The traditional auto show is quickly disappearing. In fact, it may already be gone. Tradition is based on the idea of something being “long-standing.” But very few things stand forever, and they change with time.
We are wrestling with that here in Detroit. We want our North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) tradition to endure, even though we recognize that today we are experiencing an inflection point impacting the auto industry. Everything is changing — the vehicle, how we live, the consumer interface, and even our priorities. This is a convergence of mobility, digital and artificial intelligence proliferation, and a changing planet. We either find a path to the upward trajectory curve or fall victim to the downward spiral. Things cannot stay the same, even though we may wish they could.
As one of the founders of Intel, Andy Grove, once said, “The person who is the star of a previous era is often the last one to adapt to change, the last one to yield to logic of a strategic inflection point and tends to fall harder than most.”
Sound familiar? How many times has Detroit, its products, or industry fallen harder than most? General Motors does not want to be the star of a previous era; they want to own a significant part of the future. For them, leading the way means zero crashes, zero emissions, zero congestion, and an all-electric future.
The experts say that an auto show must now be experiential, but for attendees, seeing the cars up close has always been an experience, ever since the first auto show in Paris in 1898, followed by the Detroit Auto Show in 1899. While cars and trucks have changed over the last century and a quarter, they still have four wheels and are primarily propelled by an internal combustion engine. As for the act of viewing, testing, and buying a car, that remains much the same, but the “experience” has changed and must continue to transform.
We thought June of 2020 was going to be “it!” The new Detroit show, the new experience. But, due to a global health crisis, it was not to be. All of us in the region should be motivated to be a part of the solution to chart the future for this invaluable event. We must help determine, create, and build a new experience.
The NAIAS team knows that we must capitalize on Detroit’s position as the most unique cluster of auto-mobility technology, engineering, testing, and advanced manufacturing in the world. Period. There is nothing else like it. The sheer amount and concentration of innovators, companies, decision-makers, and industry stakeholders here does not exist anywhere else. Having and holding an auto show is something we have owned and need to, as the industry’s epicenter.
Nobody in Michigan’s center of the auto industry wants to stand still. While the evolution will never stop, we are not yielding the perception and brand of our industry, of Detroit, and of Michigan. For the sake of our present and future workforce, economy, diversity, equity, inclusion, and new Americans, this industry and the solutions it brings to the world matter. Our show matters. And looking to the future, working together, it’s easy to like our chances of keeping it successful in new ways.
Glenn Stevens is the executive director of MICHauto and serves as the Detroit Regional Chamber’s vice president of automotive and mobility initiatives. In this role, Stevens provides strategic direction and leadership to the MICHauto program in its efforts to promote, grow, and retain Michigan’s automotive and next-generation mobility industries. MICHauto is a statewide industry association focused on developing Michigan’s automotive and mobility industry in the key areas of: talent and education, advocacy, industry awareness, mobility, and the startup ecosystem.