Detroit Auto Show Defends Its Perch

by : Anthony Fontanelle

Rivals are trying to snatch Detroit's title as the perch to the nation's most important auto show. The first attack arrived when William Jeanes, an auto columnist, wrote a column in the industry bible Automotive News declaring that Chicago, not Detroit, should hold the title.

The Chicago Auto Show promptly sent a reprint of the April article to media around the world. Last week, German sports car maker Porsche pulled out of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, noting that it does not sell many cars in Michigan. Additionally, there are the perennial grievances about the cramped Cobo Center and the Los Angeles Auto Show's resurgence.

Can Detroit remain the premier North American auto show? At present, the answer appears to be on the affirmative. Detroit Auto Show remains far ahead of the pack when it comes to media coverage and major vehicle launches. "We get more press credentials at this show than the Super Bowl," David Fischer, a Detroit auto show board member and president of Troy's Suburban Collection auto mall, said Wednesday.

Nonetheless, no one can deny the rivalry is getting stiffer and stiffer. The Chicago Auto Show, with its vast McCormick Center, enormous crowd and chic downtown amenities, makes little secret of its ambition to dethrone Detroit.

"Detroit is a necessary evil that we have to go to," said Robert Kocher, a journalist and former president of the Chicago-based Midwest Automotive Media Association. He added, "The Detroit show is plagued by subpar facilities, amateur journalists crowding out legitimate reporters and a lack of good hotels and restaurants. Eventually people will complain enough that the manufacturers will get the message and things will shift."

"So Porsche is, in effect, telling the Detroit show: Despite your name, we don't consider you 'America's auto show.' To us, you're local -- with only local appeal. The question is: Is this viral? Will it spread to other non-Detroit automakers, especially sports car or luxury manufacturers?," noted a New York Times blogger.

"They can talk about they get more people walking in during the public days," said Fischer. "Well, you know what? If I were in Chicago, L.A. or New York and I didn't have more people walking in, I'd be suicidal. That's like saying you're in Nevada and you have more deserts than we do. The relative measure is how many new car introductions do you get and how much press do you generate. And we win hands down."

Jerry Cizek, the Chicago Auto Show general manager, has a contradictory view. "There's only a certain amount of media that the manufacturers really care about, and those writers come to Chicago. We have the premier exhibition hall in America."

"Even with the expansion of the other shows, Detroit will continue as the preeminent U.S. auto show," Bob Lutz, the General Motors Corp. vice chairman, said last Wednesday. "It is the only show situated in the heart of the U.S. industry and receives major support from the local manufacturers. As such, it will remain a focal point of attention for the world media." GM sees Detroit Auto Show an ideal event to showcase product lines, concept cars similar to the Volt, and efficient auto parts like Saturn floor liner.

Auburn Hills-based Chrysler Group and Los Angeles-headquartered Honda attest to the influence of the Detroit Auto Show. "The Detroit show by no means is losing any luster or its ranking of importance," said Jason Vines, a Chrysler spokesman. "I think what you're seeing are the other ones getting stronger." Honda spokesman Sage Marie said, "It's certainly a world stage. L.A. market is obviously a hotbed for cutting edge environmental activities."