Auto Shows Still Exist, But They Look Different

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Excerpt from the October 2022 issue of Car and driver.

I’m at the Quail, a motorsport gathering. This is a vintage car show held on the Friday before the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Wait, am I dabbing? This is supposed to be the new car number column, the one filled with all the model year changes and redesigns and the old Sade package joke still unavailable on the Mercury Grand Marquis. What are old cars?

The Quail was primarily a classic metal show. The snow the modern auto salon. Traditional auto shows are in decline, something we wrote about three years ago [“The Show Must Go On,” December 2019]. Since then, a lot has happened to hasten the decline. Automakers are questioning returns on building a show booth, displaying cars, and paying for all that carpet. There will always be shows, but the days of the Detroit, New York, Paris and Los Angeles shows being a cavalcade of meaningful debuts and concept cars are quickly fading in the rearview mirror.

I had accepted that the in-person debut and press conferences were dead, then I went to the Quail. The car show for the 1 percenter and automotive writers who don’t wear sweatpants in public, the Quail is now filled with debuts from luxury brands like Bentley, Bugatti, Lincoln, Lucid, Porsche and, yes , even Kia. It was like Frankfurt 2003, but with better food and fancier hats.

I asked Dave Gardner, Honda’s executive vice president of business and sales, about Acura’s decision to hold two big debuts at the Quail. Acura’s first electric vehicle in concept form and its new IMSA GTP hybrid race car would have been must-haves for general admission enthusiasts and brand loyalists at the Detroit show a few weeks later. Why do it here? It’s obvious to me that the Quail offers validation for relatively new brands in the luxury segment. Gardner made a less obvious point: Market analysis suggests that only a dismal fraction of traditional auto show attendees are inspired to make a purchase. However, the Quail-goers, the ensemble clad in salmon pants sipping oysters between selfies with pre-war runners, are permanently buyers in the market for big-ticket goods – watches, helicopter subscriptions, maybe even a Korean EV. Example: A public relations representative working at Kia’s stand had to inform a persistent visitor that the Kia EV6 GT on display could not yet be purchased at any price.

The above is just one of the ways automakers are rethinking how to present your next car to you. They are also rethinking advertising, the dealership experience and pricing. Weird things are happening. While shortages disrupt price negotiation, Gardner tells me that buyers leave dealerships happier after paying for the sticker than they were when they were messing around with Lance in the sweater vest. Obviously, the way you will meet your next mechanical companion is changing. Speaking of changes, the new car section on page 31 lists them all for 2023. I know Eric Howell of Urbandale, Iowa, is waiting to hear if the Mustang Mach-E will get a Sade package.

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