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Goodbye auto shows? Car reveals will soon look like the Apple iPhone X event

Reese Counts

Today at its new headquarters in California, Apple revealed the new iPhone X. Apple's annual events are surrounded by weeks and months of hype and speculation, drawing massive audiences with live feeds and a sizable media presence on location. Apple controls every aspect of the event, from timing and location to attendance. Contrast that to the Frankfurt Motor Show, where dozens of press conferences confined to exact time periods are spread across a huge space. It's a cutthroat event, with everyone vying for a slice of the public's eye. Auto shows are dying and soon car reveals are going to look more and more like the event we saw today in Cupertino.

Manufacturers are all competing against each other for a small bit of both media and public attention. Frankfurt had one real day of press conferences, with dozens of new and exciting products. Still, how is something like the new Honda Urban EV supposed to compete against something like the new Mercedes-AMG Project One? One big car can overshadow an entire show. Think back to Detroit 2015. Does anyone remember anything outside the Ford GT? We also saw the Chevy Bolt concept and the all-new Toyota Tacoma at that show.

Apple can hold its events any time it wishes. It's not tied to some show like CES or the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. All eyes, ears and keyboards are focused straight on Apple. People will be talking about the new iPhone X for weeks both online and in person. Writers and bloggers will be on hand today to get first impressions. By dinner tonight, dozens of sites will have a lead story on their homepages dedicated to what they know about the new iPhone. No single automaker at Frankfurt will get the same sort of coverage.


We're already beginning to see this shift in the automotive industry, with brands hosting special events on their own terms. In June, I flew all the way to South Korea with a group of journalists from around the globe to see the Hyundai Kona. The day after the press conference I was behind the wheel of a car and came home from the trip with a review. More recently, we flew to Japan to drive the Nissan Leaf before its public debut. The full reveal on September 5 was broadcast from Japan online and we dedicated a live show to it. Just last week, Porsche flew hundreds of journalists in from all over the world to unveil the 2019 Cayenne, putting on a show with dancers, a small orchestra and a degree of showmanship not possible on a show floor (see above).

Hosting these reveals outside of the auto shows gives automakers tons of freedom. They aren't tied down to one location where they pay huge amounts to rent for a small section of show floor, building out a temporary space that may stay up for no more than two weeks. They can host their events anywhere as big or as small as they like. The stage, quite literally, is all theirs. Broadcasting the reveal online is also simple and could bring in thousands of viewers that would otherwise only see photos or read stories.

The biggest loss will be to the public that goes to auto shows to see the latest and greatest from all of the automakers. There's not really any other situation where everyone brings out their guns like that. That's still hugely important for both car enthusiasts and car shoppers alike, and the main reason auto shows have lasted as long as they have in their current form. Still, times are changing and the auto show as we know it is changing, too.

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