The North American International Auto Show Drives Detroit In the Right Direction

January means three things to petrol-heads in the Motor City: cold weather, a new year and the North American International Auto Show on Friday, Jan. 18 through Sunday, Jan. 26 at Cobo Center.

Car enthusiasts around the world travel to Detroit every January to see what automobile companies have in store down the road. Detroit has hosted an auto show since 1907, the Detroit Auto Show, but it used to be an exclusive party for the local community. It wasn’t until 1989 the auto show committee encouraged Japanese and European car companies to unveil concept cars here in Detroit. From that moment on, the NAIAS has grown every year into one of the most popular auto shows in the world.

The first month of the year is important to automobile companies. It’s the time of the year companies are eager to unveil concept cars and be part of the NAIAS tradition here in Detroit.

“Traditionally speaking, the show was positioned in January and its worked out very well for us,” NAIAS Chairman Robert Shuman said. “Everyone wants to get their car out as soon as they can. It fits in with the traditional product.”

Cobo Center has been the home of the NAIAS for 25 years and counting. The 2,400,000 square foot facility is one of the first and largest convention centers in the nation, making it an ideal location for any convention.

In 2009, Cobo Center started renovations to make it an even better destination to hold conventions and a must-see destination in downtown Detroit for residents and tourists alike. Plans for the renovation call for a  $299 million makeover of the West Side, East Side, Atrium, parking, and the ballroom. To date, two thirds of the restorations are set in stone and made a difference at the 25th NAIAS and on the Motor City.

“When the sun sets at night, you can see the sun going down on the Detroit river,” Shuman said. “I’ve lived here all my life, I didn’t realize how big the show is internationally. The renovations show what can happen when we all work together. When we all work together in Detroit, we can get a lot done. I love the city and Cobo Center is an example of the positive rebirth of Detroit.”

All the hard work of renovating Cobo Center paid off. In the 30,000 square foot glass South Atrium, people can now lookout onto the scenic Detroit River.  Gone is the Cobo Arena. The former arena is now a conference center, a beautiful glass ballroom and a “Detroit Made Kitchen.” The kitchen’s menu includes burgers made from Michigan, grass-fed beef, Coney dogs, deep-dish pizza, pirogues, and kielbasas.

“It started about five years and has been ongoing,” Shuman said.  “Last year, the front atrium renovations were half complete. This year you can see the architectural improvements. We also have much more meeting room space. You can participle in the show more ways. The ball room, it is spectacular.”

Before the public attended the NAIAS, more than 13,500 lucky VIPs were able to see the concept cars and the renovations at the glamorous Charity Preview on the evening of Friday, Jan. 17. This year ticket sales exceed expectations, raising over $4 million for nine various children’s charities in the Detroit area.  Since the first annual Charity Preview in 1976, the event has raised over $91 million for charities and improved childrens’ lives in Detroit.

“Over the years we have done a of the of good for a lot of charities in Detroit,” Shuman said. “Detroit has depended a lot on the Charity Preview. A lot of the charities are early reading programs. To the extent, that helps people. We probably have less trouble in the streets and have a better education. All of those are positives for Detroit.”

2014 was a record setting year in attendance for the NAIAS; 803,451 car enthusiasts across the world attended the auto show. The last time attendance broke 800,000 people was in 2003 with 838,000. Numbers like this benefit Cobo Center and Detroit’s economy.

“The Auto show is a world-class event, it’s a place where every automaker comes to showoff or launch their products,” Chamber of Commerce Director of Communications Jim Martinez said. “Estimated $375 million worth of impact. It draws people to our hotels and businesses and showcases Detroit. Hundreds of visitors come to Detroit and send out positive images of Detroit around the world from this world-class event.”

More than 500 cars were on display on $2 million sets and displays to attract people at the NAIAS, including the Cadillac Elmiraj concept car, the Kia GT4 Stinger concept car and the 2015 Ford Mustang. This year, attendee Michael DiGiorgio did more than look at cars.

Cadillac Elmiraj
Cadillac Elmiraj. Photo by Mike Stankard.


“The sights and sounds are always impressive, and the companies use a lot more than their cars themselves to draw attention,” he said. “There’s a huge video and light display everywhere. One thing I noticed this year was how many companies used racing video games such as Gran Turismo to show off their sports vehicles. I was really looking forward to seeing the new Corvette Z06, which was being unveiled at the show, and the new Porsche 918 Spyder was a knockout as well.”

Compared to auto shows around the world, the NAIAS is considered one of the best.

“Many of the manufacturers consider us number one, Shuman said. “We get them a lot of press coverage, the CEOs are here locally and internationally we give them an opportunity for the press to speak to the top executives. When you commit to the show, you get to see 55 worldwide reveals. You get to see and touch cars people haven’t seen before. The better the show is, the more money is spent, the more money workers make. It’s a full time job.”

Detroit has moved on from declaring bankruptcy. Nowadays the Motor City is driven towards progress like the NAIAS and the media is doing its part by spreading the message across the world for all to see.

“I haven’t really seen a negative article this year about Detroit coming out of the auto show,” Shuman said. “The negative articles have already been written about Detroit. We know that positive progress has been made. The media attention focuses on having the tone of the best auto shows in world. All of those are positive and good for the city.”


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