Carl Galeana
Carl Galeana; photo courtesy of NAIAS. Click image to enlarge

By Paul Williams

Detroit, Michigan – Ask any auto writer to name the first big automotive event of any new year, and “Detroit” is the typical answer. “Detroit,” or more accurately, the “North American International Auto Show” is open to the public from January 19 – 27, 2008, and will attract up to 750,000 visitors over those nine days. Another 6,500 journalists, including several from Autos, will attend the two-day “press preview” starting January 12.

The show is an initiative of the Detroit Automobile Dealers Association, as it has been since its inception in 1907, and is managed by a volunteer committee drawn from that membership. Carl Galeana, Co-Chair of the NAIAS Committee this year, spends much of his time during the year visiting the other major international shows – Frankfurt, Paris, Geneva, Tokyo, and now Shanghai – getting a sense of what works for the manufacturers, and what doesn’t.

“It’s a competitive environment,” explained Mr. Galeana, “We have to make sure that the manufacturers continue to support our show, and that means constantly improving it.”

In the U.S., the Detroit auto show mainly competes with New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, which likewise have teams actively promoting their venues.

“The impact on the community is huge,” said Galeana. “Last year the show brought $540 million to the Detroit metro area. That’s more than the Superbowl; more than the U.S. Open.”

According to Mr. Galeana, what makes Detroit different from the other North American shows is its history. “Let’s face it,” he says, “Detroit is where the auto industry in America began, and it still is where you find Ford, General Motors and Chrysler building cars.”

He points out that at the Detroit show, “All the top executives are here, along with the top journalists from around the world. It’s where you find all the key people, and that distinguishes it from other shows.”

Ironically, however, Detroit’s very success can actually subordinate the news it generates. Because the industry is so competitive, manufacturers “prime” the media with stories before the show begins. This means that by the time journalists get to the “press preview,” there are few, if any, surprises.

“We know about this,” says Mr. Galeana, “But there’s not much we can do given the competitiveness of the manufacturers and the speed of the media. What we are working on is making sure that only representatives from legitimate media outlets attend. This raises the stature of our event.”

Indeed, like many top-tier events, “being seen to be there,” is an important reason to attend. In the case of, being invited to, and attending major automotive events like the Detroit auto show enhances our stature among colleagues and industry contacts. And more tangibly, it gives us a chance to provide unique photography, and editorial on events and themes at the show.

Concerning these themes, Mr. Galeana observes that emerging social trends and industry responses to them are always evident at the Detroit auto show.

“If it turns out that people are interested in “green” technology, you’re sure to see evidence of that here; same with the move to SUVs and the subsequent return to cars. This year there are five Chinese manufacturers, another developing trend.”

As usual, is providing both advance and press days coverage of the Detroit Auto Show, updated as the news breaks.

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