Made in Detroit. Detroit Hustles Harder. Imported from Detroit. Detroit vs. Everybody. Detroit is the New Black.
There are no shortage of slogans and motifs for the Motor City’s revitalization. And now I have my own to add into the mix, albeit from a very auto-centric standpoint.

NAIAS is the new IAA.

The 2017 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) wrapped up Jan. 22 after a nine-day public show run, which followed a full Preview Week starting Sunday, Jan. 8.

Even before the Press Preview Days wrapped up on Jan. 10 and the doors were kicked open by 40,000 engineers for Industry Preview, people already were comparing NAIAS to CES 2017.

There is no doubt the temptation to head to Las Vegas in the dead of winter to warm up in the soft glow of electronic gadgetry is a technology siren’s call that is tough to ignore. While people are talking about how NAIAS stacks up to a show out west, I think they should be interested on how it is closing the international gap on a show back east.

No, not China – that is too far east. The 67th International Motor Show (IAA) Cars in Frankfurt, Germany.
When I started down my automotive communications career path more than 20 years ago, IAA Frankfurt was the international gathering of the industry. Every other September, Southeast Michigan would empty out, as automotive executives from all segments of the industry value chain – from suppliers to automakers – would board Northwest and Lufthansa planes and head to Frankfurt for the week. You could pitch media and chat with industry giants by just being on the right flight.

Fast forward two decades and the number of people heading to Frankfurt seems to be shrinking, while the international contingent at NAIAS seems to be growing. NAIAS brought in 5,100 journalists from 61 different countries, drawn by the 46 vehicles that made their world debut and the 17 special one-of-a-kind vehicles that made their first appearance at an auto show. More than 40,000 auto and tech industry executives, designers, developers and analysts from 2,274 companies and 27 countries made Cobo Center in downtown Detroit the center of the automotive universe for six straight days.

One of my favorite aspects of IAA is having both suppliers and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) in one place. Concept cars and innovative technology is all on display in the grand mosaic that makes up what the show is calling “Future Now.”

NAIAS is making a strong case with the addition of AutoMobili-D that the future really is now and you don’t have to head to Germany every two years to help shape it. AutoMobili-D created a unique space for 120 automakers, suppliers and startups from around the world to showcase and discuss future mobility platforms. This included almost 50 startups from all over the world, including London, Dubai, Portugal and Canada.

One distinct advantage of IAA is its size. The show occupies 10 halls and various other facilities for an impressive 4 million square feet of exhibition space. The mild September weather allows it to tack on another 1 million square feet of outdoor exhibition area. This kind of space has enabled the Frankfurt show to offer driving experiences and views of vehicles in motion.

There is a chance IAA’s monopoly on size and driving tracks might be in jeopardy. The new Little Caesars Arena will free up Joe Louis Arena for redevelopment. If Cobo expands to add it into its exhibition footprint, it could feasibly increase available exhibition space by another 180,000 or more. This would add another full hall to NAIAS.

In addition, the show worked with the City of Detroit to close a mile of Atwater Street along the Detroit River to create an advanced mobility outdoor track. Along with the indoor test pad, these track experiences build off the region’s automated vehicle tech hub anchored by Mcity in Ann Arbor and Michigan’s new American Center for Mobility at the historic Willow Run.

For all their differences, the two shows have a lot in common:

  • Both had modest beginnings, about a decade apart. The first IAA was held at the Hotel Bristol in Berlin in 1897 and the first real auto show was held in Detroit in 1907 at Riverside Park.
  • Both have two official press days.
  • Both are open to the public for about nine-to-10 days.
  • Both call themselves “international.”
  • Both have hot dogs, although one is frankfurter and the other coney.

However, the speed of innovation is magnifying the differences between the two. Detroit’s tech startup scene is hot and Michigan’s growing prominence as a mobility tech hub is catching the attention of international automotive industry.

This year is an IAA year. I look forward to seeing how the show will innovate to adjust to the expanding value proposition of NAIAS.
For all the talk of how NAIAS should be worried about CES, IAA should be worried about NAIAS.