Home » The Detroit Auto Show Was A Wild Party For Media And It May Never Be That Again And That’s Ok

The Detroit Auto Show Was A Wild Party For Media And It May Never Be That Again And That’s Ok

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I cannot overstate how much of a party the Detroit Auto Show was before everything went to hell and the shows shifted from being media-focused to being consumer-focused. But to assist in your understanding I will tell the story of how I interrupted a remote shoot for “The Tonight Show w/ Jay Leno” and got into a little bit of trouble.

This story is relevant to The Morning Dump because the Detroit Auto Show is canceled for this year and, instead, will return in January 2025. I think this is good news, but I’d like to pour one out for what the show once was. [Ed Note: I, too, am glad the show is returning to January. Detroit needs something to look forward to during the hellscape months. NAIAS helped get me through winter many years, and I was always grateful for it. -DT]. 

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We have a pair of Reuters exclusives this morning to unpack. Up first, Tesla Berlin is going to shut down for a couple of weeks due to disruptions in the ongoing Houthi-Yemen-Red Sea situation. Then we’ll talk about how the EU is looking into Chinese automakers as those cars start to show up on Europe’s shores.

Finally, Toyota isn’t done with the internal combustion engine yet!

The Detroit Auto Show Ain’t Happening This Year, Will Return In 2025

Dr Z Spinelli
Photo: Courtesy of Jalopnik, here’s me getting a beer poured by Dr. Z and Spinelli and Ben Wojdyla drinking at some party.

Here’s a story I think it’s now safe to tell.

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It was my second Detroit Auto Show, which would have been in January 2009, right after everything went to hell but before the inertia caught up to all the auto shows.

Back then I was at Jalopnik and we all had to cover everything that happened at the auto show and write like 12 posts each or something ridiculous, lest the villainous Autoblog beat us to a story on Digg (back when Digg was the quickest way to get traffic to a story).

By the end of the day, we were all wiped, so myself and some colleagues decided to blow off the after-show parties and sneak back into the show after hours. I’m not saying whose idea it was but, honestly, it was probably my idea.

Just for context: In 2008, almost every automaker had a bar at their booth and it was just one big moveable feast/drink-a-thon to each new press conference. This was winding down in 2009, with only about a third of automakers offering drinks.

There was some sort of event going on so we were able to grab two trays of sushi and quietly slipped into the second floor of the Mazda booth (back then almost all automakers had a second floor for meetings/drinks). I texted a friendly PR person at Mazda and he said they were restocking the fridge in the morning so we were welcome to drink the, errr, dozen or so Asahi tallboys that were left. If you want to know where this story is going, I have no recollection of how many tallboys there were. Let’s just say: enough tallboys.

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Mobile Command Center
Honestly, we should bring this back.

To compound matters, it was then-EIC Ray Wert’s brilliant idea to get us a little GEM NEV we called the “Mobile Command Center” to drive us from one press conference to the next. It was a ton of fun. One of us still had the key to it so we decided to go driving around the now mostly empty auto show.

And when I say mostly empty, there are some important caveats to be made. Many people work overnight getting the show ready for the next day and we all agreed we’d stay out of their way, not take any pics, and otherwise not make our presence a disturbance to anyone doing real work. We had just enough sense to try and not be jerks.

Unfortunately, CNBC reporter and automotive news legend Phil LeBeau was doing a taped standup for “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno apparently and, of course, I had no idea. I don’t remember who was driving, but I was in the passenger seat of the command center and I saw Phil, so I leaned out of the GEM as we drove by and I started doing the raised-hands-whatup gesture and yelled out “WHATTTUPPPPP PHIL LEBEAUUUUUU.”

I did notice the cameras, but it was so late it didn’t occur to me that anyone would actually be filming anything and it was too late for me to stop myself from being an ass. At least that’s how I choose to remember it.

So the next morning it’s like 5 AM I get this angry call from Ray Wert, who had just gotten an angry call from CNBC complaining that someone flashed gang signs at him during his taping and that person was in the extremely identifiable Jalopnik Mobile Command Center.

