Three years ago, the auto industry was in shambles and the North American International Auto Show had to rethink its game plan. Convene was there when NAIAS celebrated 25 years this past January — and found a show that has shiſted into high gear.
rom 2008 through 2010, when the auto industry was under heavy scrutiny and in the throes of near-
collapse, the easy thing to do, according to Rod Alberts, the executive director of both the Detroit Auto Dealers Associa- tion (DADA) and DADA’s annual North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), would have been to pump the brakes. Instead, NAIAS hit the gas. When
manufacturers pulled out and there was empty space to fill, show organizers created a new showcase dedicated to the growing trend of electric-vehicle tech- nology. To keep high-end manufacturers from leaving in droves, they created The Gallery — a VIP, invitation-only event at the MGM Grand Detroit that let customers get up close with the world’s most luxurious cars. And in the middle of all that, Cobo Center — where NAIAS has called home since it began 25 years ago — came under the new management of the Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority and SMG. It was another challenge. And another opportunity.
UNDER THE HOOD NAIAS isn’t just your typical show. It’s actually five events in one, held over a 14-day period — including an industry preview, a media preview, a single-night Charity Preview, public days, and The Gallery event. The press preview takes place first, with more than 5,000 jour- nalists from 58 countries attending this year, followed by the industry preview, when 23,000 automotive professionals from 2,000 companies file in over the
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course of two days to see the industry’s latest and greatest. The Charity Pre- view, held the evening before the public show begins, is the largest single-night fundraiser in the world, and has raised more than $87 million for southeastern Michigan children’s charities since it began in 1976. The public show lasts nine days, drawing nearly 800,000 people to view the 500 vehicles on dis- play by nearly every major automobile manufacturer in the world. The Gallery is the newest addition
to the lineup, and has been success- ful not just because it was born out of necessity, but because it’s had staying power beyond the economic downturn. Charging guests $500 a ticket and cap- ping attendance at just 500, The Gallery gives its well-qualified customers an exclusive preview of the world’s “über- luxury automakers” along with a dinner catered by Wolfgang Puck and a fashion show. “Our thought was, to keep those kind
of cars in our show, let’s have a special, off-site event, spend money on it even though we don’t have sponsors, hold it at a high-end hotel, invite American Express Black Card members, and bring the customer to the brand and the manufacturer,” Alberts said. “The beauty of [the idea is] that you start partnering with more people and you create a dimension in your show that no one else has. This was done during our downturn, because we didn’t want to lose the Lamborghinis and Ferraris from our show, and this was a way of keeping them involved, and when things get better, they’re back in your
other show, too, so now you have them in two shows.” Another challenge during the down-
turn: When manufacturers dropped out and swaths of the show floor were left vacant, Alberts and his team had to think on their feet and get creative about what to do with the empty space. Recognizing the growing trend of electric cars, in 2010 NAIAS launched a new attraction — the 37,000-square- foot Electric Avenue. The showcase not only spotlighted the growing trend of electric vehicles and related technology, it featured a landscaped ride-and-drive track where visitors could test out vehi- cles in a unique, conversation-starting green space.