need to move forward," he said. "We have every intent and we're planning to honor those contracts."
Creating an auto show "of the magnitude" that NAIAS has been in the past will require support from domestic and foreign automakers and other stakeholders, Alberts said.