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I was feeling not great, but the whole night flashed before my eyes and I had to admit “Oh, that was probably me.” From that point on CNBC was granted the right to use any Jalopnik photos they wanted for the rest of the show as a make-good.

Apologies to Ray, the Detroit Auto Show, GEM, Phil LeBeau, Jay Leno, and anyone who got caught up in that.

I mention this story because you can really chart the progression of the auto industry by looking at its auto shows. For a long time auto shows weren’t about media, they were about consumers. Then they became these big glitzy media affairs. In 2008, pre-Great Recession, it was a big party for bloggers and reporters with automakers spending many millions of dollars to get Bryan Adams to sing a song before the reveal of, like, a Mercedes C-Class or whatever.

Post-Great Recession that slowly began to change. Many automakers shifted to having private events where they wouldn’t have to share the floor with anyone else. The COVID-19 pandemic only accelerated what was already happening, which was a shift away from media-centric shows to consumer-centric shows with more consumer experiences/indoor tracks.

The Detroit Auto Show tried to plan for this in 2020 by moving from its January show to a June 2020 show. That show was cancelled because of COVID and the 2021 show was an outdoor affair at a race track called Motor Bella. In 2022, there was a mid-September show and another one last year back at the convention center.

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My guess is that Stellantis pulling out of shows and the general uneasiness led the Detroit Auto Show to announce this week that it was going to move back to its traditional January date. It sucks that there’s no show this year, but I think this makes a lot of sense, as The Detroit News points out this morning:

Although the show put on the past two years by the Detroit Automobile Dealers Association was able to take advantage of the outdoors more, the September dates came shortly after back-to-school busyness and amid the kickoff to football season. In January, the show had fewer events with which to compete in the winter and could help stir up sales during quieter months.

Claude Molinari, CEO of Visit Detroit and chairman of the Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority that oversees Huntington Place, said winter is a slower time of year in the convention business with more local recreational vehicles, boat and auto shows.

“We don’t have a problem filling in days in September or June, frankly,” he said, adding about the move for Detroit hotels and restaurants: “It’s just fantastic for us.

I love the Detroit Auto Show and I’m looking forward to it being back in January. I know it won’t be the media heyday it was and that’s not a bad thing. Journalists get plenty of amazing opportunities to see cars and it’s way more important to make the shows about normal people, which is something I think the LA Auto Show has done well.

How The Drone Strikes In Yemen Are Impacting Tesla

Attacks on vessels by Houthi rebels in the Red Sea have escalated into a larger conflict, with a coalition led by American and British forces finally deciding they were getting tired of launching multi-million dollar missiles at cheap rockets and drones that were attacking container ships.

Coalition forces struck approximately 61 sites in Yemen allegedly responsible for the frequent attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea. This body of water is key for the shipping of goods from Asia to Europe via the Suez Canal.

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For our purposes, this means that automakers relying on parts from Asian suppliers are probably going to have to wait for ships that are now rerouting around Africa.

Per Reuters:

Tesla (TSLA.O) will suspend most car production at its factory near Berlin from Jan. 29 to Feb. 11, the company said late on Thursday, citing a lack of components owing to shifts in transport routes because of attacks on vessels in the Red Sea.

The partial halt to production is evidence that the crisis in the Red Sea has hit Europe’s largest economy.

The attacks by Iranian-backed Houthi militants, in solidarity with Palestinian Islamist group Hamas in its fight against Israel in Gaza, have disrupted one of the world’s most important shipping routes but U.S. electric vehicle maker Tesla is the first company to disclose a resulting interruption to output.

While Tesla is the first company to report an issue I’m guessing it won’t be the last.

It’s worth listening to the “Odd Lots” episode above with Craig Fuller from Freight Waves who makes the important point that the era of unimpeded global shipping (save for a few pirates and the odd regional conflict) that’s existed from the end of WW2 is probably over. The War in Ukraine has already proven that a country without a real Navy can cheaply disrupt advanced military vessels with rockets, missiles, and uncrewed/unmanned munitions. What chance does a container ship have?

