The LA Auto Show has changed. You won’t notice.
Media representatives are already noticing.
Auto shows in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Detroit are special - they all host manufacturer news conferences during "media days" attended by credentialed media and auto industry insiders. This tradition might soon just be a memory.
By Chuck Dapoz
Sat, Nov 5, 2022 09:34 AM PST
Featured Image: The entrance to the LA Auto Show at the Los Angeles Convention Center will look pretty much the same as it always has (Albert J Wong photo)
America has long staged two types of auto shows. All auto shows display vehicles currently for sale – along with soon-to-be sold and concept vehicles.
Auto shows in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Detroit are different. Shows in the Big Four cities all host manufacturer news conferences during “media days” attended by credentialed media and auto industry insiders.
Media days typically have been held for a day or two before a Big Four auto show opens to the public, with news conferences scheduled every 20 to 30 minutes on display stands throughout a convention center. In LA, the media days are branded “AutoMobility LA” and also include additional news conferences and seminars primarily dedicated to emerging technologies, such as autonomous driving.
Since the 1950s, unveiling vehicles at Big Four shows was a convenient way for automakers to introduce, or “reveal,” new products to a large number of media outlets. The day reveals took place, TV stations showed the new vehicles on the evening news. The next day, newspapers reported on reveals and showed black-and-white photos. The following month, auto enthusiast magazines, such as Motor Trend and Road & Track, offered stories and color photos. Media held a lot of power as the conduit between manufacturers and consumers.
The internet changed that and shifted power to the manufacturers.
Today, auto companies communicate directly with consumers through their own sites as well as YouTube, TikTok, Twitter, and other online channels. Traditional media have been disintermediated.
Disintermediation accelerated during Covid, with automakers increasingly using online videos to reveal vehicles to the public, not just to journalists. The winners in this shift are automakers. They communicate directly with consumers - their messages uncompromised and unshaded by reporters. Also winners are consumers. They get messages from the source - fast and unfiltered.
Losers are newspapers, magazines, TV channels, and the Big Four auto show media days. Also losers are some automotive journalists. (See below "Weeping And Gnashing of Teeth"-sidebar.)
Dozens of vehicles will be launched in the next three years. Some will be revealed at Big Four media days, though far fewer than in the past. More vehicles will be revealed online and at small, invitation-only events. And that’s okay - The Times They Are a-Changin'.
There will be news conferences at AutoMobility LA this month. More will follow at media days in Chicago in February and New York in April. But media days in LA, NYC, Chi-Town and Motown are separate from their auto shows and all other auto shows across America.
If you've enjoyed the LA Auto Show in the past, come on down to the Convention Center. You’ll see as many vehicles as ever. There will be more free test drives than ever. You’ll have as much fun as ever.
And you won't realize, behind the scenes, the LA Auto Show has changed.
Sidebar 1 - What’s a reveal?
A product reveal is the first time a vehicle is shown publicly. In the past, reveals almost always were presented to the media, who in turn showed the vehicles to their viewers and readers.
The Big Four auto shows are renown for exaggerating the number of reveals that take place at their shows. For example, the 2019 LA Auto Show boasted of "More than 65 Debut Vehicles." There were actually 25 reveals. In auto show terminology, "25 global reveals." The other 40 were "North American reveals." That’s code for "the vehicle was shown in Europe or Asia weeks or months earlier." Photos, videos and articles are online. Twenty five used to be a healthy number of reveals for a Big Four auto show.
This year, an AutoMobility LA news release crows that the show will have "a global reveal from Subaru." Guess that means one reveal... The news release goes on to say there will be several "North American debuts." We half expected the news release to include a quote from Officer Barbrady saying, "There's nothing to see here."
Sidebar 2 - A vehicle reveal: 15 minutes of fame for $ millions.
A Big Four auto show reveal is usually accompanied by music, flashing lights, a literal or metaphorical drumroll, and cymbal clash as a silk is pulled off a vehicle, it’s driven onto a stage, or revealed in other ways. As part of a reveal, executives, engineers, drivers, and celebrities talk about a vehicle’s virtues.
A media day reveal typically takes 15 minutes, and then the flock of journalists grabs news releases and races to the next manufacturer reveal. Some journalists and photographers linger to talk with presenters, grab quotes for articles and shoot photos and videos. After a reveal, a lot of work is done quickly to remove platforms, screens, teleprompters and other gear and move vehicles into place for the public to see.
Staging a reveal at an auto show cost millions... Auto manufacturers wonder about Return on Investment. Are they better off spending less to stream an online reveal divorced of an auto show? Are they better off spending their marketing money at a venue near an auto show but not in the convention center itself - such as a club or restaurant?
Increasingly, the answer is yes.
Not only is a streaming reveal less expensive, manufacturers get focused attention. An online reveal doesn’t compete with reveals of other automakers. Offsite venues also give focused attention and no competition.
Product reveals at Big Four auto show news conferences made sense for decades. They don’t anymore. The auto industry is moving on.
Sidebar 3 - Weeping And Gnashing Of Teeth
Some journalists complain about the demise of auto show media days. Let’s call them second- or third-tier hacks who miss free admission, free food and, as auto shows gush, "networking." For them, media days are a time to catch up with industry friends and be able to brag, "I saw such-and-such revealed."
An example of journalist grief was a September post by Peter DeLorenzo, on his website Autoextremist. After attending the Detroit media days, with its few reveals, he lamented that the Detroit auto show, "Has now been reduced to a hometown retail show."
A retail auto show.
Translation: an auto show for the public to see vehicles, with an eye on buying one someday.
Further translation: DeLorenzo misses attending the expensive reveals and is afraid in the near future he’ll lose free admission and a day hanging with old friends. Worst of all, if he attends an auto show, he’ll be forced to mingle with the hoi polloi.
No velvet rope? I’m outta here.
About The Author
Chuck Dapoz is a native Detroiter who loves tuners and is mesmerized by the business of the car business. As a marketing specialist he spends a lot of time on the road, in particular in Motown. Chuck says he's the black sheep of his car-crazy family because he works with a keyboard and not a wrench. We're not complaining.