The auto show as we know it is changing. Many of the year’s most important new cars and trucks will debut not on a stage surrounded by hundreds of media at an auto show, but online in a virtual launch.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused the cancelation of this year’s Geneva Auto Show in March, the New York International Auto Show in April and November’s Los Angeles Auto Show dates are in doubt.
Reveals of all-new vehicles are usually multi-million dollar marketing exercises characterized by flashing lights and loud music. As the pandemic makes staging such launches next to impossible, carmakers are finding they can reach a far bigger digital audience online when most people are stuck at home.
Ford’s recent reveal of the new F-150 pickup on YouTube and Facebook was a sign of the times. Hosted by actor Denis Leary from the firm’s Willow Run assembly plant, the 40-minute show captured 1.7 million views on Ford’s social media channels. Before the pandemic, Ford had planned a live event in Texas and expected a few hundred media and consumers to attend.
For the time being at least, this format appears to be the new norm for auto shows and the new cars they launch. On July 13, Ford will follow up with its online launch of the next-generation Bronco, and on August 6, General Motors will unveil its first electric Cadillac, the Lyriq. And on June 15, Lexus revealed its new IS virtually in an online launch.
Meanwhile, auto shows are adapting to the needs of the times. As soon as it realized that its show could not go ahead in April as planned, the New York International Auto Show started featuring a weekly online historical series called “Steering History-iconic moments of NYIAS” that looks back at the show’s 120 year history. This strategy appears to have merit as it recaps the history of automobiles is the U.S. and the important role that the auto show holds, information that many of us would not have known had it not been for these regular updates.
In NYIAS’s May 8th feature, it mentions electric car development and expands by saying, “Their success was helped by NYIAS, which in 1900 had a total of 69 exhibitors displaying 160 vehicles. The most popular models were electric, steam and gasoline, and in that order. Electric was by far the most popular ‘fuel’ at the time.” It will be a long time before electric is No 1 again though.
The auto industry has pretty much written off staging shows and in-person launches this year, and is gearing up to resume scheduling next year. Whatever happens with the virus in the interim, one things for sure; the auto show as we know it will take on a radically different guise for years to come.