Auto shows still exist, but they look different

From the October 2022 issue car and driver,

I’m in Quail, a motorsports gathering. This is a vintage-car show held the Friday before the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Wait, am I buffering? It’s supposed to be the column for the new cars issue, packed with all the model-year changes and redesigns and the old joke about the de Sade package still missing on the Mercury Grand Marquis. What’s with the old cars?

Quail used to be primarily a show for classic metal. it snow Modern Auto Show. Traditional auto shows are in decline, something we wrote about about three years ago [“The Show Must Go On,” December 2019], Since then, much has happened to accelerate the retreat. Carmakers are questioning the return on building show stands, displaying cars and paying for all that carpeting. There will still be shows, but the days of Detroit, New York, Paris and Los Angeles have seen a slew of significant debuts and concept cars are increasingly fading into rearviews.

I accepted that in-person debuts and press conferences were dead, and then I turned to Quail. Car shows for the 1 cent and auto writers who don’t wear sweatpants in public, Quail is now flooded with debuts from luxury brands like Bentley, Bugatti, Lincoln, Lucid, Porsche and, even, Kia. It felt like Frankfurt 2003, but with better food and a fancy hat.

I asked Dave Gardner, executive vice president of business and sales at Honda, about Acura’s decision to make two big debuts at Quail. Acura’s first EV in concept form and its new IMSA GTP hybrid race car will be a must-see for both general-entrants and brand loyalists at the Detroit show a few weeks later. Why do it here? It is clear to me that Quail gives recognition to brands that are relatively new to the luxury segment. Gardner brought up a less obvious point: Market analysis shows that only a dismal fraction of traditional auto-show attendees are driven to make a purchase. However, the quail-going, salmon-trouser-clad sets that sling muskets between selfies with pre-war racers are in-market buyers of expensive accessories—watches, helicopter subscriptions, perhaps a Korean EV. Case in point: a PR representative working at Kia’s stand had to inform an insistent visitor that the Kia EV6 GT on display is yet to be purchased at any cost.

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The above marks are just one way automakers are rethinking how to introduce you to their next car. They are also rethinking advertising, dealer experience and pricing. Strange things are happening. Sideline price talks as to the reduction, Gardner told me, that buyers are cheering dealerships after paying stickers when decking out with Lance in a sweater. Obviously, how you meet your next mechanical mate is changing. Speaking of changes, the new cars section on page 31 charts them all for 2023. I know Eric Howell of Urbandale, Iowa, is waiting to find out if the Mustang Mach-E will have a de Sade package.

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