There's an anecdote I like to use when I'm around folks in the auto industry. My first day at Plastics News, I tell them, was the day General Motors introduced the Aztek. And luckily, my future was brighter than that of the ill-fated crossover. (While the Aztek had many features drivers liked, including an integrated cooler, it had the look that only a mother — or corporate management — could love.)
Those were the days when the North American International Auto Show in Detroit boasted over-the-top stunts. There were performances by acrobats and musicians who once topped the charts. Ray Charles performed at a Ford event. Actors joined executives on stage, among them Eva Longoria, who traded lines with former DaimlerChrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche when Desperate Housewives was among the top television shows in the U.S. Another Chrysler executive rode a motorcycle with a 1,000-horsepower engine onto the stage. Volkswagen handed out replicas of Beetles produced on a small injection molding machine.
Most news conferences were standing room only, and media lunches saw chefs in white coats carving roast beef. And, of course, the appearance of a herd of longhorn cattle on a downtown Detroit street for a pickup truck introduction.
Most of those extravagant displays disappeared with the Great Recession, but through 2019 — the last winter show, which was already planned for a shift to summer — you could still count on massive crowds of everyone from the media and executives to suppliers and car fans.
What I hadn't really seen until the 2022 edition was lack of big applause for at least a few of the new vehicle introductions. Not that the media and others at the show didn't like the cars, but with reduced attendance, there simply wasn't the same crowd to hype up the cars.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, automakers have found new ways to introduce car models. They no longer have to rely on just a handful of big auto shows, but instead can use targeted events to unveil new models.
That's not to say that there was no media hype at the show. (The biggest event at the show was one that the general press weren't invited to attend: a private walk-through from President Joe Biden, which led to increased security for everyone attending, including a person with a dinosaur costume for a display on the show floor at Detroit's Huntington Center.)