Detroit auto show isn't what it used to be as luxury automakers from Audi to Porsche skip

Key Points
  • Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Volvo, Porsche, Jaguar, Land Rover are all skipping the Detroit show this year.
  • Organizers have opted to move it from January to June next year.
  • Automakers also are hosting their own events or online reveals rather than compete for attention at a show.
Mercedes-Benz E400 Hybrid at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show.
Jonathan K. Li | CNBC

The North American International Auto Show kicks off Monday, but Detroit's flagship car exposition isn't what it used to be as luxury automakers are going elsewhere to debut their latest designs.

Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Volvo, Porsche, Jaguar, Land Rover are skipping the show in an official capacity this year. Even smaller manufacturers, like Mitsubishi and Mini, have opted out.

In years past, it wouldn't be uncommon to see debuts of more than a dozen new models. Just last year, Mercedes launched its iconic redesigned G-Class, Ford previewed the new Ranger, Chevy unveiled an update of its bestselling Silverado and Ram fired back with its own pickup debut. This year will have fewer than 10 debuts scheduled from the predominantly American, Japanese and Korean manufacturers that remain on the official exhibitor docket.

"This is the last Detroit Auto Show that's taking place in the winter," Julie Blackley, communications manager at automotive data firm iSeeCars, told CNBC. "The only European brand with a booth is Volkswagen, so there isn't as much hype around this show as in previous years."

As automakers jump ship, revealing their latest improvements at the LA Auto Show that runs right after Thanksgiving or the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that just concluded, the Detroit show's organizers have opted to move it from January to June starting in 2020. Doug North — president of the dealer association that runs the show, dubbed NAIAS — said the move should help the auto companies make use of outdoor spaces and provide more exciting exhibits for the public.

"June will allow us to better showcase the automotive leadership, development and heritage our great city and region holds," North said in a press release announcing the change.

The debate isn't settled over whether or not changing the date to a warmer month will be enough to lure manufacturers back. According to Jeremy Acevedo, manager of industry analysis at Edmunds, auto shows in general are on the decline. Automakers are increasingly opting to host their own events or online reveals rather than fight to upstage each other for the limited attention spans of consumers during auto shows. Just Wednesday, Ford rolled out its newly redesigned 2020 Explorer at Ford Field stadium in Detroit.

Automakers, Acevedo said, are all asking: "Is the bang for your buck there?"

Plus, they aren't just competing with other debuts at Detroit. More and more, automakers are opting to demonstrate technology at Las Vegas' CES. As automakers try to compete in the world of autonomous driving, connected cars and mobility services, CES offers them a chance to engage with audiences who may not be as familiar with their brands.

Audi, Mercedes and BMW opted to show their latest wares in Las Vegas this past week instead of Detroit. Not only does CES offer a tech-focused audience for increasingly advanced cars, but the warm Las Vegas weather in January allows companies to do outdoor demos of driver assistance systems and off-road capability without having to worry about snow.

To Acevedo, the outdoor exhibits offer a good reason to change the date of the Detroit show. As automakers move away from the fanfare surrounding new sheet metal and toward offering more services and technology, the ability to demonstrate that becomes more important.

"Auto shows have been kind of a 'look but don't touch' affair," he said. He says that's a strategy that doesn't get attention and engagement.

"Having something that's interactive, that's able to demonstrate the capability ... that could be an advantage," Acevedo told CNBC. But in the end, he's not convinced that it'll be enough to restore NAIAS to its former glory.

Auto shows as a concept, he said, have a "finite shelf life." Despite the best efforts of NAIAS, he maintains that we're approaching the expiration date.