The Detroit Auto Show is getting a mixed response this year, with critics saying it's old-fashioned and uninspiring. DW's US correspondent Carsten von Nahmen takes a critical look at his own expectations.
The Detroit Auto Show has been criticized in the headlines for not moving with the times and focusing too much on horsepower.
Admittedly, that was also my first reaction to what I'd seen at the show: a whole lot of cars, yes, but nothing more. I thought the show was for the kind of people who have nothing better to do on a Saturday morning than strolling through a showroom of a local car dealer — boring!
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The North American International Auto Show is no Cirque de Soleil and not even an innovative fair like the CES in Las Vegas. What's on display in Detroit is not the future: it's the present. And right now, customers in the US want SUVs and pickups, hence they're getting SUVs and pickups.
Impact of global e-mobility drive
Mind you, there are actually a few signs here and there that Detroit is looking to the future. Each carmaker attending boasts at least one electric or hybrid model. Mercedes has said it wants to electrify its complete fleet over the next couple of years. BMW already claims to be an e-mobility leader in the luxury cars segment.
They all expect e-cars to boost their market share to 15 percent within a decade, up from just 1 percent right now, and they're getting into gear to be part of this development. There's also a lot of talk here about connectivity and autonomous driving, the new buzzwords among tech and computer freaks, but that's rather a side-show, not the main focus.
There have also been reports about German and other auto manufacturers not having sent their top executives to Detroit, perhaps with the exception of Daimler, whose CEO, Dieter Zetsche, made a point of presenting the new Mercedes G-Class personally.
What's worse, some innovative market players such as Tesla are not represented at the show at all. Others, such as Waymo (Googlecars) are attending, but are keeping a low profile.
Those present do what they think is best for themselves. BMW for instance, which US President Donald Trump sees as an enemy of the domestic auto industry, doesn't tire of emphasizing its deep roots in the US, its multi-billion-dollar investments here and its contribution to safe jobs in the country. "We call the United States our second home," CFO Nicolas Peter has repeatedly told reporters.
VW, under special scrutiny after its emissions-cheating scandal, is playing the role of a reformed sinner, back on the path of success.
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Alfa Romeo is running a truly Italian advertising campaign at the show, not stopping short of using lasciviously dressed hostesses to tout its cars in the times of #MeToo.
Business as usual — big business!
All in all, there seems little to get really excited about. But what if the problem is rather us journalists? Always on the lookout for something truly new, and with numerous car shows under our belts, we tend to get increasingly harder to please.
The car industry itself is taking a more pragmatic stance, viewing Detroit as a welcome venue to tout new models in a country still representing one of the most important car markets in the world.
Like it or not, Detroit is providing carmakers around the world with an opportunity to spread their core corporate messages. It's a motor show not to everyone's liking. But it's important for the industry, and it will remain important despite some bored reporters claiming it's out of fashion.