I just got around to thumbing through the Toronto Star’s Wheels section from Saturday afternoon. As one might expect, the issue is full of stories about the Detroit Auto Show, or as they call it, the North American International Auto Show.
One story caught my attention more than the others. Jim Kenzie poses the question: “Is the Detroit auto show still relevant in 2011?”
While Kenzie tackles a few trends that he noticed at the show, he finishes up with:
“While it still seems the buying public wants to kick a real tire before buying a car, they can find out everything they could possibly want to know about the vehicles from the Internet. Do they need the glitz and glamour that an Auto Show provides to maintain their excitement?”
As an optimistic gearhead, I’m going to answer with a resounding YES!
The funny thing about my response is that I, personally, haven’t planted my derriÃƒÂ¨re inside a car at any autoshow in years. A couple of years ago in Toronto, I considered it rather amusing that I actually straddled a motorcycle but didn’t sit in a car.
At Detroit last week however, I actually noticed several traditional media journos who were sitting in one car or another playing with switches, just like a regular show goer. That is not to say that auto writers aren’t regular people, but they often don’t get fired up about sitting in a new car.
I believe that consumers and tire kickers alike still like to wander aimlessly around a convention hall full of shiny new cars, where they can get behind the wheel and make vroom vroom noises to themselves. You can learn all you want from one of us online writers, but you still can’t get that new car smell or feel the supple leather against your own hide. Perhaps one day, but not yet.
If car shows are still relevant, even with the overwhelming amount of information available online, then why aren’t show attendance numbers better? Perhaps the answer lies in the almighty dollar. Information on the net is free for the most part, usually paid for through some type of advertising. Free information. Granted, it can be a challenge to determine who the experts are, but spend some time and you’ll find some great info for free.
Just for comparison sake, here are the daily adult ticket prices for some of the bigger North American shows.
Los Angeles $12
New York $14
A pause for effect…
Wait for it….
That’s correct, my beloved Canadian International Autoshow is the most expensive of the bunch by a long shot. I expected NYC and LA to come out on top.
Why are car shows irrelevant? Because they are too damned expensive, when the consumer’s primary source of information is available for free. Heck, the savvy car enthusiast can even watch many races in Ontario for free. Racing on TV is free too.
Most people acknowledge that a show of any kind costs a fortune (not a small one) to operate, especially when you consider the size of an autoshow. The dollars must be staggering. Even still, one would expect that show organizers are earning an appropriate level of revenue or they wouldn’t continue hosting the shows.
The reality of this is that the dollars generated by these shows in terms of car sales is equally staggering. What might surprise some is the fact that all but one of those 5 shows is owned by the local dealer association. The website for Los Angeles doesn’t say who the organizer is. Surprisingly, I’ve spoken with a few west coast auto writers and none of them know who the owner is either!
In other words, the shows are owned by the local dealers, who use any shortages as advertising expenses. While I’m sure that simplifies the relationship somewhat, the core message is that car dealers don’t do ANYTHING for free. Someone is making money or the shows wouldn’t happen.
So, what needs to happen to make auto shows more relevant? Seems pretty simple. Make the ticket prices either free or close to free. Let the auto manufacturers or dealers pay for it as an advertising expense.
If tickets were 5 bucks, you’d see the crowds coming in droves!