Sharing a suburban Detroit exhibition hall with a bridal show and automotive swap meet, more than 200 cars and trucks, and a few motor cycles were on display this past weekend to fill an unfamiliar void.
January has always been the month the giant North American International Auto Show (NAIAS)has been staged in downtown Detroit, where automakers unveil important new models, attracting thousands of journalists from around the world and more than 700-thousand attendees over its run of more than two weeks.
The weather may be better in June but that leaves dealers literally out in the January cold when sales are typically frigid. Left bereft without the normal NAIAS kick, the Southeast Michigan Auto Show was quickly born—staged for three days in suburban Novi, Mich. at the Suburban Collection Showplace—a venue bearing the name of a large dealer group.
Blair Bowman, who both owns the venue and promoted the show said in an interview dealers needed to come up with a way to both spark sales and in some way, satisfy local expectations, “knowing that this is a very unique marketplace, knowing the situation of moving the event downtown and the importance of that, but also knowing it was also important both from the standpoint of the consumers that are used to seeing automotive displays and vehicles at this time of year and then supporting the dealer industry.”
Bowman makes it clear, this was not in any way in competition with the much larger show and certainly not a substitute as there are no new model introductions or multi-million dollar displays. Just “cars on carpets,” with current models that consumers can check out and buy now at their local dealerships. Plus, the show ran only three days.
But while the only giant “international” shows in the U.S. are staged in Detroit, New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago, there are dozens of smaller, regional shows put on by local dealers and dealer groups such as this latest one 30 miles northwest of Detroit, that can actually have just as significant an impact on sales.
Indeed, many of the major shows in the U.S. and abroad are losing automakers who say the cost of participating is not borne out by boosts in sales or media attention.
Peter Welch, the President and CEO of the National Automobile Dealers Association says auto shows of all sizes are important for selling vehicles, but contends too much money is spent by automakers on expensive product reveal shows during media preview day at the largest shows, and not enough on the days when the shows are open to the public.
“They’ve lost track of the difference between the consumer days versus the press days,” said Welch in a telephone interview. “They may spend a million bucks on a half an hour or 45 minute presentation at the press conference. What I told them is try to scale back on that. We’re concerned about the consumer days. that’s what sells cars.”
Welch points to Cox Automotive research the average shopping spends 14.5 hours doing research—70% of that time online. But 85% of new car shoppers said they would not consider buying a vehicle without seeing it first.
“So with more consumers spending more time online and less time going to the dealerships, it’s even more important..to put these products in front of the customer so they can touch and feel,” Welch said.
The Southeast Michigan Auto Show pulled in just over 20-thousand people for its three-day run. It’s a modest draw compared with the more than 700-thousand folks the Detroit show had averaged during its normal 16-day run each January. But that’s 20-thousand people who had a chance to hop in a seat, smell the leather or vinyl and give a new car or truck they’re considering a critical once over, creating new sales opportunities for local dealers.
The NADA’s Peter Welch is confident the summer version of the North American International Auto Show will be a success, but he’s also bullish on the ability of this much smaller winter show to do the job for dealers.
Big or small, he says, auto show size doesn’t matter because “they sell cars, they build excitement in the product, they build interest in product.”