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Auto Shows Are More Important Than Ever

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Article Highlights

  1. More than 10 million consumers typically attend an auto show each year.
  2. At the recent Chicago show, there were nearly 1,000 vehicles on display across more than a million square feet of McCormick Center, which is why the Chicago Auto Show bills itself as one of the biggest.
  3. We believe auto shows are more important than ever to satisfy consumers’ evolving shopping expectations and preferences. And auto companies that forgo auto shows are missing a great opportunity.

Earlier this month, Cadillac pulled a planeload of media into Los Angeles for the world debut of the 2021 Cadillac Escalade. By all accounts, it was a grand event, on point with a boutique hotel in Beverly Hills and replete with drinks and delicate food, product displays and Cadillac cues. The media coverage was solid, timed to the advertising kick-off.

The 112th annual Chicago Auto Show debuted earlier this month as well, pulling media from across the country, and there was no new Cadillac Escalade to be found. No BMWs either and nothing from Mercedes-Benz, at least not in force. Not long ago, every automaker – including Ferrari, Lamborghini and Rolls-Royce – would be at the big shows because the shows mattered. Today, some makers are leaving auto shows altogether, as they don’t see the value.

We think they’re missing an opportunity.

In the first six months of 2020, there will be 27 auto shows across the U.S., as recognized by the Auto Shows of North America (ASNA), an NADA committee formed in 2003. More than 10 million consumers typically attend an auto show each year. At the recent Chicago show, there were nearly 1,000 vehicles on display across more than a million square feet of McCormick Center, which is why the Chicago Auto Show bills itself as one of the biggest.

More than 3,000 media attended the Chicago Show press days, and a lot of them were desperate for a strong new-product story to tell. There wasn’t one. Cadillac kept the Escalade in L.A. and most automakers
focused on minor special-edition paint schemes and trim packages. Ford showed a beautiful $750,000-version of the GT hypercar without any paint, Chevy had a facelifted Equinox that was not much to see, and there were other minor product updates from Chrysler, Honda and Hyundai. Nissan had a new engine in the Frontier pickup but spent most the show focused on a 1,000,000-mile-version of the same truck, which was far more interesting.

We all remember when automakers launched new vehicles at auto shows and had great success, conjuring up reams of media coverage and tangible excitement. Over time, it got too crowded though, and the fight to be The Big Story became ruthless. Today, some automakers think it’s simply not worth the risk of having their important new vehicle being overshadowed by another.It has become a common chorus among some industry media that auto shows are dead because new products are not “launching” at the shows. Our take is different.

We believe auto shows are more relevant than ever to the car buying experience. A new study from Cox Automotive – Reimagining the Automotive Consumer Experience – shows that vehicle shoppers are visiting fewer dealerships in the car buying process. It’s not that consumers don’t want to visit dealerships and see products. It’s that they want a better experience. Instead of being sold to, they want to experience the vehicles – learn about their features and technology – in a no-pressure environment.

When consumers imagine a better car buying experience, they often imagine “brand experience centers,” which are venues that showcase the product without a sales pitch. In fact, 70% of consumers in our recent study noted they found appealing the idea of a location where they could view vehicles and get guided tours of vehicle features from individuals who were experts on the product, not salespeople. One person in the survey said, “It would be a no-pressure situation and would motivate me to learn more on my own about the brand and possibly motivate me to purchase it.” Importantly, 50% of those surveyed indicated they would switch to a brand that offered this concept.

Some makers are experimenting with this concept, including Lincoln, and brand experience centers are at the heart of the sales process for Tesla, a one-time start-up that’s grown into the largest luxury-vehicle brand in the U.S.

Our research shows 6 in 10 consumers want a relationship with a dealer that extends well beyond the transaction. In other words, they want product help, not sales help. Modern consumers are looking to shop in the dealership and buy online, which is likely why the brand experience center concept is so appealing. And why auto shows can be so powerful.

Auto shows tick a lot of the brand-experience-center boxes – no salespeople, product to see, features to learn about, a fun, no-pressure environment. Imagine dozens of brand experience centers all in one place, lined with hundreds of vehicles. It’s no wonder the organizers of the Chicago Auto Show happily show research indicating 60% of visitors are looking to purchase a vehicle in the following 12 months, and that 70% of the intenders say they decided on their next vehicle at the show.

The top 3 reasons people attend the Chicago Auto Show? It’s fun and entertaining; they want to see new vehicles; and they want to compare and shop. In other words, they want a brand experience center.

Modern consumers can find more information than ever online, about any car, at any price point. But that’s just data, and there’s more to know than just data. As the auto industry transforms, we believe more than ever in the importance of seeing, touching and learning about new vehicles. As vehicles and mobility change – hello EVs! – we believe there’s a growing urgency for consumers to learn about new vehicle technology, including safety features and advanced driver assistance technologies. The modern dealership is a great place to do that. And so is the local auto show.

Auto shows may no longer be about the all-new product launch, but they certainly are about products available at the showroom today. For that reason, we believe auto shows are more important than ever to satisfy consumers’ evolving shopping expectations and preferences. And auto companies that forgo auto shows are missing a great opportunity.

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