Motor Bella Detroit Fixed What's Wrong With Auto Shows

Detroit Auto Show / Comments

New look festival gets customers in the vehicles and in the dirt.

Stop us if you've heard this one before: the old ways are changing. That includes everything from personal technology to the vehicles we drive, and also the way we learn about them. It used to be a newspaper, then the local news. And once in a while, you'd make it down to your closest auto show in New York or Miami, LA, Chicago, Detroit, or the dozens of others scattered around the country.

The problem with the old model of auto shows (walk, look at a cool car, walk, look at some less cool cars, walk, etc.) is that the display doesn't match the spirit of the product. Cars, now more than ever, are interactive. The enthusiasts are there for the driving experience, but the technology, comfort, and convenience features are more important for most.

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To that end, and because Covid put an end to traditional car shows as we know them, Detroit planned something new. A semi-city-wide summer festival of sorts - the North American International Auto Show is famously in Detroit in peak-winter January - with new cars being the main attraction. It wouldn't just be "stand, look at a car, walk."

Instead, the process would be that you look at a bunch of related cars, either grouped by make or technology or propulsion. Then, you'd take an autonomous electric ride down to the next exhibit a few blocks away. At one time, the plan was to included Belle Isle Park, the home of the Detroit Grand Prix. But Covid got in the way in 2020. And in 2021.

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Organizers of the NAIAS and the Detroit Automotive Dealers Association got together with the M1 Concourse racetrack and event center in Pontiac, 20 miles north of downtown Detroit, and Motor Bella was born. Guests won't just look at the sports cars. They'll drive them on the 1.5-mile road course. And they won't just look at the new Ford Bronco either. They'll drive it over simulated mountains and off-road paths. EVs will be zipping around along with autonomous vehicle ride alongs. This is what an auto show should be. Would you rather go to a conference center in Germany or the Goodwood Festival of Speed?

Detroit had to be the city to do this, for at least two reasons. One, its traditional auto show was losing brands to display as those brands spent their resource dollars in cities that sold more Ferraris, Porsches, and Mercedes-Benzes. Or they spent it at the Consumer Electronics Show, held within days in Las Vegas. With car companies becoming tech companies, it's a lot less about Dodge jumping a Charger on Washington St. and more about how fast your over-the-air updates and Wi-Fi are.

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The second reason it had to be Detroit, to bring us into a new era of auto show, is because it has brought us into many new eras already. It didn't invent the auto show, but the Motor City certainly brought it to its peak in the early aughts. And despite what Silicon Valley says, Detroit is still the capital of the automotive world.

So this first Motor Bella - the rumor is that next year it will be incorporated into the new multizone auto show idea - has been a success so far. Its first press day wasn't as big as the Detroit auto show, but we didn't expect it to be. We saw three big in-person reveals, and they weren't sideshows, they were important cars.

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Toyota, after debuting its new full-size truck Sunday night during football, is showing off its 2022 Tundra for the first time live. We got a better look at its massive, man-shredding grille, its new look wheels and brawny haunches. We unfortunately didn't get to peak under the hood to see one of the new twin-turbocharged V6s.

Ford brought the 2022 Expedition three-row SUV. This year it gets two new models including the Timberline for off-road adventures and the Stealth Performance Pack for street hijinks. We were just happy to see those two new greens, interior and exterior, on the Timberline in person. That land yacht continues with its twin-turbo V6 making 440 hp and 510 lb-ft.

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Rear Angle View Toyota
Front Angle View Toyota

We also got to see (as guests will on its public days from September 23-26) the Hummer EV SUV in person for the first time. It looks heavy. And fast. And we'll admit, kind of cool, even though the philosophy behind an electric SUV that you almost need a CDL to drive still alludes us.

Detroit dealers set up flags for other makes and models, and the exotics are represented by the Envy Motorsports display and the traditional "gallery" of expensive rides that used to dot the Detroit auto show. Don't worry, your Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Aston Martin pictures can still happen. Also like the traditional show, Motor Bella features suppliers like Eaton and Michelin, as well as a full tent for AutoMobili-D, which is the new tech that will be invading our cars in few years.

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It all went off without a hitch on the first preview day. There was a light drizzle of rain but it cleared up quickly. Unfortunately the second day of previews is cancelled due to torrential downpours in the area. Winter isn't the only dicey time for weather in Metro Detroit. Still, we can't help but think this is where all auto shows are headed. Cars are more interactive than ever, there's no reason auto show displays have to be static.

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