By Chris Haak
Since we last reported on automakers pulling out of the January 2009 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, there has been even more bad news for the show. As of the earlier article – written Friday, November 21 – Mitsubishi, Land Rover, Suzuki, Ferrari, Porsche and Rolls-Royce had all pulled out of the show. Porsche had not been at the show for several years, citing very low sales volumes in the Detroit metro area (as if the premier North American auto show was only important from a regional standpoint), but Rolls Royce, and especially Ferrari, always seemed to draw a crowd at their (well-enclosed stands). Still, those other automakers are fairly small fish in the whole scheme of things, although Mitsubishi revealed two vehicles (the production Lancer Ralliart and the Concept RA), and Land Rover revealed its LR-X concept at the 2008 show.
Then on Monday, Nissan announced that it was pulling out of both the Detroit and Chicago auto shows due to the economic environment. Nissan’s departure is a fairly big blow because it’s a full-line automaker unlike the other dropouts, and occupies a sizable chunk of floor space. Then today, Honda announced that it wil not be having any staged press events at the show in January. Honda is expected to still reveal the production version of its Insight hybrid vehicle, but will do so without the theatrics that accompany traditional press reveals. The fact that Honda – probably the healthiest automaker in the US market – has taken this step shows that no manufacturer is immune from the challenges faced in this environment.
Ironically, when the news came out of Nissan’s departure from the show, Kevin Miller and I were joking about whether there would soon be any manufacturers left [at the Detroit show] a month from now. My reply was that it was a good question, then I bemoaned the likelihood that Chrysler won’t be able to afford the staging of one of its legendary reveals (such as releasing longhorn cattle into the street in front of the COBO center where the show is held to introduce the 2009 Dodge Ram) and that Chrysler probably won’t be giving out the very nice, and probably very expensive, press kits this year either. In fact, I’m expecting little more than photocopied press releases.
The other part of my comment to Kevin on Monday afternoon was that “there will be more room for Chinese and Indian manufacturers on the main show floor.” Well, just two days later, my prediction proved correct. According to Automotive News (sub required), China’s BYD Auto Co. and Brilliance Jinbei Automotive Co. will be exhibiting their products for the first time on the main show floor. This is the first time that a Chinese manufacturer, let alone two, has been in the main show floor (there have been Chinese cars in the lobby/hallway area in the past, however), but generally the Chinese brands have been relegated to the basement lower level among several aftermarket suppliers, museums, and generally second-tier, low-budget outfits.
The bailing manufacturers have certainly provided the Chinese – at least Brilliance and BYD, with a golden opportunity for greater exposure than they would otherwise have had. Whether the products are up to snuff this year – they weren’t last year when I examined a few – still remains to be seen. Apparently, BYD and Brilliance have taken over the space previously occupied by Mitsubishi, which is pretty far off the beaten path anyway, in spite of being in the main hall (it’s next to Kia, if that gives any indication of the value of the space). I’m very curious to see what happens next year if the economy improves and Nissan, Mitsubishi, and others want to get back into the Detroit show. Something tells me they won’t be in the basement.
The bottom line is that the Detroit show is shrinking daily – both in terms of the number of manufacturers exhibiting there and the overall stature of the show. Even worse is that I’m now forced to hold out hope that the Chinese will be able to put on a good display and come up with some nice swag for journalists, because it’s unlikely that anyone else will be able to.
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Note: The gallery below consists of a few random NAIAS 2008 images such as Bryan Adams performing at an Audi press conference, various Chinese cars in the basement, and a Honda press event.