Franco’s Vice President of Media Relations Brent Snavely attended the New York International Auto Show’s Press Day on April 5, 2023.
For half a day, at least, the New York International Auto Show (NYIAS) was a real auto show. Over the course of five hours, from 8 a.m. to about 1 p.m., NYIAS looked like, felt like and acted like the auto shows of yesteryear.
Right out of the gate the turnout for the World Car Awards breakfast was huge – standing room only, in fact.
I left the World Car Awards early. But before I left to get to the Ram press conference, I took a trip around the room and saw dozens of cameras lined up by the front stage, a crowd of several hundred attendees seated and dozens more standing at the back of the room.
At Ram, there were plenty of open seats as I arrived, but they filled up quickly as the press conference approached. And then, the two rows of reserved seating filled up quickly with the highest ranking Stellantis executives – including CEO Carlos Tavares and North American COO Mark Stewart. For the uninitiated, if a global automaker sends its CEO to speak at an auto show press conference and allows media access it either means the vehicle reveal is a major deal or it means they fully support the show – or both.
Ram then proceeded to unleash a torrent of specs for the all-electric Ram 1500 REV that generated headlines. Ram said the REV has a targeted range of up to 500 miles on a single charge and produces 654 horsepower and 620 pound-feet of torque. This is enough to reach 60 miles per hour in 4.4 seconds. Afterward, Tavares and other executives stuck around talking to journalists on the stage.
Next up was Hyundai, which revealed the 2024 Hyundai Kona Electric and gas variants. Here again, the Korean automaker’s stand was packed with media and industry attendees.
I proceeded to Kia and got a seat to get ahead of the media and relax a bit. Kia unveiled its 2024 three-row EV9 that executives said will get 300 miles on a single charge and will serve as the brand’s flagship model when it goes on sale later this year.
From there, I was off to Nissan for a “coffee break.” Nissan did not hold a press conference. Instead, it had a coffee bar and was passing out bagels with a variety of cream cheese and other fillings – welcome and necessary fuel to get through the morning.
Finally, I got to Jeep – the second Stellantis press conference of the day – for the reveal of the updated Wrangler 4xe. At Wrangler, I once again arrived late and – because of the hundreds of media and industry attendees – could only see the video screen behind the executives and the vehicles.
The whole experience gave me hope. As a former journalist who used to live for the excitement of these shows and the access to high level executives, and now as a public relations professional who supports clients at shows like this, I yearn for the resurgence of vibrant, meaningful international auto shows.
But then, at about 1 p.m., the whole thing came to a screeching halt. The show floor started to empty, and the electric atmosphere receded to a low buzz. Just five hours after it began, the excitement, for the most part, was over.
In the pre-COVID years, back before the auto industry discovered it could efficiently reveal some vehicles virtually or could host their own private events for about the same amount of money with greater media impact, NYIAS – like its counterparts in Detroit and LA – was a full-fledged media extravaganza that began early in the morning, did not end until 5 p.m. and was accompanied by other private, off-site reveals the night before.
At this point, the prospect of returning to those glory days seems dim. Most automakers are more committed than ever to hosting their own standalone, private vehicle reveals at a time and place of their own choosing.
At the same time, I’ve observed more than a half-dozen influential automotive journalists venting in recent weeks about the onslaught of ride-and-drive programs and vehicle reveals that occurred in March and early April.
Some have commented on Facebook that they – and the company they work for – simply did not have enough staff members available to make all the trips. Others, meanwhile, were encouraging each other to push back on the communications staff at the OEMs to send the message that they simply cannot attend an in-person event for every new car, SUV and pickup.
This gives me hope – and a theory. The trend over the past five or more years has been for automakers to pull out of major auto shows as media events – but I think the pendulum has swung too far.
Journalists frequently express nostalgia for the days when they could see two or three dozen vehicles revealed and gain access to top executives from a half-dozen or more of the top OEMs in a 36-48 hour period – giving them content for both breaking news and trend stories for the next 4-6 weeks. And automakers will find if they push too far toward standalone events for reveals that the payoff is going to decline as media organizations push back on accepting travel for every event.
So, my theory is that over the next 3-5 years, we will see major international auto shows survive as they double down on events that are relevant for consumers and then rebound on venues for vehicle reveals.
Just to be clear, I am not predicting a return to the heady auto show days yore – instead I am predicting the pendulum will swing back enough toward auto shows that they are able to live on as compelling media events.
Perhaps this is wishful thinking. But I know it’s wishful thinking that is shared by many automotive journalists along with quite a few public relations professionals at the various automakers.
Brent Snavely is vice president of media relations at Franco. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.