Armchair Executive: Why Even Bother With Auto Shows?

This is the weekly series where you, the Techshake commentariat, are invited to take the reins of the auto industry, for at least as long as it takes you to write a comment. It’s all the responsibility, with none of the compensation!

Scarcely a couple of weeks before opening day, news outlets from MINI: they would be withdrawing their entire exhibition from the New York International Auto Show (NYIAS). This is kind of a big deal; New York is a big show, one of the perennial “majors,” and MINI has never been considered a boutique manufacturer. As a subset of BMW, they represent a harbinger of new products and features from their Bavarian overlords. And they didn’t just give up floor space, either; industry insiders were expecting to see at least one major debut, most likely the of its newly renovated Cooper and Cooper S, or perhaps a look at the highly anticipated production version of its .

The that came last week left behind a bizarre twist: NYIAS organizers decided at the last minute to change the way their show halls were filled, organizing individual brands by their market share (in vehicle sales) rather than clustering brands together under their respective corporate umbrellas (BMW, VW, GM, Ford, etc).

As in real estate, the trick is location, location, location: under the previous scheme, MINI was tucked into prime terroir near its own BMW family, in the midst of the other German automakers. This year, it would be cast to the outer reaches of Javits Center with other lower-volume sellers, potentially leaving its new wares to be judged late in the news day by a straggling, foot-worn media corps, and later in the week by a show-weary public. MINI USA was left with the unenviable decision to leave behind months of work, exhibition fees, and perhaps thousands of dollars worth of marketing materials that may never see the outside of a box.

That starts to beg the question: what drives us to do these shows? For auto enthusiasts and media members, the answer is obvious–it’s a petting zoo for new cars. But for OEMs, it’s a little trickier to work out. How do you quantify the impact your show booth spend has made? How has your presence directly affected sales?

Consultancy firms have sprung up out of whole cloth to help automakers and dealers , from “majors” like Detroit and Paris to “little fish” like Philadelphia and New Orleans. Admittedly it must be very difficult making solid numbers out of such murky research, but they promise a profile of media saturation, visitor attendance and their buying intentions, and even claim to measure potential influence among those who pressed their grubby fingerprints on your cars.

So what say you, boss? If you had the numbers in hand, what’s the minimum ROI you would need to justify showing up to The Big Show? Do you need a guaranteed amount of market penetration before you consider putting out your wares? What markets are worth pursuing: only large, densely populated cities with large arteries for easy public access, or perhaps smaller exurban markets with freer roads, cheaper real estate and more spending potential?

Or are there more cost-effective alternatives to the traditional auto show, such as small, de-centralized mall kiosks or “pop-up” public displays at concerts and race events?

Have your say below in the Comments.


Author: David Surace

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1 Comment

  1. I’m hoping you’ll have a big write up on the forthcoming Lincoln Continental which to me was the overwhelming star of the New York Auto Show.

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