As cars edge ever closer to talking and even thinking for themselves, the Detroit auto show is evolving to match.
Technologies such as autonomous driving and connectivity are playing a more critical role in the auto show. Exhibitors, booth builders, media companies and show organizers say this year’s event, the 28th since the Detroit show became an international showcase, is designed to give attendees the “experiential” treatment.
The new additions for 2016 even include a relationship with social media giant Twitter Inc. and coverage by tech website CNET.
“We realized with cars now being synonymous with technology, and connectivity, we had to get in that game, too,” said Rod Alberts, executive director of NAIAS and the Detroit Auto Dealers Association. “Everything we’ve done this year, and it’s a lot, is changing with the times.”
With roughly 70 percent of the automaker displays newly designed for NAIAS 2016, the technology efforts are critical additions, Alberts said.
George P. Johnson Co., an event and brand marketing firm based in Auburn Hills, Michigan, near Detroit, designed roughly 40 percent of the displays for NAIAS 2016.
Paul Hemsworth, vice president and executive creative director at George P. Johnson, said the concept of brand awareness has transformed and tech trends have changed the way companies interact with auto show attendees.
“Everyone (clients) has different requirements and budgets, but what they all want is to create an intimate level of interaction with the nearly million visitors at the show,” Hemsworth said. “Technology has been a big aid in meeting those demands and creating something that goes beyond brand awareness to something experiential for the show attendees.”
For GPJ’s largest client, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, the firm created specialized media content as well as a significant investment to turn the automaker’s 60,000 square feet into an illuminated motion sculpture, Hemsworth said.
“It took a deep bench of programmers and technical direction staff to pull this off,” Hemsworth said. “We expect it to be the talk of the show.”
But it’s behind the scenes that GPJ will be producing the biggest return on investment for its automaker clientele.
The firm, without confirming whether the technology will be used at NAIAS, uses beacon technology to track movements of auto show attendees. Beacon technology provides instant feedback from attendees’ smartphones on where they spent the most time in a display and what their potential car buying preferences are, Hemsworth said.
“If the attendees opt in, say, through an app, we can unlock personalized content as they move through the space or drill down to the demographics of the people in the space,” Hemsworth said. “Generally, display content is painting with a broad brush, but this technology can be harnessed to better interact with attendees on a personal level.”
Alberts said the investment by automakers into displays next year will likely top $200 million.
“People show up at this event interested in the cars, but there is a lot of magic and wizardry in pulling off the show itself,” Hemsworth said.
What’s the buzz?
Media content doesn’t stop at the displays, as NAIAS forged relationships with Twitter and CNET for the 2016 show to highlight what’s hot on the show floor.
Twitter will place several “buzz boards” throughout the show floor and concourse at Cobo Center, allowing media and other attendees instant access to what cars, topics, etc. are trending at the event.
Wayin Inc., an analytics affiliate to Twitter, will also provide instant analysis on trending topics for reporters covering the event, Alberts said.
The estimated 5,000 media attendees from around the world will also have access to press kits, photos and other facts about what’s happening at the show through a portal on the NAIAS website created by IBM Corp.
“It’s a nice asset to assist the reporters covering our event,” Alberts said. “A successful press week is vital to a very good run for the show.”
IBM is expected to make an announcement about integrating its artificial intelligence machine Watson, as seen on the quiz show “Jeopardy,” into cars.
CBS Corp.’s CNET is launching a new auto-centric brand, called Roadshow by CNET, at NAIAS 2016.
Roadshow by CNET will livestream every product unveil at the show as well as interviews and commentary at its own dedicated booth on the show floor.
“CNET has been doing auto show coverage for 10 years, but it became clear we needed to bring more attention to the coverage we were already doing,” said Tim Stevens, editor in chief of the Roadshow. “We decided to break out the coverage into its own area for CNET and add a lot of video series and really bring viewers into the auto show experience.
The website will also offer the reviews and consumer product information CNET is known for, he said.
The nostalgia factor
But not all that’s new at NAIAS 2016 is high-tech.
To kick off the festivities, three classic cars built in Detroit will embark the day after Christmas on an 11-day trip from their home at The LeMary-America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington, to the show in January.
As part of the show’s theme, “All Roads Lead to Detroit,” a 1966 Ford Mustang, 1957 Chevrolet Nomad and a 1961 Chrysler 300G will rally down Woodward, finally arriving at a private NAIAS pre-party on Jan. 7, Alberts said.
“We wanted to find a way to built excitement before the show, and this is a perfect match,” Alberts said. “We’ll do this every year, but start it in a different city.”
A new sponsorship is expected to be announced at the completion of the rally, Alberts said.
In total, there are more than 100 sponsors for the 2016 auto show. Alberts said he expects as many as 850,000 attendees and a large turnout for the NAIAS Charity Preview on Jan. 15.
“When I arrived here 25 years ago, I believed in incremental success because it’s hard to live up to a blowout show every year,” Alberts said. “But the fallout in 2009 was a wakeup call for us. We know we needed to get aggressive with ideas for the show, and I think this year is a prime example of that thinking.”