Sun. Dec 4th, 2022


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Detroit Auto Show 2022: An industry in
transition


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The reimagined 2022 Detroit Auto Show, also known as the North
American International Auto Show, finished its media and industry
days with limited automakers and brands participating after a
three-year hiatus in the city. Those OEMs and brands who did
participate – mostly the hometown automakers – most told a brand
story that included both internal combustion engine (ICE) and
electric vehicle (EV) solutions. While tomorrow’s auto market seems
to be rushing to be electric, today is in transition. The result is
a more dynamic and diverse market than ever, and this was reflected
in the vehicles that were on the show floor this year. The show
included trucks, cars, SUVs, and sporty cars, with all kinds of
propulsion systems. For automakers, this diversity is needed. ICE
vehicles will dominate the market throughout this decade, and those
vehicles tend to have higher profit margins, creating revenue
required to fund EV development. For consumers, there is an
unprecedented level of choice. The increased level of choice could
be a double-edged sword. Generally, having more options is good.
But there can also be a point where too much choice is
overwhelming.

Shows across the globe are under increased pressure to prove
return on investment, against an environment where there are many
platforms for new car reveals outside of the traditional auto show.
OEMs will continue to invest in consumer-facing auto shows and
events. They recognize that direct exposure and experience with a
vehicle is the best sales tool they have. There is no replacement
for butts in seats, regardless of segment or propulsion system, but
the traditional auto show is not the only venue to achieve that
objective. The trend prior to the pandemic was a shift away from
traditional auto shows, and we will continue to see limited
participation in the traditional format versus pre-pandemic years,
both for media-facing and consumer-facing sides of the show. We can
find any number of consumer trends that were evident prior to the
pandemic and accelerated through it. Automaker participation in
auto shows is just one.

Hometown automakers carry the show

Ford, General Motors and Stellantis each took up residence in
large portions of the auto show floor, but in a much different
capacity than in years past. Ford Motor Company
offered different narratives for each of its two brands. Lincoln
had its EV story front and center, with two true concept vehicles
in the L100 car and Star Concept utility vehicle, which had been
unveiled at previous media events. The brand’s official show reveal
was a refresh of the compact Corsair utility vehicle, with a minor
change to the front and rear and a significant technology upgrade.
For the first auto show in Detroit in 44 months, Lincoln focused on
exploring the future of the brand in its EV concepts – both of
which, Lincoln told us, were developed purely as concept vehicles
and opportunities to explore the future of Lincoln and its “Quiet
Flight” design and customer experience positioning in an electric
or autonomous vehicle. The president of Lincoln, Joy Falotico, said
during an interview with S&P Global Mobility that the Star
concept in particular is closer to what we will see with Lincoln’s
first EV. Not only is there technology packed in the vehicle that
we will see at launch, but other elements will appear in future
vehicles- as soon as technology can deliver it.

Photo by James Martin, S&P Global Mobility

The most important element of the Corsair’s update is Lincoln’s
L2-plus hands-free, eyes-on autonomous driving system called Active
Glide 1.2. The “1.2” designates an update to the version which
Lincoln launched on the latest Navigator early in second quarter
2022 and which Ford launched on the F-150 Lightning and Mustang
Mach-E as BlueCruise. The new system adds turn-signal activated,
automated lane changes, and a significant upgrade offered in a
short amount of time. Both the speed to market and the launch of
the update on Lincoln’s entry product are significant. Particularly
with software, brands simply cannot wait until the next flagship to
roll out updates and improvements. Second, the speed in delivering
the update reflects a new urgency within Ford. Rival GM’s Super
Cruise was first to market, but it was several years in before an
automated lane-change feature was added. However, GM’s system
remains more refined, has some features that Ford does not yet
have, and offers a larger network of mapped roads. The race is on
for expanding the capabilities of these systems. Though Ford joined
later, it does intend to have a strong and competitive
presence.

The Ford display reflected its more dynamic lineup, and the
company’s intent to continue internal combustion engine (ICE)
products under Ford Blue and launch EV products under Ford Model E.
For this show, Ford’s seventh-generation Mustang coupe and
convertible was revealed during an outdoor event at Detroit’s Hart
Plaza.

