Detroit auto show canceled (but not for good) as Motor Bella pushes forward

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NAIAS

They’re calling it a pause—not an ending—but it has now been two full years since the North American International Auto Show was last held in Detroit. It may be another 18 months before we see the next one in 2022.

Once considered a traditional and highly anticipated break from the winter blahs, the NAIAS has suffered some bad luck since it held its last event in January 2019. Prior to that year’s auto show, the Detroit Auto Dealers Association, which runs the event, announced it was moving the NAIAS to summer 2020 to create a more festive indoor-outdoor atmosphere. COVID wiped that out. Now, the 2021 show—scheduled for September—has also been canceled due to the pandemic.

NAIAS Chairman Doug North told Detroit’s WWJ radio that canceling the show was not a hasty decision and organizers considered all options.

“Viewing all the safety protocols and all of the things that really impact something like this, it really became clear in recent months—but really crystal clear in the last couple of months—that, look … Hopefully this vaccine will do well, but it’s not gonna be done, and 2021 is still going to be dramatically impacted by it,” North told the radio station. “(The pandemic) also hampered a lot of our partners, OEMs, suppliers, community partners, citizens—you know, whether they were going to be able to come, or had a desire to come, or whether their budgets were impacted by what’s happened.

“And so we came to the conclusion—and we’re confident it’s the right one—that we couldn’t have had the kind of show that we really would want to, or that we had previously.”

The North American International Auto Show is officially set to return next year, but some media outlets have taken an ominous tone regarding its future, particularly since the new Motor Bella all-outdoor automotive festival is going forward as planned. The previously announced six-day event, September 21–26 at the M1 Concourse in Pontiac, was to run in conjunction with NAIAS.

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Motor Bella

The Detroit Free Press reported that the NAIAS was “relocating from TCF Center on the city’s riverfront to M1 Concourse” and that the show had been “renamed” Motor Bella. Fanning that speculation, a Detroit Auto Dealers Association press release referred to the new event as a “bridge to the future.” And visitors to the NAIAS website (naias.com) are automatically redirected to the Motor Bella site.

Brent Snavely, Public Relations Senior Director for the DADA, admits “our press release initially confused many in the media,” but he made it clear Wednesday that the North American International Auto Show isn’t going anywhere.

“The NAIAS is not moving and is not leaving Detroit,” Snavely wrote in an email. He confirmed that the NAIAS “will not occur under that name in 2021; an all-new event, Motor Bella, is being developed and will occur at M1 Concourse in September; Motor Bella will be a full-fledged automotive and mobility show; and it will be shorter and condensed.”

The 2021 NAIAS was scheduled to run for more than two weeks, September 24–October 9.

Motor Bella was originally conceived as a celebration of Italian and British supercars and classic vehicles and was set to debut at the 2020 NAIAS. North says expanding it for 2021 was “a natural progression” since COVID has increased the public’s appetite for outdoor events.

Plans call for 1.6 million square feet of “dynamic vehicle and technology display space, including terrain ideal for showcasing off-roading capabilities.” M1 Concourse, a private motorsports club, has a 1.5-mile track on the grounds for technology and vehicle demonstrations.

“We see this outdoor experience at M1 as a bridge to the future,” North says. “One that will continue to evolve as we explore new ways of presenting mobility and as we navigate through these unprecedented times. We are very cognizant of the importance and impact our show and our events have on the state and the entire metro Detroit area. This will always be part of our considerations for the future.”

Meanwhile, the Chicago auto show is seeking government approval to be held in April, two months after its traditional February show. The Los Angeles auto show is currently scheduled for May 21–31, while the New York auto show is planned for August 20–29.

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