the north american international auto show 2018

Update, 10 June 2018: I found an article, written in May, that announced Audi skipping the 2019 NAIAS in Detroit. This article also listed the other manufacturers that would absent at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show – Mazda, Mini, Volvo, Porsche, Mitsubishi, Jaguar, and Land Rover. Most, if not all of these automakers were absent in 2018. While Mercedes was present in Detroit for 2018, it appears that they will not be attending the 2019 January Auto Show either. 

It’s been 8 years since my last visit to the Auto Show. A lot has changed in that time.

The 2018 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) was very different from previous years that I’ve attended. It felt smaller and more reserved than in years past.

It’s been about 8 years since the last time I visited the NAIAS in Detroit. Since the last time I attended the auto show quite a bit changed, most notably, it’s gotten much smaller.

Lack of manufacturer participation

It was painfully apparent that a great deal of automakers were not in attendance at the Auto Show. I’ve read that the Auto Show has been thinking about moving their show to the Fall to pre-empt the other large shows that have been overshadowing the NAIAS in recent years and making automaker attendance at the show seem superfluous. If this is the case, I hope making this move can help re-invigorate the Auto Show’s position as the year’s premier show. But only time will tell.

There were, at least, a couple of interesting displays put on by some manufacturers, but not many. The two most notable things that I encountered were Ford and Dodge. These domestic manufacturers had a simulator that attendees could ride. Ford had an off-road experience for their new Ranger pickup. Dodge had a Challenger drag race.

These were probably the most interesting things things provided by the automotive manufacturers. What proved to be more interesting, though, was the technology manufacturers that were working on personal mobility devices rather than automobiles.

Ford also had some really interesting rubber couches with coffee tables and phone charging ports, which were pretty cool. This has less to do with cars, though, and being accommodating to the show’s guests. The couches were definitely comfortable, though.

Not much new

What I noticed at this years NAIAS was that there weren’t many new cars.

There were plenty of 2018 and 2019 models being shown. And yes, those are new (technically). What I didn’t see were completely new models.

Ford had the new Ranger pickup on display as well as the new GT. These aren’t really new, though. The Ranger is just bringing back an old nameplate on an updated platform. There’s nothing new or exciting in a pickup truck outside of new technologies being used. Even then, that’s not making the vehicle new… that’s just new technology.

The GT is also just bringing back an updated version of an existing nameplate. The new GT is fairly exciting given that Dodge has killed off the Viper for good (at least for now), and the pool of boundary-pushing supercars coming out of the US is shrinking. The most exciting and interesting thing, to me at least, about the GT is that they’ve managed to squeeze almost 650 horsepower out of a 3.5L V6.

I will concede, as far as showing something ‘new’ at the Auto Show, a high-performance turbo V6 makes me giggle.

Stagnant technology

Walking through the Auto Show, I couldn’t help but feel like there was a lack of innovation on the part of the technological advancements in cars.

Everything seemed to be traditional internal combustion, hybrid, or, in a few cases, full-electric. What I didn’t see was envelope-pushing by the automakers. It felt like everyone (who was present) was playing it safe this year. That means one of two things is going on: 1) they’re working on their next big step in automotive tech or 2) they’re waiting to see what everyone else is doing.

What really caught my attention was that I didn’t see much at all revolving around the exponentially growing autonomous vehicle technology that I know brands like Ford have been testing (because I see them all the time driving by my office).


Every year at the Auto Show, there are a handful of displays put on by the automotive suppliers. These displays usually show off some of the more experimental users for the technologies they design and incorporate into the cars we drive every day. A lot of these technologies revolve around personal mobility.

One of the more interesting of these displays came from Denso—a device that reminded me of a cross between a small Vespa scooter and a Segway. Unfortunately this was only a prototype—as is usually the case with these displays—but it did touch on the conversation that has been going on in the background about the move from personal automobiles to personal mobility as a focal point of the industry as a whole.

I think that having taken almost a decade between visits to the Auto Show helped to make the smaller scale of the event more obvious to me. Given the large changes that have been taking place in and around the automotive industry, it’s not surprising that automakers have been hesitant to be too flashy or experimental.

This does worry me, to an extent, that automakers are going to continue that trend, which feels like the opposite of what they need to be doing. If anything, innovation and experimentation are what the industry needs to thrive in the social, political, and economic climate we’re currently in.

That being said, I can’t now what the automakers didn’t bring to Detroit. And I do think that we’re at a tipping point for the industry. This is an industry that revolutionized the way people move around. I’m pretty sure they’ll be capable of doing that again.

Posted in