Sunday, January 15, 2017


Gotta start somewhere! A beer garden? Right, that was 1907.

However, the very first show in the USA was back in 1899 when a guy called Bill Metzger put together a small selection of American-built cars in Detroit.

Metzger and his partner Huber ran a bicycle shop in Grand Circus Park, Detroit. He was an 'original entrepreneur' and saw the promise in the automobile.

A year later he staged an auto show in New York. In 1900 New Yorkers flocked to the auto show, and paid 50c to see the exhibits which were a varied lot - electric, steam and gasoline-powered vehicles.

The public had shown its preference for electric and steam cars. The gas-powered cars were considered cantakerous and unreliable. Many ran on kerosene, lamp oil, naptha, as well as gasoline.

But, the first truly professional auto show in Detroit was held in Beller’s Beer Garden, next to Riverside Park in 1907. It’s been held annually ever since, apart from WW2 (1941-1953), but it was a very parochial affair until 1957, when a few European cars made their first appearance.
Top Left: Beller's Beer Garden 1907. Top right: Detroit traffic 1912. Centre left: Traffic lining up for the 1960 auto show. Centre right: Auto show 1961.
Bottom: Cobo Hall.

In 1987 my good friend Keith Crain, Owner and Publisher of Automotive News suggested to the auto show committee that the Detroit Auto Show should throw off the shackles of being an ‘Americans-only’ auto show, and go truly international. Members of the committee toured a long list of global carmakers gathering support, and the first North American International Auto Show debuted in 1989.

From 1990 onwards Detroit’s auto show was the scene of many great concept and product reveals by the world’s leading carmakers, plus its unique black-tie charity preview the night before public admission, which raises more than $6 million each year for local charities.

Also, each year the Detroit Institute of Opthamology awards the 'Eyes on Design' prize to the most stylish exhibit each year.
Bentley Continental GT won 'Eyes on Design' in 2003

However, the costs of exhibiting at auto shows around the world has taken its toll on Detroit’s expo. Its star is waning, and many carmakers are giving the show a miss. This year’s event was more notable for the carmakers who did not appear.

It was also notable for the lack of true concept car reveals, which resulted in Nissan scoring most of the attention with its V Motion concept, being the only true concept car unveiled at the show.
Nissan V Motion concept car
From Bill Metzger’s sensational NY auto show in 1900, the wheel is turning full circle. Auto shows may become a dying breed. Killed off by skyrocketing staging costs and growing public resistance to paying to look at new cars, we may be reduced to just a few global events. Already, Paris and Frankfurt open on alternate years, Britain no longer has an international auto show, and ALL the Australian auto shows have disappeared.

It’s hard to imagine the Geneva Salon disappearing, and it may be the only survivor. Right now it is the only international auto show capable of attracting the niche brands, which have pulled out of most global events.

The change in public sentiment is indicative of the death of ‘the car enthusiast’, that breed committed to not only the latest trends in design, but also people interested in technical advancement and improving performance.

More and more people today reveal their indifference to car ownership, and any interest in the car itself. They seem resigned to owning a car for personal mobility out of necessity, not love of the machine.

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