We are in the second year of the coronavirus pandemic, and it has continued to wreak havoc at major auto shows. A few have been canceled altogether, such as the New York and Geneva shows, and other shows such as Chicago and Detroit have been significantly downsized with different formats. When we were planning our coverage of the LA Show, we again expected something meager, as only four mainstream OEMs held press conferences, with the rest of the day being occupied by small startups. But it turned out to be almost business as usual at the convention center.
Of course, there were still signs the world was still a bit of a mess. Masks were compulsory throughout the convention center. Participants were required to show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test before entering. One of the strangest decisions was not to provide name badges, in order to minimize contact between employees and participants. This led to a lot of awkward stares as we all tried to figure out who was hiding behind our masks. James Riswick and I brought our own badges because of this.
But put that aside, and nothing was really out of the ordinary. The exhibitions were distributed in the same main rooms as in previous years. And unlike Chicago, everything was put together before the media arrived. Each hall was quite full, even in the absence of a number of major manufacturers like Audi, BMW, Honda, Mazda and Volvo. Technically these last three had screens, but only because their Galpin dealers put something together. And once the press conferences kicked off, every screen was filled with reporters who poured into adjacent booths. If you hadn’t shown up at least five minutes before the conference started, you would be looking at the back of your head and people’s cameras.
But the fact that there had been some big new disclosures was the main sign that things are getting back to normal. Hyundai and Kia have brought in some flashy electric concepts. Subaru has launched its production Solterra (renamed Toyota bZ4X), and Fisker has given more details on its Ocean electric SUV. It was just the big automakers with press conferences. Porsche has launched a slew of new models, some of which are mean performers. Dodge has revealed even more powerful Hellcats. Nissan introduced a new engine for the Rogue and prizes for the Ariya, which turns out to have a nice interior. Even automakers without an official presence showed things close to the show, like the Acura Integra a week before and the Mazda CX-50 the same week as the show.
All this concerns only the car manufacturers of the establishment. The startups caused a sensation, in particular Fisker and VinFast. The latter is a Vietnamese electric vehicle maker with cars designed by Pininfarina, and their display was just as big as any of the major OEMs.
The fact that the LA Auto Show was as normal and well attended as it was, while still in the midst of a pandemic, gives us hope that the rumors of the auto show’s death are greatly exaggerated. As James Riswick artfully pointed out, shows always have major benefits for everyone involved. It’s a chance for automakers to share the costs of sending the press to an event for coverage. It’s a chance for journalists to get acquainted with the new vehicles and, more importantly, to speak with executives, engineers and others without being held hostage during hours of company presentations. And it’s a chance for consumers to discover products without being hassled by dealers who are dying to put you in a car, any car, today.
There are of course still a lot of uncertainties going forward (we mentioned the pandemic, right?). And we wouldn’t be surprised if we see the odd cancellation again next year. After all, Geneva has already canceled for 2022. But we believe the auto show seasons will continue to rebuild next year. In a year or two, we might even see them at pre-pandemic levels.