EU Investigators Will Look At Uncompetitive Automakers In China

Geely Geome Panda

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Here’s another fun scoop from Reuters:

European Commission investigators are to inspect Chinese automakers in the coming weeks as part of a probe into whether to impose punitive tariffs to protect European electric vehicle (EV) makers, three people involved in the process said.

The inspectors will visit BYD (002594.SZ), Geely (0175.HK) and SAIC (600104.SS), two sources said, with one of them saying the investigators will not visit non-Chinese brands produced in China, such as Tesla (TSLA.O), Renault (RENA.PA) and BMW (BMWG.DE).

What the EU wants to figure out is whether or not companies like BYD, SAIC, and Geely are unfairly benefitting from state subsidies from the Chinese government that give those brands an advantage over other (i.e. European) automakers.

I mean, of course they do. As do American automakers. As does almost every automaker in the world. There is no fairness in world trade, no matter what the WTO might pretend. Free trade, like history, is just a fiction we can all agree to at any given moment.

The Chinese government got to EV tech first and this feels like the European Commission trying to help its own automakers play catch up. This doesn’t mean that Chinese automakers aren’t, for instance, using forced labor or abetting a humanitarian crisis in the Congo. There’s a lot of reporting to suggest they are.

I’m just suspicious of the timing.

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Toyota: Engines Are Still Cool

Akio Toyoda Honored 600x391

The days of the internal combustion engine are certainly numbered, but how big that number of days is becomes important when trying to combat global warming. If we’re all buying EVs in a year then any investment in a cleaner gas engine is wasted. If the gas engine is going to stick around for another decade then it matters quite a lot.

That’s the point Toyota is making these days, according to Automotive News.

“There is still a role for engines as a practical means of achieving carbon neutrality,” Toyoda said Friday at the Tokyo Auto Salon. “So, let us refine engine technology.”

Toyoda said new takes on the old tech will help win the war against carbon emissions while also saving jobs and preserving the smell, sound and feel that died-in-the-wool car fans crave.

“Battery electric vehicles do not represent the only way to achieve carbon neutrality,” Toyoda said. “Should we not all have enthusiasm for cars as we take on the challenge.”

Preaching to the choir, buddy.

What I’m Listening To While Writing This

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I love a good pop album and you shouldn’t sleep on Dua Lipa’s “Future Nostalgia.”

The Big Question

What was the last auto show you went to? Are you going to any this year?

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Anthony Magagnoli
Anthony Magagnoli
4 months ago

As my wife and I spent MLK Day hopping from restaruant/bar to bar to restaurant/bar in 0 degree weather yesterday, we walked by Cobo Hall (aka Huntington Place) and I celebrated the auto show returning in January. The reality is that the show is a shell of its former self. I used to drive from Rochester, NY annually to attend the show. Even in the last couple years of it being in Detroit and myself living within an hour of Cobo, it hardly felt worth the trip. And scooting an EV around in the basement isn’t going to do anything to attract me. From an experience side, MotorBella was actually rather enjoyable (but hugely weather dependant).
I hope that the show can experience a revival, but it all depends on the manufacturers deeming it worthwhile to use the show as a platform to show new vehicles, concepts, and tech.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
4 months ago

Motor Bella? MORE LIKE MOTOR BELLEND, AM I RIGHT???

I didn’t go. I’ve never been to any of the big auto shows, TBH. This is what I get for preferring lobster to shrimp, I guess.

Supposedly I might end up at Chicago this year? We’ll see how scheduling and such shakes out there. Anyway, bring on hella wintry Detroit and let me do snownuts. I didn’t even get hoon weather in our dumb cold blast. It’s completely dry outside, and I’m suffering with hella cold temperatures for nothing. No pretty scenery, no snow, no snownuts. Let me do snownuts. That’s all I ask.

Chris Jackson
Chris Jackson
4 months ago
Reply to  Stef Schrader

Cold weather = denser combustion air = free horsepower?

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
4 months ago

Might go to the Rochester NY auto show since it’s within reasonable distance. It’s definitely buyer oriented since it’s put on by the local dealers. Sometimes they have amateur race cars or vintage cars show up. That’s always neat.

