Detroit auto show canceled for ’21; alternate outdoor event planned

DETROIT — The Detroit auto show, rescheduled because of the pandemic, has been canceled altogether for 2021, organizers said Monday.

The show, slated for September in downtown Detroit, will be replaced this year by an outdoor, enthusiast-focused event at a racetrack north of Detroit in Pontiac, Mich.

While many details have yet to be worked out, organizers anticipate new and redesigned vehicle introductions and other events that typically take place at a traditional auto show at the racetrack, although on a smaller scale. Officials declined to say whether the new format would be permanent or if they would return to a more traditional auto show in the fall of 2022.

The Detroit Auto Dealers Association, which operates the show, said it would host a reimagined version of its “Motor Bella” concept at the M1 Concourse in Pontiac, Mich., from Sept. 21-26, featuring 1.6 million square feet of dynamic vehicle and technology display space. Organizers say the site also offers a 1.5-mile hot track for technology and vehicle demonstrations.  

Motor Bella was originally envisioned as a festival of European supercars to take place alongside the auto show in downtown Detroit.

“The pandemic has caused changes in our society and world in ways not previously imagined, and we all should be looking for new and highly creative ways of doing business,” DADA Executive Director Rod Alberts said in a statement. “This new event captures that creative spirit. It will provide new mobility experiences and increasingly innovative approaches to tapping into the industry and its products.”

The Detroit auto show, which has not been held since January 2019, has changed dates multiple times. The event was supposed to move from January to June of 2020, but was canceled due to the pandemic and rescheduled for June 2021. Organizers later rescheduled it for fall 2021.

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Although the switch to September was announced less than four months ago, officials said in recent months the prospect of safely hosting a large event grew bleak.

“As we continued to watch the world and watch a vaccine roll out well in some places and not well in other places and still having lockdowns in some areas, it really became clear to us that we were not going to have the kind of show we wanted to have,” said Doug North, chairman of the show. “Many of our stakeholders who have to make significant investments are all feeling the pandemic crunch in their budgets. It became clear we’d be asking too much.”

North would not commit to staging a more traditional auto show in downtown Detroit if the coronavirus pandemic is no longer a concern in September 2022.

“No one’s been bigger supporters of the city than our show,” North said. “It’s had a dramatic impact on Southeast Michigan and we feel really good about that. We’re not abandoning anything and really trying to do what we can with the cards we’ve been dealt. We can’t speak to the future because auto shows are being canceled and postponed and terminated throughout the world. Not to mention they’re continuing to evolve in ways that aren’t traditional.”

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North said there are parts of the M1 property that would be available for displays and vehicle introductions, but did not have specific details on how space would be divided among automakers or other companies.

He said organizers are confident there’s enough on-site parking to accommodate guests. It’s unclear, however, if there will be coronavirus-related capacity restrictions.

In a statement, North said Motor Bella will be a mobility-focused event “that will provide our show partners with a cost-efficient backdrop to share all of their brands, products and technologies in a fun and festival-like atmosphere that’s completely outdoors.”  

Motor Bella will include a press preview on Sept. 21; an AutoMobili-D showcase Sept. 21-23; industry preview days Sept. 22 and 23rd; and a public show Sept. 23-26. Organizers said a charity event is also in the works, although details are unclear.

Despite the possibility that Detroit could go more than 40 months between traditional auto shows, North said he doesn’t believe they’re becoming irrelevant.

“We firmly believe auto shows have a place in the automotive world,” he said. “There is an evolution under way, and the farther we get out the more you’re going to see that taking place.”

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