Organizers of the privately owned Los Angeles Auto Show said that, because of the pandemic, the annual November show in California would be postponed by six months to May 21-31, 2021.
Judged in a vacuum, the decision makes sense: The pandemic currently attributed to about 900 deaths per day in the U.S. is unlikely to let up by the end of November, leaving the 2020 L.A. show a victim of the same malady that ended this year's planned spring auto shows in New York and Detroit.
But the delay sets up a major scheduling dilemma for those remaining auto makers—already dwindling in number—still committed to using auto shows to reveal new products and concepts. Where do they go next year to get the best bang for their marketing buck? New York in March/April, Los Angeles in May or Detroit in June?
Three of the nation's biggest auto shows are planned for consecutive months next year:
- New York International Auto Show: Media preview, March 31-April 1; public days, April 2-11
- Los Angeles Auto Show: Media preview, May 19-20; public days, May 21-31
- North American International Auto Show: Media preview, June 15-16; public days, June 19-26
It's not an easy question to answer, especially when such events have to be planned so far in advance. Michelle Krebs, executive analyst at Autotrader, said the decision to wedge the LA show into May puts auto makers in an uncomfortable position.
"We know that sales aren't going to be back to where they were before the pandemic, and auto makers were already shying away from auto shows," Krebs said.
"Auto makers are going to have to be very careful about what they decide to do. Resources are still going to be tight; we're still bleeding jobs in the industry."
New York's earlier date might look attractive at first—a new vehicle debuted in April would be available for consumers to look at in May or June in the other cities. But that also carries added risks: Given the vagaries of the pandemic and the development time needed for a potential vaccine, those added weeks could be the difference between having a 2021 show and not having one.
Then there's the question of splash: If auto makers all jam into New York in hopes of hitting consumers at all three shows, it might make sense to move a reveal to one of the other shows to grab more of the spotlight. This is the basic logic that's kept the February Chicago show relevant, as at least a smaller player in the reveal game over the last decade or more, even though its consumer attendance and facilities are top-notch.
Toyota is the largest auto maker that still firmly believes in the value of auto shows, regularly dispatching its top executives to the Detroit, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles venues and using each to highlight at least some new derivative or trim model, if not a new vehicle or concept.
Jack Hollis—who until last month ran Toyota Division for Toyota Motor North America and now is senior vice president, automotive operations group—said the auto maker has "become accustomed to developing multiple contingency plans for all of our activations, and auto shows are no different."
Hollis said Toyota times its reveals based on many factors, including vehicle production and on-sale dates. "The prospect of three successive months of auto shows is an exciting new development we are factoring into our overall strategy," he said.
Whether the jammed calendar stay that way as next year's auto show season draws closer remains to be seen. Leaders of Detroit's auto show—which was moved from January to June this year before COVID-19 struck—released a statement last week indicating the event will go on as planned, despite the L.A. show's decision.
Rod Alberts, the Detroit show's executive director, called the L.A. move "not good for anyone" and said it puts auto companies "in a tough situation, both logistically and financially, with so many major shows close together in the spring and early summer."
Alberts said the Detroit show's plans "have been clear since the moment we canceled our June 2020 event earlier this year. We've stayed in line with our plans established almost two years ago. We've continued to be in close contact with all the auto companies since we announced the cancellation of our 2020 show, and we are well into the planning stage to host next year's event from June 11 to June 26."