Auto Shows Are Dead

I was standing in a crowd of about 200 ‘journalists’, wearing a $40 blazer from Target that I bought only a few days earlier, trying to pretend like I wasn’t that hungover. The venue was the Los Angeles Convention Center, and the car we were all about to see was the Jaguar F-Type Coupe.

The sad thing was, about 90% of the people standing in that unnecessarily large crowd had already seen the car in question. At least, digitally seen it. The images were ‘leaked’ a few days previous, likely by some savy 20-something working in the Jaguar PR department. It was sad, really. Like reading a spoiler to a movie you had just bought tickets to.

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So what was the point? Why did I fly across the country to see a car I already knew about? What was my pre-scheduled, pre-prepared interview with the company’s interior designer going to tell me that I didn’t already know? Nothing, because auto shows are pointless, and if I never went to another one, it wouldn’t change anything.

That might be a sobering reality for some people in the industry. When auto journalists first start off, the holy grail of places to be and things to do are shows like LA, New York, and Detroit. That’s where all the cars, people, and drinks culminate in a mass gala of exuberance and unnecessary glamor for nothing more than a few photos and a shiny press badge. Granted, if you’re looking to get drunk and hang out with people you might not see otherwise, it’s a great place to be.

But it’s not the fault of the auto shows; print is dead, and people want new media delivered to their eyeballs immediately. That’s why we get plenty of ‘leaked’ images from manufacturers days before, and journalists that don’t really understand the definition of the word ‘embargo.’ In an age where everything is about clicks, getting the scoop on a new car by breaking embargo is a lazy, sleazy, way to do it. But that’s a different rant entirely.

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Then there are the manufacturers. Companies like McLaren, Volvo, and Tesla, just to name a few, are failing to see the benefit of these unnecessarily over-the-top events. A prime location at a show like the DFW Auto Show in Dallas, for example, costs $25,000. That’s not even a big show for people working in the industry. Imagine what a prime location at New York or Detroit costs manufacturers.

To combat the insane costs, McLaren hosts a number of events off-site. The 570S was introduced separate from the New York Auto Show last year at a private venue. It got plenty of attention, which was the point, and rather than dish out stupid amounts of cash for a ‘prime location’ at the Javits Center, McLaren made sure that it was the center of attention the night before.

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Volvo, on the other hand, flat out skipped a number of events in 2015. The company pushed for better online exposure, rather than hosting a bunch of half-sober journalists who already knew everything about the car anyways. With Volvo’s successful year, it worked, relatively.

The 2016 New York Auto Show is no different. It just finished last week, and it’s safe to say that 80% of what ‘debuted’ was already seen by the press and general public days before. The most important thing to journalists covering the event is finding the best after party with the strongest drugs and the most promiscuous PR people.

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To say I’m sad about this revaluation just wouldn’t be true. For many of you reading this (i.e.: people not working in the industry), auto shows are a fun place to go on the weekend to check out some cool cars you might not see otherwise. That’s not a bad thing at all.

For me, auto shows are dying. The industry is evolving into something nearly indistinguishable from what it once was. Real journalists stopped giving a damn a long time ago, and the truth of the matter is, auto shows are a pointless, fruitless ideal that will soon be irrelevant to manufacturers and people working in the industry alike. For shame.

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