Motor Press Guild discusses the future of auto shows

MPG Virtual Panel: "The New Era of Auto Shows"

Los Angeles — The Motor Press Guild (MPG) hosted an online discussion titled “The New Era of Auto Shows” on Aug. 11, 2020. The automotive journalism organization spoke to executives from the New York and Los Angeles auto shows.

Some of the key topics included: What are some of the changes that the media and public should expect to see at auto shows? How will these changes help achieve the shows’ objectives and help keep everyone safe at the same time.

The webinar was moderated by MPG Secretary Geno Effler, director of corporate communications at J.D. Power. It featured Terri Toennies, general manager of the Los Angeles Auto Show and Mark Schienberg, president of the New York International Auto Show.

Moderator Effler: It’s been a bizarre past few months for all of us in every element of the auto industry. The New York show was first postponed then cancelled. The L.A. Auto Show was postponed to May. Why are auto shows still relevant?

Terri Toennies: “It allows the consumer to come into one umbrella and shop for all different brands, to experience a vehicle in more ways than just through a catalog. They touch it, they feel it, they hear it, they can drive it. At our show, we do a lot of test drives. We do outside activations. I don’t think you get that at any other experience. It’s not your traditional walk in a auto dealership and experience a car sales. At our show alone, we had 48 percent of our attendees last year put a different model on their consideration list that would not happen going to a main dealership.”

Mark Schienberg: “Auto shows are a very, very unique venue for people to come in and take a look at all of the vehicles that are available. We’ve seen studies by Cox Automotive and others that talk about the fact that consumers less and less are going directly into dealerships to buy a car. There used to be a time when they would go to five different dealerships before they would decide. Now, it’s around 1.2 dealership visits. Where are they going? They are going to auto shows in a enormously big way to take a look at all of the vehicles under one roof. When you walk in and see all of these different products, people are actually adding brands onto their consideration list. They find auto shows a very reliable place to find information they need to make that car buying decision.”

The president of the NYIAS did a study from 2010-2019 and found that 34.3 million households have attended U.S. auto shows over a five-year period. In addition, the NYIAS attracts 3.1 million households over a five-year period. He found that 72 percent of 2019 NYIAS attenders intended to purchase a new vehicle within a year’s time.

Moderator Effler: Having seen the data and knowing the impact that auto shows have on consumers and dealers and media, tell us about what the LA Auto Show is going to be like this year. What’s in store for everybody?

Toennies: “I think it’s interesting those statistics that Mark gave us almost mirror what L.A. is doing. These two large auto show markets and two large auto dealer markets are almost identical percentages so that’s fascinating. The auto show in a COVID era is going to be a little bit different than anything you’ve ever seen before. We can’t just say this is the way we’ve always did it, this is what it’s going to be. I told everyone in the office, throw out the rulebook, we’ve got to start all over. We’ve been meeting and having lots of conversations with the LA Convention Center, the city of L.A., the county health department who will make the parameters and protocols and procedures that we’ll have to live by. We’ll continue to have conversations on what a show will look like and what will be done. The main thing and you guys see it in the news all of the time is spreading out that density.

“From a press conference standpoint, where all of the journalists and media are shoulder to shoulder, we’re not going to be able to do that anymore. We’re going to have to control queue lines, queue how people photograph the cars, we’ll have to extend press conference times because we’re going to have to get more people on dedicated times instead of everyone rushing the stage at one time. We’ve talked to OEMs about doing dedicated time slots for CEO interviews for certain media. Instead of doing every 20 minutes for a press conference, we’ll have to spread it out somewhat. There may have to be some acrylic panels, better distancing between the stage and obviously from a registration standpoint, touchless contact for registration and lanyards which is hard thing to figure out. We’re still working on that. All the health and sanitation things from sanitation stations, the restrooms in the convention center have to be separated. You have to control queues in the restrooms. The way the food and beverages are managed will be differently. When you come to physical distancing within the halls, we are having wider aisles, we will have queues in and queues out. We may have to contain how many people will be in a hall in any given time. One of the biggest things we’re looking at right now is the actual satellite stage that will allow viewing from the press conference stage in a separate satellite stage area with seating that’s physically distanced. If we can only fit 100 media at the press conference stage, we’ll have an additional satellite area for an additional 100-300 people to be at the same time.”

[Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted in August 2020 when the L.A. Auto Show will still scheduled for December. The date has been postponed for the auto show to May 2021.]

Moderator Effler: Do you have to be more restrictive with media credentials?

Toennies: “We’re not going to…because I think there’s going to be a drop in international. I think the traveling from international is going to be a big issue. Seventy percent of our media come from internationally.”

Moderator Effler: Mark, your show was postponed from the Spring to late August and then eventually canceled. You’ve been very aggressive at maintaining a communications presence looking back at the history of the cool things that have happened at the New York show. Talk about keeping the show in the forefront of people’s minds.

Schienberg: “The time off has given us a chance to look at the 120-year history of the New York Auto Show. We really wanted to remind people that the auto show is an incredible iconic event in New York. One of the things we decided not to show was the BMW exhibit that back in the ’50s where there was a lion that attacked one of the reporters. There were better examples of exciting things that happened.”

Moderator Effler: Terri, when it comes to after this year, let’s say the pandemic, fingers crossed, we only have to deal with this issue for one year in a major sort of way. The auto shows, in general, what is your vision for the evolution of the auto show? Where do you picture the LA Auto Show going?

Toennies: “I think one of the things we all look at is how we see OEMs participating in different activations like state fairs, outdoor music festivals, concerts, satellite events that are non-traditional auto shows. They are bringing activations out there so they can reach new audiences. So I’ve been thinking about this a lot as our team has for the last four or five years. How do we expand the campus to capture some of that activations that don’t normally fit in a normal exhibit hall, right? We’ve been working with the city of L.A., they’re doing an expanded convention center. We’re looking at other venues where we can expand the campus and be able to do indoor-outdoor activations to create this new energy that 18-34 audience is looking for. They want to be entertained all of the time. We feel, here in L.A., that we have the pleasure of good weather, we have a good date where we can have good weather and we have the opportunity to attract the type of activations that have been good. This last year, in 2019, 71 percent of our attendees participated in some kind of activation, whether it was Jaguar’s off-road trail that they did, other years we had Mercedes-Benz do a 54-foot hill climb, we had KIA do a sports utility gym activation. It’s been really positive and our biggest challenge has been where do we fit 154,000 square feet of activation space in between the STAPLES Center and the [LA] Convention Center here.”

Moderator Effler: Mark, what do you see is in the future of the New York show? How is it going to change down the road?

Schienberg: “We’ve also taken a look at different things that we can bring to the table as far as the show. Years ago, we were the first show that had Jeep that set up inside a make shift tent. We also had several rides and drives. My personal feeling about ride and drives is I am careful about them. If the public is going to be there for a certain period of time, let’s say it’s nearly five hours, that’s an enormous amount of time. You want, as much as possible, for the public to go from exhibit to exhibit to talk to product specialists to sit in vehicles and a sense of what goes on. With too many activations or ride and drives, at some point people are going to miss out on some of the exhibits that are there. I think it’s a balancing act of how you do it. The manufacturers do such great jobs with inside their booths. Take a look at Subaru did with the New York Auto Show last year. What they built was an extremely amazing presence of the messaging that they were trying to do. I think they were enormously successful with some of the numbers that they shared with us. Manufacturers are investing a lot of money coming into an auto show. Clearly, the consumer aspect, I think, is number one. The media or business/industry roundtable, our automotive forum that we do with J.D. Power and the NADA, are all the ability to get their messages out. I know that Terri does a great job with mobility too. That’s an important activation and information that the industry wants to get out to the media and other people. That’s what I think the geniuses of auto shows really are.”

The Los Angeles Auto Show has been postponed from November to May 21-31, 2021. The New York International Auto Show has been postponed from April to August 20-29, 2021.

For more information about the Motor Press Guild (MPG), visit their website at:

Graphic credit: New York International Auto Show
Graphic credit: New York International Auto Show