By Glenn Stevens Jr., vice president, automotive and mobility initiatives; executive director, MICHauto
You may fondly remember when your dad or mom took you to downtown Detroit every January to see the Auto Show. You rode the People Mover. You joined the throngs of Detroiters catching a glimpse of the new Mustang, the array of Jeeps, or the sleek Buick concept. This was your annual day with them in downtown Detroit. You will always remember it.
Years later armed with a camera or cell phone, curiosity, and competitive juices, you were now one of the mass of engineers, communications professionals, industry leaders, and global journalists there for the latest unveil and to poke, prod, measure, and take in the latest technology that just might be visible on the show floor.
Every year for decades, it has been our auto show. Time marched on. The industry ebbed and flowed, leaders changed political offices, and C-suites and Detroit maintained their love affair with cars. Michigan remained a global epicenter for the automotive industry.
June 2020 was to be the momentous change, the coming out party of the new Detroit. The auto show, PGA tournament, and the Grand Prix were happening, and the Rolling Stones were scheduled at Ford Field that month. The industry was evolving, and we had established that “Mobility” was the inflection point. Autonomous, electrified, connected, and shared technology would be driving our industry into the future.
Then, absolutely everything changed. The world stopped. Our world stopped. Detroit, our automotive industry, and our innovation, grit, and determination stepped up to make ventilators, innovative new PPE, and we did everything we could do to support our health care heroes on the front lines. Our industry pivoted just like we did in 1942 when we took charge of the innovation and manufacturing that would be forever known as the Arsenal of Democracy. In 2020, we became the Arsenal of Health. Detroit geared up and became the front line to revive the economy.
Of course, we did not have a show in 2020 or 2021, but we will this year and for many years into the future. So much has changed. But one thing remains – our place as the leading global epicenter for automotive and mobility research, design, testing, engineering, and advanced manufacturing. There are other centers of excellence in the world, but only one possesses the unique concentration of 26 global OEMs, suppliers of all sizes, automated and connected test facilities and deployments, and research institutions.
In the spirit of change, it is evident that the “traditional” auto show is a thing of the past. Today, global vehicle companies can launch a new product on social media, and they can host a mass of select global journalists for a ride-and-drive anywhere in the world. Budgets are tight. The chip crisis, supply chain snarls, and inflation and labor demands have made the last couple of years exceedingly difficult. But what is also different is the way our industry is led and run. There is discipline and focus that one could argue did not exist in previous times. This means the 2022 Auto Show will be different too. It is going to be increasingly about the experience and a look at the technology that will be part of Detroit’s continuing evolution.
The industry’s electrification and digitalization is now the clear inflection point. Detroit and Michigan can lead in the new energy and mobility frontier if we have the talent, political leadership, corporate cultures, and communities where companies want to be and where people want to live, work, and play. Detroit can lead by making sure our auto show is a center for technology, product, talent, and trend conversations.
So what will you see at this year’s auto show? It will still be about vehicles, but it will also be about culture, music, food, and people connecting during one of Pure Michigan’s most beautiful months. It will be experiential inside Huntington Place, outside in Hart Plaza, and can tie into all our cultural institutions like the DIA and the Motown Museum. There will also be activity on the river and in restaurants, clubs, and parks.
What will it be? It will be ours. Just like it was 30 years ago, just different. Because things do not stay the same forever. When times of impact and change occur, there are only two paths that can be taken: growth or decline. We have come too far here in Detroit and so much work has been put in by so many. The auto show is on a new course for growth. Enjoy the Camp Jeep, Bronco Mountain, the new Mustang, the drones, the music, the Charity Preview, and most of all enjoy the experience with your children, your family, and your colleagues. It will be about Detroit and our future. And it will always be ours.