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Detroit Auto Show finally caves to CES, will move to June in 2020

For years, car journalists and fans have been braving Detroit winters to see the latest and greatest vehicles from the world’s biggest car companies — and complaining bitterly about the January cold the whole time, of course. Well, cheer up, friends: The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) will start the week of June 8 in 2020, giving you a whole new season to complain about.

“Our show is undergoing its most significant transformation in the last three decades,” said Rod Alberts, executive director of NAIAS, in a press release announcing the switch. That transformation should come as no surprise to anyone who’s bought or driven a car made in the last few years. Two years ago, I noted that Vegas throws a better car show than Detroit does; for years, the pendulum has been steadily tick-tocking away from NAIAS — which everyone just calls the Detroit Auto Show — and toward CES, which everyone just calls the Consumer Electronics Show. Detroit has been a premier spot to show off the latest model year vehicles, and the event occupies a premium spot at the start of the year. But CES is … cooler, and as tech has transformed the cockpit, car companies have come to prefer being in Vegas to being in Detroit.

Now it’s official: Seeing a steady decrease in eyeballs and attention as CES grows and sucks up everything in its path, the organizers of the Detroit Auto Show are officially shifting the show to the summer, a move anonymous sources told Crain’s Detroit Business about in March. “Auto show officials have floated the idea for more than a year and continue to discuss the plans with automakers, suppliers, city officials, and Cobo Center,” wrote Automotive News, a partner of Crain’s.

Well, duh.

As the two shows have grown to cover similar subject matter, the logistical challenges of covering them both have led journalists in recent years to make tough decisions: Attend both or skip a show? At Digital Trends, the choice has been clear. With major automakers debuting crucial new vehicles, showing off concept cars, and generally whooping it up in Las Vegas, we’ve been skipping the traditional unveilings in Detroit like a shifty hitchhiker at the side of the road.

It’s not just us, either. Two years ago, one designer from a major car company (I won’t mention his name, for his sake) spelled it out to me: “There’s no excitement here [in Detroit]. It’s all ho-hum.” And that was two years ago! Besides, self-driving cars are the most important thing to happen to cars since cruise control — heck, one of the biggest changes to affect our society in decades — and the planet wants to talk about it not in Detroit, but in Las Vegas.

So what will the new show look like? Will it be more of the same or something new, something different? For an answer to that question, we turn to Doug North, president of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association, the trade group that runs the show: “June will allow us to better showcase the automotive leadership, development, and heritage our great city and region holds,” he said in the same press release. “The new direction and focus of the show will disrupt the normal cadence of traditional shows and create a new event unparalleled in the industry.”

Disruption is good, of course. Take the LA Auto Show, which has taken strides to transform itself from a car show into a “mobility event,” whatever that means. It’s not alone. The folks behind the New York Auto Show recently unveiled plans for a “Transportation and Mobility Conference” as well — clearly an effort to rebrand and capture some of the energy and excitement. For Detroit, it means moving outside of the Cobo Center that has traditionally confined the show and onto the sunny streets of Detroit itself:

Hosting the show in June sets the stage for exhibitors to conduct dynamic outdoor experiential brand activations, immersing and engaging the media and consumers in memorable product experiences. A sampling of outdoor experiential activities might include:

  • Dynamic vehicle debuts
  • Ride and drives
  • Autonomous/automateddriving
  • Off-road challenges

It’s envisioned that activation sites will be located throughout downtown Detroit, including at some of the city’s jewels such as Hart Plaza, Detroit RiverWalk, Campus Martius, Woodward Avenue, and Grand Circus Park. Activation spots might even extend beyond the downtown area to historic automotive locations or state parks such as Belle Isle.

So pour one out for Detroit, which is wise to bow to the pressure and reschedule. And as for New York and LA, well, good luck with that mobility thing. Just watch out if CES announces “regional events.”

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Jeremy Kaplan
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