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Mark Phelan: LA auto show move 'a declaration of war' on shows in Detroit, New York

By Mark Phelan, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Automotive News

The competition among leading auto shows has always been tough but civilized, a 100-year tradition that ended this month when the Los Angeles auto show added a major headache to the Detroit and New York shows' long-announced plans to sit out 2020 and resume business as usual in 2021 - assuming the COVID-19 crisis is resolved enough for large groups to gather, of course.

The L.A. show's organizers had been almost alone among large public events in declining to reschedule sooner. They insisted the 2020 show would still take place this November long after all other major auto shows recognized the reality of COVID-19. The other leading shows in New York and Detroit simply scrapped the 2020 new car season and announced dates in March and June 2021, respectively.

But L.A. show just threw a wrench in the works by finally scrapping the November date and instead plopping the show down in May - right between the New York and Detroit shows.

The New York and Detroit start dates are about 11 weeks apart, within the window major shows have traditionally sought. Automakers invest millions getting displays, presentations, new vehicles and staff to the big shows. It takes time and money to move all that from one venue to another. The NYC-Detroit timetable passed muster with automakers. Packing up a show in New York City, crossing the country to L.A., then coming back to Detroit in the Great Lakes is another matter

"We'll probably have to make some trade-offs"

"This is not ideal," a senior executive at a major automaker said. "Those are the most important auto shows by far. It'd be challenging to do them all right in such a narrow window. We'll probably have to make some trade-offs."


Automakers traditionally appreciated having major shows dispersed through the calendar to provide windows for vehicle debuts from fall through spring or early summer, depending on when they go on sale or are ready to be displayed.

L.A.'s surprise move to May 19-31 disrupted that, raising questions for the other shows, automakers and auto dealers around the country.

Even if COVID-19 is controlled by next spring, "automaker resources will remain very tight," Cox Automotive senior analyst Michelle Krebs said. "Automakers will have to be very selective about what auto shows they choose to participate in and how big they will play. There's also the logistical challenge of moving vehicles, staff and displays - crisscrossing the country - from one show to another."

At this point, nobody but the L.A. show's organizers seems pleased with the move. Unlike other major auto shows, L.A. is privately owned. Other auto shows around the country are put on by local dealer associations, who see the events as part of their marketing strategy rather than a profit center. Local dealer groups also work closely with automakers to attract news-making executives, new vehicles and features.


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