The 2020 North American International Auto Show has been canceled as its venue, the TCF Center in Detroit, will be transformed into a field hospital for patients suffering from the deadly COVID-19 outbreak.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is securing the site for a period of six months, Rod Alberts, NAIAS executive director, said in a letter sent to participants and obtained by Crain's Saturday evening.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Sunday that the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA will convert Detroit's convention center into a 900-bed hospital.
"By mobilizing quickly to construct a large alternate care facility in Detroit, we can help save lives," Whitmer said in a statement.
FEMA will fund construction and operation of the field hospital at TCF Center, Whitmer said.
The Detroit auto show, originally scheduled for June 9-20 and intended to be a big splash as a show reborn for warmer months, plans to resume June 11-27 next year.
"The health and welfare of the citizens of Detroit and Michigan are paramount," Alberts said in the letter. "TCF Center is the ideal location for this important function and unprecedented times."
The Army Corps of Engineers have been in contact with multiple locations in Southeast Michigan about potential field hospitals as the region's private hospitals become overrun with COVID-19 patients.
Oakland University in Rochester and the Lexus Velodrome in Detroit both offered up space in the event more field hospitals are needed.
Michigan health officials said Saturday that 993 more people have tested positive for coronavirus, a 27 percent increase from Friday, increasing the state's total to 4,650. The death total is now 111.
Detroit Medical Center said it is nearly at capacity.
On Thursday, Michigan began implementing a plan in which hospitals outside Southeast Michigan have been asked to serve as "relief" hospitals. They will offer 10 percent of their usual bed capacity to accept patients from hospitals overwhelmed with coronavirus patients, the state said.
Officials at Henry Ford, Beaumont and DMC said they have been transferring patients within their multi-hospital systems and haven't yet had a need to ask for outside help.
The Army Corps also is planning to transform portions of Chicago's McCormick Place into 3,000-bed COVID-19 hospital.
Doug North, the Detroit auto show's chairman, said organizers were fully supportive of FEMA's decision.
"We're looking forward to 2021 and we're hopeful the world is healthier and available for international travel," North told Automotive News.
He said there never was any "serious conversation" about postponing the show until later in 2020.
"It just wasn't logistically feasible," he said.
North will remain as the show's chairman next year, he said, and the board of directors also will remain in place through 2021. The board positions typically change every year.
He said Saturday that organizers also were hoping to come up with some type of fundraiser to help support the charities that typically receive money from the show's Charity Preview gala.
The 2019 Charity Preview raised nearly $4 million for local children's charities. The NAIAS show has raised a total of $121 million for charities since 1976.
"We recognize what a challenge it is for those charities," he said. "We're committed to trying to come up with some kind of plan to see if we can help them before next June."
All tickets purchased for the 2020 show will be refunded, the organizers said in a press release. Charity preview ticket holders will be given the option of a refund or to donate the proceeds to one of the nine designated children's charities.
In July 2018, the show's organizers decided to move the show from January to June in an attempt to remain more relevant in a time of declining auto show interest from auto makers.
Auto makers and suppliers want to showcase new technologies, such as autonomous cars, crash-avoidance systems and ride-sharing applications, that are better when experienced instead of seen in static displays, thus requiring the show to have outdoor elements more conducive in warmer months.
"When we talk with stakeholders, they see a change in the industry; the way automation is changing how they engage with customers," Alberts told Crain's in 2018. "This allows us to take advantage of that trend and of Detroit ... show Detroit in a light that most people round the world don't see — just how beautiful Detroit is in June."
By the time the show occurs in 2021, Detroit will have not hosted an auto show for 28 months.
Automotive News reporter Michael Martinez contributed to this report.