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Officials Hope Date Change Will Drive More Visitors To Detroit Auto Show


So it is the start of the 30th annual North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It is also the last time that show will be held in January. The once can't-miss event is moving to the summer next year in hopes of regaining some of its lost glory. Here's Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton.

TRACY SAMILTON, BYLINE: The North American International Auto Show used to be a really big deal, drawing almost every automaker, big or small. But in recent years, it's often been snubbed, especially by luxury car companies choosing to display in LA or the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas instead. It's tempting to blame the weather. In Detroit in January, dark, depressing clouds often hide the sun. The cold is finger-numbing, and snowstorms can be just around the corner.

TOM KRISHER: The Monday of the auto show press days was always one of the worst days of my life.

SAMILTON: That's Tom Krisher. He's a veteran auto beat reporter for The Associated Press. He's driven to Detroit through black ice, snow drifts.

KRISHER: And then you can't find your car when you come out at night because it's covered with snow and a bunch of other cars have come in. So I'm extremely happy that it's going to be in the summertime.

SAMILTON: But it's not just the weather; it's the cost for automakers to display at Detroit.

Doug North will be chairman of the 2020 show. Today he's on the show floor watching preparations.

DOUG NORTH: What you see right now is there's probably 1,500 workers that are working, that are going to put this together. And then 1,700 semi-trailer trucks have brought equipment in.

SAMILTON: North says delays and overtime from Christmas and New Year's increase labor costs. A summer show will cost a lot less. Automakers can also expand their displays outside.

NORTH: Many of these displays out here are two stories, and they have escalators. And they have vehicles hanging on the side of walls.

SAMILTON: If car companies come back, organizers trust media will, too. Media attendance was about half its usual number this year. Auto journalist Laura Burstein was among those who decided to skip Detroit.

LAURA BURSTEIN: Because of what we consider to be kind of a dearth of news as far as new vehicles go.

SAMILTON: Burstein says the trend isn't encouraging for Detroit or any auto show for that matter. Car companies are finding cheaper, more exclusive ways to create buzz for new cars. Take BMW, which rented an airplane hangar a few years back.

BURSTEIN: So then over several days, they invited dealers, media, VIPs and even the public to come see all of its cars. So they eventually had a captive audience immersed in a single brand for as long as they wanted to stay instead of having to worry about - what's the other guy doing across the aisle?

SAMILTON: On the other hand, many consumers still like car shows and want to compare different cars side-by-side. In the long run, Detroit itself could benefit from a summer show because attendees could also check out that hip, new restaurant downtown or take in a baseball game - though I'm going to bet the old timers will still swap stories about the show being snowed in back in the day.

For NPR News, I'm Tracy Samilton.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMANCIPATOR'S "TREE HUNT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tracy Samilton covers the auto beat for Michigan Radio. She has worked for the station for 12 years, and started out as an intern before becoming a part-time and, later, a full-time reporter. Tracy's reports on the auto industry can frequently be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as on Michigan Radio. She considers her coverage of the landmark lawsuit against the University of Michigan for its use of affirmative action a highlight of her reporting career.
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