Maybe I’ve already reached the age to say “it was better in the good old days”. However, we must face the facts; with regard to Detroit Auto Show, it is indeed true. The organization did everything to seduce us, we even had to do a special show there for RPM, like in the good old days. However, when we got the official launch schedule, I fell out of my chair, Pierre too, but not Samuel, he was on vacation!
The Detroit Auto Show has always had a reputation for being spectacular, at least before the manufacturer crisis in 2009. My first show was in 2008 where Dodge unveiled the 2009 Ram on Washington Boulevard in front of the Cobo Center (now Huntington Hall) with no less than 250 long horn bulls. Each presentation was a show, and presentations, there were one every fifteen minutes and over two or three days. Impossible to cover everything, we literally ran like chickens without a head. Manufacturers unveiled one, two, three and even four novelties at once. It was truly the American Automobile Party, one of the most important shows on the show circuit of the year.
Yes, there were the Americans, but the Europeans and Asians were also all there. It was at this same show in 2008, at the unveiling of the concepts of the future GLK, that the Canadian actress Kim Cattrall of the series and films Sex and the City, was then spokesperson for Mercedes-Benz in the United States and stood next to Dr. Zetsche who I really wanted to shake hands with. There were countless launches and we felt a race between manufacturers to know which would be the most spectacular, the one we would all talk about the next day. The manufacturers invited stars for the time of a song, Bruce Springsteen, Jay-Z, Brian Adams, Kid Rock, the list is long. It was the good old days.
Then came the financial crisis of 2008 which hit the automotive world hard. Sobriety has become the norm. Yes, there are launches, but the fanfare and the trumpets sound a lot less loud. At least the party was over among the Americans who had almost all just begged the governments to save them from bankruptcy. The others, the Europeans and the Asians, they continued the party for a while.
Los Angeles and New York
There was this realization that accelerated the fall of Detroit: “where is our market”? This is the question that manufacturers have asked themselves. Is it better to show my car in Michigan where I sell almost no cars or in Los Angeles where I sell hundreds a year? The first manufacturer to ask the question that I remember is Porsche. Almost overnight, Porsche withdrew from Detroit: “What’s the point of being in Detroit in the middle of winter to unveil the latest 911 Turbo Cabriolet when I can very well do it in Los Angeles where it’s always the summer or even in New York on a beautiful April spring? “Porsche had just started a heavy trend, all the luxury and prestige manufacturers had the same thought and left. Detroit’s “prestige” was no longer enough. We got closer, legitimately, to our customers.
Le CES (Consumer Electronics Show)
As if all was not bad enough, another show, new genre, based on technological innovations, opened in Las Vegas, the famous Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The problem is that it covered almost the same dates as Detroit. A mecca for gadgets, automakers quickly discovered that this was the new platform to showcase their innovations and all things gadgetry in a vehicle. I remember attending an Audi conference in Detroit where the presentation was broadcast live on big screens from CES in Las Vegas. Manufacturers quickly understood that they would have the same media coverage from CES as they did in Detroit. Their choice was quickly made.
I don’t need to dwell on COVID, it has put the key in the door of the Salon for two consecutive years. Detroit was however in search of renewal, it was planned to move the show in June to have milder temperatures than the polar cold of Michigan in January. Finally, the event has never been held in the summer. Another change in strategy, we are pushing everything back to September to open the trade show season. In this way, I imagine the organization was hoping to pull the rug out from under the Los Angeles Auto Show in November.
2022, the promise
The organization seduced us with promises that Detroit would rise from the ashes, the big party would be back. I believed in it, we believed in it by preparing a special RPM broadcast for you, as at the time, almost live from the Show. Reality hit me when I received the list of “presentations” or, should I say, “attendances”. My balloon deflated, I phoned Pierre and told him about the situation. We couldn’t do a special here anymore, there wasn’t enough material for a “show”.
Here we are. Moreover, I am writing this text to you from my hotel room, while I am still in Detroit the day after the press day. I attended the launch of the new 2024 Ford Mustang, I saw it first, 24 hours before its unveiling, but not within the walls of the Salon. Ford held private events at venues other than Huntington Hall. Four manufacturers were present with a “kiosk”: GM, Ford, Stellantis and Toyota. For other manufacturers, there were a few cars supplied by local dealers that were lost left and right, but nothing more. In attractions, did I tell you that the biggest inflatable duck in the world weighs 3,629 kilos (8,000 pounds) and it is in front of Huntington Hall with Jeep concepts?
The good memories
It is with great nostalgia that I now assume that the awe-inspiring Detroit Auto Show is well and truly dead. I have amazing memories here. It’s the first show I attended, it’s even here that I wrote my first journalistic text, it was on the Nissan Forum concept (the one that will give the last generation of the Quest). It was here that I saw my first Chinese vehicles with drum brakes at the front and discs at the rear, all made of cardboard. I also had great moments with colleagues and several personalities from the automotive world. Just yesterday, I had the pleasure of “chatting” with Ralph Gilles on the lines of the Dodge Charger Daytona SRT EV electric concept. I have written hundreds of texts here and made almost as many video presentations of the unveilings. However, my fondest memories here are with my father, who came to share this great automobile mass with me, helping out with production and photographing vehicles on which I had to write in fourth gear. I really hoped to be able to relive this experience with him, but unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll come back here, Detroit is nothing.