At the New York auto show, it wasn’t hard to grab the spotlight


So it was a big show for Hyundai — which also got to celebrate its Ioniq 5 electric crossover winning World Car of the Year — and to a lesser extent for sibling brand Kia. Both showed off freshened versions of their hugely successful large crossovers: the Palisade and the Telluride.

It also looked like a good show for Stellantis, with its Jeep Wagoneer L and Grand Wagoneer L extended versions, which seemed well timed with gasoline prices falling from the thermosphere to the stratosphere. A dressed-up Chrysler Airflow Concept and a little news about the development of the Ram EV added to the fun.

But otherwise, automakers’ engagement with the show was pretty limited. Several brands — most prominently the European luxury marques — didn’t even bother to put up a stand.

Toyota had a huge stand — it seemed like an acre of space — though it didn’t hold a press conference this year. North America sales chief Bob Carter said it was just a function of the timing of new releases.

But then the following week, Toyota unveiled the Lexus RZ electric crossover online. And Lincoln, which also had a large and beautiful display at the Javits Center, unveiled its first EV concept — an inspiration for the brand’s future — at an event in Los Angeles. That concept had been planned for the Beijing show, which was not held last week because of a surge in COVID-19 cases.

(Aside No. 3: Sure, the U.S. is behind the curve on electrification, but Lincoln’s preference for Beijing over New York was a striking contrast to pre-pandemic times when Matthew McConaughey helped show off the redesigned Navigator at the Big Apple show. Though I see he is still connected to the brand — joining brand chief Joy Falotico on stage in L.A.)

Those slights to New York could be forgiven, perhaps, as a product of the shifting calendar. But BMW unveiling its redesigned iconic 7 Series online after briefing media in New York (outside of the show) is a powerful condemnation of the present — and possibly the future — of auto shows.

First, it may just be the present. Last month, Honda’s Jay Joseph told me that the company didn’t see much point in using auto shows to draw consumers into the shopping funnel when the company can’t produce enough vehicles to satisfy current demand. Honda, like BMW, did not have a stand at the show.

And the decisions may have to do with the recent past: After so many stops and starts — especially for the New York show — automakers with key reveals may be understandably wary of hanging their product rollout plans on the city that has been a bellwether of the pandemic in America.

This year, it felt a lot like a Chicago-level auto show from the Before Times. Some refreshes and new trim levels. Some smart walkarounds. And aside from Hyundai, not a lot of star power.

Is it the end of the auto show as we know it? I hope not. And the end wasn’t proved by this show, but it wasn’t disproved, either. If the pandemic continues to recede and the next year of shows — from Detroit in September to New York next spring — don’t get more participation, they really could become events for dealers and consumers only.

Online reveals are clearly the wave of the present. If they’re also the wave of the future, we’re going to need events such as the Auto Forum and our Automotive News Congress more than ever.

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