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Detroit Auto Show Lands Another $8M From the State

July 10, 2023

Crain’s Detroit Business
July 10, 2023
Kurt Nagl

The North American International Detroit Auto Show is poised to receive an $8 million grant carved out from Michigan’s budget, representing another state subsidy for the long-running event in Detroit.

The grant will be used to “solidify Michigan’s lead in the mobility and electrification sector” and will provide “significant impact in reimagining the Detroit Auto Show,” according to Rod Alberts, executive director of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association, which produces the show.

Scheduled for Sept. 13-24, the show underwent significant change after returning after the COVID-19 pandemic. The Legislature gave organizers a $9 million grant for last year’s event reboot, which is becoming more Michigan-centric and less of a stage for the global brand reveals and glitzy news conferences it was known for in the past.

The $8 million grant is one of 14 economic development earmarks totaling $66.2 million in the $82 billion budget the state legislature approved last month.

“The show will serve as a platform to highlight Michigan’s global position as a mobility and electrification epicenter,” Alberts said in a prepared statement to Crain’s.

Last year’s event — the first since 2019 and the first outside of the traditional January slot — marked a departure from the century-old show’s focus on trade and industry. Held inside Huntington Place and at various outdoor areas downtown, it was heavily consumer-focused, giant rubber ducky and all, resembling a civic festival of sorts designed to bring people downtown.

Organizers have indicated that the upcoming show will have a similar mission, which the grant will support.

“This support provides significant impact in reimagining the Detroit Auto Show benefiting the industry, the City of Detroit, and the State of Michigan,” Alberts said.

Michigan House Speaker Joe Tate was unavailable for an interview, but his spokeswoman Amber McCann said in an email: “The auto show is an important part of the culture of the Motor City and is linked to Detroit and Michigan’s automotive history.”

The show has promised more brand participation and vehicle reveals than last year, which saw significantly fewer automakers, suppliers and journalists than in previous years. It is still unclear which automakers will participate in September, though General Motors Co., Stellantis NV and Ford Motor Co. confirmed they will bring their full brand portfolios, Automotive News reported.

Organizers have refused to provide attendance figures from last year, other than saying it drew “hundreds of thousands of car buyers and families” and 10,000 auto industry attendees. They have also declined to disclose the event’s budget.

The Detroit auto show’s changing identity is a bid to stay relevant amid sweeping changes in the automotive and trade show industries. Many automakers are looking past the stagnant stage reveals with splashy debuts on social media, for instance, which is often less costly. At the same time, shows including CES in Las Vegas and the Battery Show in Novi — scheduled for Sept. 12-14 — have become more competitive at luring auto companies.

New at the Detroit auto show this year will be an indoor EV track and the inaugural Mobility Global Forum, a “thought leadership symposium” focused on new mobility.

The state grant will support local jobs tied to the show, including riggers, carpenters, ironworkers and other tradespeople, according to organizers. It will also prop up AutoMobili-D, a growing piece of the show that will include 150 startups on the show floor, whose space is subsidized by the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

“All of these efforts, supported by the grant, help to supercharge the local economy,” Alberts said. “The show’s attraction of global audiences — media, industry, suppliers and the public — pump millions into Michigan’s economy.”