Anthony Magagnoli
Anthony Magagnoli
4 months ago

That’s a dealer-run show, mainly. Sometimes there would be old concepts that would rotate around the local shows. Not really comparable to Detroit, Chicago, NY, or LA, but not a bad way to spend a half day, either. I worked it for a couple years back in the day when I was selling cars for what John Holtz when I was in college. Now Garber, I believe. It was relatively fun for an enthusiast like myself, but it didn’t generate any direct sales for me. Most of the others hated it.

Last edited 4 months ago by Anthony Magagnoli
EXL500
EXL500
4 months ago

The last major auto show I attended was NYC (I lived 10 blocks south) in April 2014. I was in the process of retiring/moving, and I wanted to both enjoy the show and check out all my options for my first car in 36 years, and first new car ever.

I fell in love with the 2015 Fit and wound up with a red one I still have almost 10 years later and absolutely love.

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
4 months ago

I worked several NAIAS shows while I lived in Detroit and they were a blast, though Huntington Place/Cobo Hall is noticeably smaller than other venues … I didn’t realize how much smaller until my first Chicago Auto Show at McCormick.

I’m also glad they moved NAIAS back to January. Perfect antidote to a typically gray Detroit winter, and better suited to actual consumers.

I usually hit the Chicago show every year — for work or leisure and sometimes both — and have watched as its footprint grows (more test tracks!) and shrinks (no Stellantis!) over the past two decades. It’s always a good time, and McCormick is a really nice venue … but my favorite auto show experience was probably Dubai in 2017. Enormous exhibit hall, fascinating displays of armored vehicles and third-party builders (look up the Bilenkin!), and a great antique/classic show in the same venue.

Tom Herman
Tom Herman
4 months ago

We’ve been to Detroit a couple times, but our usual is Cleveland. We’ll probably go this year because the Wifes commute went from 6 to 25 miles. We’re a little worried about her Fiat 500.

Inthemikelane
Inthemikelane
4 months ago

Only auto shows I’ve attended were in Houston at the Astrodome. Went pretty much every year in the ’90s. Moved and don’t have a show anywhere near us so that was that.

No idea what the Houston show is like now, but it sure was fun back then. I remember at the ’91 show (IIRC) Subaru had just brought out the SVX and I was excited to see it, but so disappointed when I didn’t fit. Story of life for big or tall folks.

Myk El
Myk El
4 months ago

What was the last auto show you went to? Are you going to any this year?

Probably the Denver Auto Show sometime around 2018 or so. I think I will plan to take some time off so I can go to the LA Show this year. Especially if The Autopian can accommodate special guests again.

Scott Ross
Scott Ross
4 months ago

the 2009 story now gives me Insite into why Matt let Chris Harris write that horrible article

Boulevard_Yachtsman
Boulevard_Yachtsman
4 months ago

Fortunately, security footage of Matt outside the Mazda booth has been located.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
4 months ago

1987 IAA in Frankfurt was last, and only, auto show I ever attended. Lot of European cars, as I recall.

Ham On Five
Ham On Five
4 months ago

Attended NAIAS in the 1970s-1980s, whenever my parents decided we needed a new car. Loved it! (clearly, or I wouldn’t be here today)
I remember being very excited to win a model (the kind you assemble) of the 1978 Dodge Li’l Red Express truck.

Was back a few times as a consumer and as a supplier in the aughts.
The show had, of course, changed. Loved going on supplier days; but did not relish the consumer experience one bit at that point.

PS – I miss the days when the new cars all came out at the same time of the year. Such fun going to the motor mall – searchlights, balloons, brochures … New shiny things!
And way easier (for me, at least) to track model-year changes.

Last edited 4 months ago by Ham On Five
EXL500
EXL500
4 months ago
Reply to  Ham On Five

For me it was auto dealer row. Dad and I would go to each dealer to see the new cars. In the fall of 1963, the Chrysler dealer was kind enough to take 8 year old me in the back to see the pre-released 1964 Imperial when I was dejected it wasn’t officially out yet.

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