NAIAS 2019: Detroit show gearing up for major makeover

Rendering of Cobo Center setup for 2020 North American International Auto Show. (Courtesy: NAIAS)

DETROIT-- When the North American International Auto Show opens to the public on Saturday, attendees will witness the end of an era. For more than a century, Detroit's auto show has always been held during winter months. That changes in 2020 when the NAIAS says hello to summer as it moves from January to June. Cobo Center will remain the central hub but the show will not just be inside.

“You’re going to have moving displays, technology displays, ride and drives and you’re going to see them both inside and outside," said Doug North, chairman of the 2020 show. "It really opens up new opportunities for manufacturers.”

It opens up new opportunities for the show, too. Calling the city the heartbeat of the automobile industry, North is looking forward to the new excitement.

"We can really showcase Detroit and the wonderful renaissance our city is experiencing right now both in entertainment and dining."

The plan is to turn the annual auto show into an automotive festival that starts with the Detroit Grand Prix races on Belle Isle and extends into the auto show days later, incorporating displays inside, outside, on top of and beyond Cobo Center.

"We've got 14 acres right outside Cobo Hall and there's virtually no other place in the world that has that wonderful benefit," said North referring to additional venue space at Hart Plaza and along the riverfront.

The show will also utilize space on the Cobo Center rooftop, the area in front of the convention center, Spirit Plaza and Campus Martius Park.

Bill Golling, chairman of the 2019 North American International Auto Show, says they have been working toward this transformation for some time.

“We started two years ago with AutoMobiliD, we’re now doing the motion on the floor here, and getting ready for 2020,” said Golling.

The motion he refers to are Sign-and-Ride opportunities for show attendees allowing them get inside vehicles and experience their capabilities in mini test ride environments. Show organizers hope to expand those opportunities next year.

Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi are not in the Motor City this year, all pulling out after 2018. Jaguar, Range Rover/Land Rover, Mazda and Volvo are among other automakers who have stopped coming to Detroit. Chairman North is optimistic some or all will want to return under the new format.

"Part of the objective is to provide them with a greater platform with more options and try to improve their value proposition in this new environment," said North. “With the team we have, Rod Alberts and his team, they’re remarkable professionals and nobody puts an auto show together better than they do.”

2020 will bring the most significant change to Detroit's auto show in more than three decades. Those who cover the industry can't wait.

"I've had frost bite, I've had snow up to my waist, I have felt the Michigan winter wind coming off the river at times," said Greg Morrison with Bumper 2 Bumper TV. "The fact that (the show) is moving is the best news since sliced bread for me," the Atlanta-based journalist.

"The idea of coming here in June, tying it in with grand prix here, it's a wonderful town to be in, in the summer!"