Though Ford is committed to its EV path, there was no news on
that front for this year’s show. While these products had a
starring role in the show display the massive show stand included a
ride-along experience: Acceleration rides in the F-150 Lightning
and a Bronco capability crawl over several man-made metal
obstacles. The Ford stand featured Bronco and its new variants
(Everglades and Raptor), as well as the Bronco Sport. Along with
the F-150 Lightning, the F-150 Raptor R was displayed.

Photo by James Martin, S&P Global Mobility

General Motors had several large and impressive
exhibit areas at this year’s auto show. The primary stand, and the
company’s highest-volume brand, was Chevrolet. This was also the
only display with a new product reveal, the performance edition of
the Tahoe RST full-size utility. However, the stand prominently
featured both Chevrolet’s ICE and EV stories. Not unlike the two
Lincoln concepts, Chevrolet had revealed several new products over
the course of the summer which were on display. Chevrolet
highlighted the Equinox EV, Blazer EV and Silverado EV, as well as
the Bolt EV and Bolt EUV. Though the two Bolt products are set to
be discontinued to make room for production of EV pick-up trucks at
their Orion plant while the other EVs displayed are just starting
their product lifecycle, Chevrolet will have a robust EV lineup by
the end of 2023. On the ICE side, Chevrolet had an equally
impressive section, anchored with the Corvette Z06 and prominently
featuring the new-generation Colorado mid-size truck and recently
added Silverado ZR2 Bison.

The Buick, Cadillac, and GMC displays also demonstrated a blend
of legacy and future-tech stories. Cadillac had no news, though
displayed its first EV Lyriq next to the 682-hp V8 Escalade V; the
upcoming Celestiq halo EV was not on display, as Cadillac is
holding that for exclusive customer interactions.

Buick, however, has little immediate news on either the ICE or
EV side, but built on its earlier announcement of moving toward an
all-EV lineup by 2030. The Wildcat concept was prominently
displayed, on a slightly lifted center dais; the vehicle is more
impressive in person than photos suggest. This does not alleviate
the curiosity of introducing EV themes on a two-door coupe, a
vehicle unlikely to be built or offered in the US.

GMC had the Hummer SUV on display for the first time at an auto
show, though it was formally revealed in 2021. The SUV was
alongside the Hummer pick-up, which officially went on sale in
January 2022. GM is taking an intentionally slow production ramp-up
with this first Ultium EV product, laying the groundwork for
necessary learning and process improvements which will presumably
mean faster production ramp-ups for subsequent products. The GMC
brand was also the one to display an Ultium battery cutaway, a
property GMC used during various media and other reveals for the
Hummer. While Chevrolet has the new-generation Colorado, GMC has a
similarly fresh Canyon; the Sierra AT4X off-road edition is the
counterpart to the Silverado ZR2 Bison.

Photo by James Martin, S&P Global Mobility

Photo by James Martin, S&P Global Mobility

Stellantis opted to create pre-show buzz with
various events in the days and weeks prior, rather than making
major news at the show. While Stellantis outlined near-term future
Jeep EV products earlier in September, none were on display in
Detroit. The Jeep products shown focused on special options
packages for the Grand Cherokee and Wrangler 4xe. While these can
build on buzz for the 4xe solution and are well executed in Jeep
style, these announcements were fairly minor. The show also marked
the first time Jeep has had an indoor off-road simulation display,
tucked in the back of the exhibit.

For Dodge, a significant amount of show floor space was
dedicated to showing off products revealed at other events in
Detroit less than a month earlier. Dodge’s sponsorship of the
Roadkill Nights street drag racing event earlier this summer in
Detroit was a better backdrop than any auto show, as the event
truly caters to Dodge loyalists and creates stronger in-person and
internet buzz.

The Chrysler brand revealed the special edition of the
soon-retired 300, though the model was a bit difficult to find on
the show stand. Ram did not have any news for the show, though
during the week announced the Ram 1500 would drop its diesel option
with the end of the 2023 model year.

