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Auto Shows In Transition: Big Shows Shrink, Smaller Shows Grow

Auto Shows In Transition: Big Shows Shrink, Smaller Shows Grow

May 29, 2018

Auto shows are a big deal to most Americans. These annual events, held nationwide in communities large and small, bring together a wide variety of automotive brands in one location. Consumers can see, touch, and sit in many different cars, trucks, and SUVs, some that they would consider buying, and others that they can only dream about.

Best of all, there are no high-pressure salespeople hovering around these vehicles, only friendly “product representatives,” who are happily handing out brochures to all who want them. Eleven million Americans attend auto shows each year, most of whom plan to buy a vehicle within a year. Auto shows are fun and educational for the public, but they have other functions to fulfill.

Big International Auto Shows vs. Smaller Regional Shows

There are actually two different types of auto shows. The largest, internationally-oriented shows like Detroit, Los Angeles, and New York, are magnets for the international automotive media. Manufacturers reveal far-out concept cars and new production models, presenting them to the worldwide press in attendance. After several press-only days, the public is admitted for the rest of these shows’ durations. Admission fees and parking tend to be expensive at these shows.

Then there are the smaller, regional auto shows found in other cities and towns across the country. These are exclusively consumer events, where every day is a public day. It’s great way to see just about every vehicle available for sale, whether you are ready to buy or just kicking the tires. Best of all, there is a regional or local auto show near to where you live. They are easy to find and inexpensive to attend. Nearly twice as many people attend these smaller shows, compared to the big ones. Parking is usually free, and discount or free admission tickets are often available from local car dealers.

International Auto Shows Are Getting Too Expensive For Carmakers

Imagine that you are a vehicle manufacturer that chooses to exhibit at these big auto shows. Auto shows are a major expense. Here are some of the costs that the manufacturers incur:

  • Exhibit space design and construction
  • Shipping costs to send exhibit to various cities
  • Cost of exhibit space at each show
  • Assembly and disassembly of exhibit at each show
  • Travel costs for exhibit staff and executives (food, lodging, etc.)
  • Printing and shipping costs for brochures, etc.
  • Cost of vehicles used in each show
  • Cost of entertainers if used

This can add up to millions of dollars for a major manufacturer at a large international show like Detroit, New York, or Los Angeles. This is why manufacturers like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi are choosing to exit the Detroit show. Several big brands are also leaving the major European shows in Paris, Frankfurt, and Geneva.

It’s Easy For Your Message To Get Lost At A Big Show

At a large international show, these manufacturers get a very limited window to make any important announcements to the assembled worldwide media. There are so many press conferences that they end up being scheduled on top of each other, forcing the media to choose which to attend. You get a few minutes in the spotlight, then everyone is off to the new big reveal. There is not much value in this type of exercise.

Today, Manufacturers Have Better Ways To Woo The Press

For much less money than they spend at a big international show, carmakers can hold a private event anywhere they choose. They can fly in the press, make their new vehicle announcement, and give the press an extended driving experience in an exotic location, all without any distractions from other brands. It’s a win-win!

Some innovative manufacturers are doing things differently. They may introduce a new performance car in a video game, or use a social media promotion to generate awareness. There are many options available besides an auto show.

Regional Auto Shows Make More Sense Economically

The cost factor is much less for regional and local shows. The area dealers assume more of the burden, often providing staff and display cars from their inventories. The displays are much simpler, with most vehicles just parked on the carpeting. Consumers can communicate with brand representatives, who are not there to sell, but will arrange for dealer follow up with anyone showing serious interest in a vehicle, after the show ends. These shows translate directly into sales, and this justifies the cost of exhibiting there. Many consumers make a purchasing decision after looking at, touching, and sitting in various vehicles at the auto show. There may also be opportunities for test drives at the show.

Auto Show Trends For The Future

Carmakers will continue to pick and choose among the major auto shows they elect to attend. Timing, cost, and alternative ways to get their news out will determine where they exhibit and what they do there.

In the meantime, regional and local shows will continue to grow and thrive, because consumers in the market for a new vehicle will continue to use them as a one-stop shopping center.