Make Your Own Viper Moment at the Local Auto Show

It’s March here in the Twin Cities which usually means a few things: we survived winter number one, got fooled into thinking it’s spring, and are in the middle of winter number two. But hey—no more sub-zero temperatures! Plus, ’tis the season for spring break and warm weather getaways. And if you’re like me, golf season is right around the corner (although, this year, some people have already been out a few times!). Twins season is upon us, too, and of course, it’s time for the Twin Cities Auto Show! 

When it comes to Auto Shows, those like the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago generally are on a level of their own. But there are many other shows in midsize markets that provide both measurable and unmeasurable benefits for local consumers and dealers. While they might lack some of the glitz and glamor, and may not always have the quantity of space or vehicles, they are an essential tradition that should be celebrated.

It’s obvious that Auto Shows are another evolving aspect of the automotive industry. Some of those changes have been a direct impact of COVID-19: such as when the Detroit Show was cancelled in 2020, and when the Twin Cities Show started, but was abruptly cancelled that same year. For the following years here in the Twin Cities, the show was bumped to August and took place outdoors at the State Fairgrounds. I commend the MADA and everyone involved for keeping the tradition alive despite challenges, but there’s something about having the show in March at the Convention Center. It’s a tradition. Just like the NAIAS in Detroit taking place in January. I’m sure it was a difficult decision to skip 2024 altogether, but it’s what needed to happen in order to get back on schedule and welcome the world to Detroit in January 2025.

But not all Auto Show changes can be traced back to the pandemic: financial belt-tightening began prior to 2020. I can’t even fathom the investment from OEMs to support everything that goes into all the shows throughout the year. In such a margin-thin business, where focus is being pulled in a variety of directions, it’s not surprising to see them reconsidering the investment. Stellantis is the latest to make the announcement that, at a manufacturer level, they are pulling out of 2024 Shows. So will local dealers be able to band together and ensure their product has presence? I’m sure it will vary for a variety of reasons in cities across the country. But Stellantis isn’t the only manufacturer making changes. Others have pared back or rely on Tier 2 associations to share in the cost, and whether or not they’ve taken action, it’s probably a safe bet that most are discussing ways to pare back their investment. Or are they?

Some OEMs are leaning in to shows and looking at the opportunities they present. Take Hyundai and Kia, for example. As Automotive News recently reported, they will be taking center stage at the upcoming New York Auto Show. The upward trajectory for the Hyundai Motor Group has been impressive over the last decade and it clearly plans to continue being aggressive in growing market share. It’s obviously been working. When it comes to experiential marketing investments, the shows clearly have significant opportunity.

And the opportunity isn’t only for the brands. For consumers, is there a better event that serves so many purposes? I sometimes wonder if consumers realize an auto show’s value. Despite so many efforts, we know a stigma and potential anxiety around going to a dealership still exists. So what better place to browse vehicles than a neutral site where nearly all options are represented? Given what we know about consumers’ dwindling brand loyalty, their local auto show is the ideal showroom. I’d echo NADA board member Charlie Gilchrist to anyone who even MIGHT be considering a new vehicle in the next year or so: everyone should attend an auto show!

It’s clear how auto shows have evolved for the OEMs and in what they provide for consumers, but there’s another key stakeholder when it comes to successful events: local retailers and dealers. Maybe dealers aren’t as excited as they once were for a variety of reasons. Yes, resources are slim. Yes, not all salespeople consider the show as an opportunity. Yes, you need them at the store on a Saturday. Back in 2021 and 2022 (boy have things changed!), dealers were begging for product—as opposed to wanting it to go to Auto Shows. But the reality is that there’s no better way to get in front of this sheer volume of consumers who may be considering buying a vehicle. In fact, in the survey taken directly after last year’s Twin Cities Auto Show, 43% of the attendees indicated they would be purchasing a vehicle in the next 12 months. When that same group was polled 10 months later, 66% said that they had purchased a vehicle. Let’s do some rough math: while attendance has suffered the past few years, pre-pandemic attendance at the Twin Cities Auto Show averaged more than 100,000 visitors. That’s 43,000 attendees who planned to buy a vehicle in the next 12 months, and then 28,830 who actually did! More than 3,000 buyers in one place every single day! But, like everything, it’s what you make of it. If a dealer or manager doesn’t emphasize the opportunity, will their people? Go into it with a negative outlook and as an obligation, and it’s just that. Go into it as an opportunity, and the benefit is there. This should be something that dealers and their staff look forward to. Don’t wait ’til you’re asked to help, plan ahead and get excited and your team will follow. While ‘selling’ on the show floors is often frowned upon, the connections which consumers make with local retail staff at the show absolutely impacts the thought process when those 66% of people make their purchase just a few months later.

Auto shows play a pivotal role in the automotive industry, offering unique benefits to consumers, local dealers, and OEMs. Despite the challenges, these events continue to be a highlight of the automotive calendar. And, back to the upcoming Twin Cities Auto Show: while this year’s show might be a bit later than the typical mid-month dates, the fact that so many other aspects of it are returning to pre-pandemic normal (back to the Convention Center!) should be welcomed by consumers, dealers, and manufacturers. The Twin Cities Auto Show gives everyone in the Upper Midwest something to get excited about after the challenging, frigid months of January and February.

Long before I gained my current perspective on auto shows, I regularly attended the North American International Auto Show which takes place at what I remember as Cobo Hall (now known as Huntington Place). Growing up in Metro Detroit, this was an annual tradition which couldn’t be missed. I remember my parents attending the Black Tie Charity kick-off event. I remember scheduling the day (or days) we’d be attending and spending hours there. And I still remember sitting in a Dodge Viper for the first time approximately 30 years ago at the show. It’s a memory that sticks with me, and it’s my hope that many similar memories are made at the Twin Cities Auto Show this weekend and at all future shows.

Whether you’re a consumer, dealer, or manufacturer, there’s always opportunity at the local auto show.


Kris Betker

Director of Account Services
Cuneo Advertising

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