Auto shows are still a great way to attract consumers.
For many years, autos shows represented the best chance for consumers to look at vehicles from several different brands and cross-shop between them. In recent years, however, many automakers have decided to abandon major auto shows and instead hold their own private launch events. Just look at the upcoming 2019 Geneva Motor Show, for example, Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover, and Volvo have all announced they will not be in attendance.
Volkswagen Group Chairman Dr. Herbert Diess has even said traditional auto shows are dead and events like the Goodwood Festival of Speed are the future. Speaking to Automotive News at the 2019 Chicago Auto Show, however, two of the world's largest automakers were quick to defend the importance of auto shows.
Contrary to the words of Dr. Diess, Volkswagen (the world's largest automaker in 2018) was quick to defend auto shows as was Toyota, the world's second-largest automaker. "For us, it's probably one of the most efficient ways to get in front of as many consumers as we possibly can," said Derrick Hatami, executive vice president for sales and marketing with Volkswagen Group of America. "To be able to get access to 11 million people last year with our products, and have them sit in it, touch and feel, and in some instances actually drive them, it's a huge benefit for us. We always do well when people actually drive the product."
Volkswagen is a much smaller automaker in the US (with only 2% market share) compared to the rest of the world. "We have some great brand awareness, but I think we struggle at the model level. I think a lot of people associate Volkswagen with the Beetle and the Microbus, and when you ask them about what cars we sell right now, they have a hard time naming them," except for the Jetta, Hatami said.
Bill Fay, senior vice president for automotive operations at Toyota Motor North America, also stressed the importance of auto shows but recognized their faults. "Obviously, it's a big investment for all OEMs, so we have to do it very carefully. We're evaluating the investments in all auto shows, but clearly, the Chicagos and the LAs and the New Yorks are big consumer shows for us. We're going to continue to be very prominent in what we do and how we approach those," he said. "I think we have to be smart in how we tie in our PR and how we bring new vehicles to market throughout the shows, and that's something that we're evaluating now as a company."
We personally enjoy seeing automakers displaying their latest metal at global auto shows and the shows feel less exciting when automakers hold out. This year's Detroit Auto Show, for instance, lacked any cars from Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, or Mazda and felt empty as a result.