The decline of the traditional auto show has sucked the life out of the 2009 world circuit. With car companies unwilling to foot the multi-million dollar bills associated with flying their assortment of vehicles, displays and personnel from city to city and country to country, even the larger shows in Detroit, Chicago and Tokyo have fallen victim to diminished participation.
Several of the big Japanese car companies declined to make the haul across the Pacific in January to fill the Cobo Center for the North American International Auto Show, and even glitterati such as Porsche and Ferrari opted out of the exhibition. The Tokyo Motor Show has seen its guest list cut so short that the Japanese Automobile Manufacturer’s Association is considering canceling the entire thing.
Personally, this news saddens me a great deal. The GM Motorama’s of the 50’s were an amazing spectacle, and auto shows have historically been exciting places for gearheads to gather and gawk at the new models that maybe they wouldn’t have the chance to get close to anywhere else. As a child it was a real treat to be take by my father to the Montreal show, a tradition I kept up with my friends once I was on my own.
Last year, I fulfilled a lifelong dream to finally visit the Detroit show with a close companion, and it was a great experience. I now realize that we were both lucky to have finally made our travel plans work out when we did, because if we had put things off for just one more year we would have been severely disappointed.
2008 was most likely the last of the big hurrahs when it comes to automotive exhibitions. While the current recession will not last forever, the industry is liable to emerge from it with a more sober perspective on gratuitous spending, particularly the North American automakers who were the recipients of public funds. The days of flashy product introductions and media excess look to be behind us as corporations work on selling the steak (fuel economy, safety) and not the sizzle (horsepower, conspicuous consumption).