Weekly Brief: Carmakers Lose Interest in Auto Shows but Consumers Don’t

The New York International Auto Show returned from a two-year hiatus last week with a new look geared toward a fully electric future.

The show featured a 250,000-square-foot indoor EV test track, where show goers could test drive a range of EVs from Chevrolet, Kia, Nissan, Volkswagen, Volvo, INDI EV and VinFast. If they grew tired of those brands, they could wander over to Ford’s and Hyundai’s exhibits, which featured their own indoor EV tracks where visitors could take a Mustang Mach-E and an Ioniq 5 for a spin. If they grew tired of that, they could attend a lineup of presentations and panels featuring speakers from the automobile industry, dealer associations, government agencies and utility companies laying out plans for mass EV adoption and electrification.

“As automakers develop innovative new products and dealers prepare to distribute EVs to the masses, events like the New York Auto Show play a key role in engaging millions of buyers across the country by giving them the opportunity to experience these amazing new vehicles in-person,” said New York Auto Show president Mark Schienberg.

He may have a point, even if many carmakers disagree with his point of view. General Motors decided that Buick, GMC and Cadillac would all sit out the New York Auto Show. That meant that EVs like the Hummer EV and Cadillac Lyriq were nowhere to be found. Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi passed on the event as well. Tesla passed. Porsche passed. Honda passed. Mazda passed. Jaguar Land Rover passed. Indeed, nothing about the allure of the Big Apple or the possible end of the pandemic changed the trend of carmakers turning their backs on car shows. The three indoor EV test tracks helped to hide all the missing exhibitions from once reliable carmakers and the fact that there were no big vehicle debuts to speak of.

Yet people are still coming. Preliminary numbers suggest a strong opening weekend amongst the general public. Show organizers expect a million visitors by the time the auto show wraps on April 24. Because of microchip shortages, it has been hard for car buyers to find any cars on dealership lots, let alone a broad array that allows them to compare one to the next. In this environment, attending a multi-brand event where they can drive a host of cars in a safe indoor environment, which is possible with EVs thanks to their zero emissions, has its benefits.

The LA Auto Show put a similar emphasis on the consumer test driving experience, as opposed to prioritizing splashy new vehicles unveiled by bikini clad women, when it returned last November. It will be interesting to see what Detroit does when its auto show comes back to life for the first time in three years this September.

In other news last week, Mercedes-Benz announced that its concept car, the Vision EQXX, traveled 627 miles on a cross European adventure, from Germany through Switzerland and Italy to the French seaside town of Cassis, on a single charge — with 87 miles of range to spare. In doing so it demonstrated an energy consumption rate of 14 kilowatt hours per 100 miles. That’s a whopping 10 kilowatt hours per 100 miles better than Tesla’s Model 3 Standard Range Plus. Paul Myles has the details.

Rather than fret about the narrowing gap between Tesla and its competition, Elon Musk spent the week focusing on… a hostile takeover of Twitter. Musk has already amassed a 9.1% stake in the social media company. Now he has started openly tweeting about a $43Bn all cash bid to take the platform private, badmouthing the company’s corporate board in the process, claiming that its “economic interests are simply not aligned with shareholders”. The board declared Musk a “poison pill” in an attempt to limit him gathering more shares. Musk responded with a tweet of the song “Love Me Tender”.

Is this a joke? A serious bid? A soap opera? A bit of weekly fun for the world’s wealthiest man? It’s definitely a distraction from Tesla at a time when Tesla arguably needs all of Musk’s attention. The EV maker has seized first-to-market advantage and more than a $1Trn valuation. It’s using that money to build up its factories worldwide at a pace faster than any carmaker has ever attempted before. The opportunities for mismanagement are rife. Meanwhile the competition from carmakers with more experience is gaining steam. Tesla has botched its rollout of the Cybertruck, which means it will not enjoy first-to-market advantage in America’s largest vehicle segment, the pick-up truck. It’s got manufacturing problems in Shanghai owing to the pandemic. It’s got a rollout in Germany that needs to go smoothly. It’s got so many more pressing things to worry about than a tweet.

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