By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. It’s Auto Show week here in the Motor City. Yes, you read that correctly. After two-and-one-half years of postponements, false starts and navel-gazing questions as to “what is it all about?” the Detroit Auto Show, such as it is, is slated to begin with a media day on Wednesday (this week’s publication date – WG).
Actually, this “media day” is a misnomer, because what used to be two jam-packed days of media press conferences, product rollouts and heavily orchestrated and, in some cases, excruciating executive pontificating, has been reduced to a half-assed facsimile of what used to be.
Oh sure, there are outdoor displays, and tightly controlled “ride and drives” in and around Huntington Place (formerly known as Cobo Hall), but the reality is that what was once a proper international auto show filled with crucial new product reveals has now been reduced to a hometown retail show, where the thousands of people who are either directly or indirectly involved in the auto industry in this region can go and revel in the fruits of their labor and say something like, “We did the lower front valance on the new Mustang.”
It’s no big revelation that the COVID pandemic basically destroyed the auto show model. It upended the auto show calendar and hastened its demise by putting the whole circus on a train to Oblivion, which is one stop past Obsolete Station.
Is this the Detroit Show organizers’ fault? Not in the least. These people are struggling mightily to make the Detroit Auto Show relevant and an auto-themed destination for family entertainment. A huge effort is being made – supported by the local media – to make the show desirable again. But the reality is that the plot has been lost and the absence of the Detroit Auto Show has not made hearts grow fonder. Instead it has planted an overwhelming sense of ennui, which has permeated the collective consciousness of the people who used to give a damn.
Yes, the times have changed. The auto manufacturers have realized that the collective hundreds of millions of dollars they used to spend on auto shows was a giant waste of money. Auto shows have been replaced by targeted product rollouts to what passes for the automotive media, alleged social media “influencers” and well-heeled clientele who can spread the word much more efficiently and basically, instantaneously.
It doesn’t help that the retail auto market has inexorably changed too. People don’t shop at dealers anymore; the endless supply chain issues have put paid to that quaint notion. Now, it’s spec-out an order for a vehicle and wait or hope someone on a list to get a vehicle cancels and creates an open slot.
Wait a minute, wouldn’t that make the Detroit Auto Show more desirable? Actually, no. People are used to seeing everything and anything to do with new and upcoming vehicles on the Internet. Right now. There’s no mystery or allure anymore, no waiting with anticipation for the dealers to remove the paper covering up the showroom windows like ancient times. People now know what’s coming a year or more in advance down to the last detail, it’s just the way things are done these days. And besides, people around here are aware of vehicles from all of the manufacturers well before everyone else. We see prototypes on the road all the time, years in advance too.
Is there anything going on at the “new” Detroit Auto Show? The only reveal of note in Detroit will be Ford’s reveal of the last ICE Mustang, Wednesday night. Is this event enough to give the Detroit Auto Show credibility or desirability? No. It’s akin to the Detroit Lions holding “family” day. You basically know what’s going to happen – with a few wrinkles thrown in for the sake of “new” – but we’ve all been there and done that before, haven’t we?
This column will be a bitter pill for some, but reality has a way of getting in the way. The High-Octane Truth is that the Detroit Auto Show is dead, no matter what form it takes. And what’s happening in its place this week will be a one hit wonder. There’s just not enough “buzz” to sustain things beyond this year.
Oh, and one more thing. I refuse to sit by and let manufacturers create artificial sounds for their EVs and call it “good” or acceptable. Stellantis is touting the artificially-created muscle sound emanating from its new Charger EV prototype as something that is authentic and desirable. But that is Unmitigated Bush League Bullshit. Electronic-generated and projected sound – no matter how enhanced – is the quintessential definition of synthetic phoniness. There is nothing “authentic” about it and there is no “there” there. The High-Octane Truth is that it is flat-out stupid, no matter how it’s presented. And it’s the most depressing development to hit this business in a long, long time.
There you have it. Two wildly unpopular topics this week.
The High-Octane Truth has never been convenient, necessarily feel-good popular, or for the faint of heart.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
Even if some of you can’t handle it.
“You Can’t Handle The Truth” – A Few Good Men.