Toyota and Subaru displays
featured previously announced vehicles as well. Toyota focused on
the upcoming Crown sedan, recently launched Sequoia and new Tundra
– though it did not display its all-new bZ4X EV for consumers. The
GR (or Gazoo Racing) family of performance variations of Supra,
Corolla and 86 was also on display. Though Toyota did not announce
news for the show, it is the fourth best-selling brand in Michigan,
behind Ford, Chevrolet and Jeep, and the stand focused on a
consumer-friendly space to relax and look at new products. Subaru
has been relatively consistent displaying at auto shows, including
its tie-in with U.S. national parks, as well as animal shelters
with the potential for adopting a puppy straight from the show
floor. For Subaru at auto shows, the vehicles almost seem an
afterthought, though the company creates an environment that will
connect with its buyers.

What’s Next?

Despite the limited OEM participation, most displays worked to
tell stories about a transition to EVs, alongside new trucks and
sporty cars with internal combustion engines under the traditional
hood. The event embodied the dynamics of today’s auto market and
the interplay between needing to support the current demand for ICE
products as well as the need for helping consumers along the path
of transitioning to the electrification and electric vehicles.

The three companies with headquarters in the Detroit area —
Ford, GM and Stellantis — dominated the show floor, just as they
do regional sales. According to registration data from S&P
Global Mobility, Ford, Chevrolet, and Jeep are the top three brands
in the Detroit DMA as well as the state of Michigan so far this
year. Through July, these three accounted for 56% of Michigan
registrations, up from 53% in 2021. Adding in the fourth and
fifth-place brands, Toyota and GMC, the top five account for about
77% of light vehicle registrations in Michigan. Importantly, all
the brands with significant sales stakes in the region were
present, with fresh products and compelling stories.

However, the show was missing presence from several prominent
automakers. Some OEMs have decided to sit out the 2022 auto show
season entirely, while others are balancing the effectiveness of
dollars spent in this market versus other methods for reaching out
to Detroit-area consumers. Still, others simply did not have news
that aligned with Detroit timing or felt an alternate reveal was
better suited to their go-to-market plans. Luxury German brands
decided after the 2018 show not to return, and the events since
that decision have not changed their approach. Among the volume
brands missing in Detroit were Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Nissan,
and Volkswagen. For these brands, their luxury divisions (Acura,
Genesis, Infiniti, Audi) were also not present.

Though the details vary by automaker, these OEM absences in
Detroit are a sign of a larger issue. Auto shows have been under
pressure to show a reasonable return on an OEM’s investment for
years. The Detroit show is no different -faced with rebuilding
itself after an extremely long hiatus exacerbated by Covid-related
cancellations.

Essentially since the 2009 recession, automakers have been
putting the expense of auto shows under increasing scrutiny,
especially given that there is no shortage of digital and other
platforms available, and many are less expensive. During a virtual
media roundtable at the show, Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares said
that Stellantis still plans on being in shows, but only if they are
cost-effective: “I think everybody now understands that the show is
not made for the egos of the top executives of the automotive
industry. Everybody is looking at the return on investment in a
more business-oriented way. If we are looking for a better return
on investment, it makes more sense with a more frugal and more
focused way of displaying the products and technology.” Much of
Tavares’ view is shared across the industry.

The use of auto shows as a venue for revealing new vehicles is
contracting, and if the Detroit show is any indicator, investment
in the consumer side may also be under cost pressure. The brands
with automaker support had a strong presence – if less lavish or
complex than in some prior years – and brands supported by local
dealers had cars displayed with little support from their parent
companies. That said, while extravagant stands may be a thing of
the past, being too frugal casts a negative light on a brand as
well.

As automakers look to balance strained costs related to EV
development, questions arise as to the value of splashy new-vehicle
introductions. Against the backdrop of increased costs and the
opportunity for new media platforms with the potential to create a
more direct consumer relationship, this year’s Detroit show is just
the most recent example of the intensified budgetary pressure these
events are under.

—————————

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Posted 28 September 2022 by Stephanie Brinley, Principal Automotive Analyst, S&P Global Mobility


This article was published by S&P Global Mobility and not by S&P Global Ratings, which is a separately managed division of S&P Global.



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