The displays are dazzling, with platforms twirling and lasers dancing off the fenders of the latest and greatest vehicles around. But the New York International Auto Show won’t open to the public until Saturday, and the press preview days are still under way.
Welcome to the pre-show off-site launch circuit.
For two weeks, the New York show is the centre of the automotive universe. Last year, 61 vehicles made their debuts at the show. To stand out in this crowd, auto makers have created satellite events before the official press reveals at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on the West Side of Manhattan.
This gives companies a jump on the torrent of announcements and adds pearlescent shine to coverage of their new vehicle.
Chatter in the car world suggests that auto shows have lost their impact. Many auto makers still see the benefits. Stuart Schorr, the vice-president for communications at Jaguar Land Rover North America, finds them to be moments in time when cars are a hot subject.
“It’s an amplifier,” Schorr said. “It’s all over TV, radio, newspapers, the internet and social media. We make the most of that, creating a bigger impact and expanding the reach.”
This year, Jaguar’s preshow event at the new Manhattan Jaguar Land Rover showroom did triple duty – introducing new versions of the Land Rover Range Rover Velar SUV and the Jaguar XE sedan, promoting the new digs and giving VIP customers the opportunity to meet insiders like designer Ian Callum.
Maximum impact is critical for important vehicles. Toyota hired installation artist Michael Murphy to construct a three-dimensional model of the all-new Highlander SUV using 200 panels of suspended paper. Perhaps you saw its image projected onto New York buildings and billboard spaces this week?
The reveal of the actual vehicle, staged a stone’s throw from the Javits Convention Center, had the paper sculpture suspended near D.J. Vashtie Kola’s performance set. That’s a lot of edgy art to market a three-row family crossover.
Some companies without space at the show use its glow for extra coverage. The $2.27-million all-electric Battista hypercar, the first production vehicle by famed design house Pininfarina, made its United States debut in the Chelsea neighbourhood. Its swoopy body and 1,900-horsepower drivetrain will not be shown on the Javits floor.
“Battista is a piece of automotive art,” said Dan Connell, brand manager of Automobili Pininfarina. “As such, we have selected a fantastic, exclusive gallery in Chelsea to present this design masterpiece.” Considering how many journalists covering the show descended on the studio, the strategy worked.
Pre-show events let manufacturers spend focused time with journalists that isn’t possible on the show floor. At the Lincoln Corsair crossover introduction, writers rotated through three stations as designers and engineers showed how the car was developed.
“There’s no better way to show what we’re doing and how we’re growing this brand than to bring writers in and give them an in-depth look at what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” said Megan McKenzie, marketing manager for the Lincoln SUVs.
Nissan used one of two events for nostalgia. The Datsun (as Nissan was once known in the United States) 240Z was unveiled at the Pierre Hotel in Manhattan five decades ago. So it was perhaps fitting that the reveal of the 50th anniversary edition Z car, now badged 370Z, was held Monday evening at the same site (though Z Car enthusiasts were probably hoping for a glimpse of a long overdue all-new model). A second Chelsea soiree was packed with past and present performance machines.
Sage Marie, public relations vice president with American Honda, sees the value of running events before the big show. “If our press reveal at Javits is late in the day, some media will be overwhelmed,” he said. “Tuesday’s preview of our limited-edition TLX,” which is hand-built in the centre where the Acura NSX supercar is produced, “helps our chances at coverage.”
Conversely, Marie said, sometimes a surprise provides the biggest punch. “We launched the all-new Civic concept in 2015,” he said. “No one expected it. And that bombshell stole the show.” Its chartreuse paint didn’t hurt.
In the shadow of the Vessel at Hudson Yards, Hyundai’s luxury brand, Genesis, wheeled out the Mint, an electric two-seat concept city car with a minimalist interior. It was one of the hottest tickets in town, with passersby trying to sneak in. One woman offered a writer $100 for his admission lanyard.
Asked if the Mint would reach production, a Genesis official offered a hint: “We generally don’t produce concept cars willy-nilly.”
Smaller events like these orbit all the major auto shows, often with lofty budgets.
Days before the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show, Porsche turned its L.A. Experience centre into a media extravaganza to introduce the brand’s spiritual touchstone: the all-new 911 for 2020. Actor Armie Hammer was there, bleacher seating for hundreds of journalists was erected, and acres of custom video displays caused a commercial producer next to me to ponder aloud, “How did they figure out how to shoot for a screen 40 yards long?”
These expensive launches can actually be bargains for auto makers. The cost of many events is less than running a television ad during an NFL game.
Despite all of this, plenty of auto makers will stick to the traditional reveal at the Javits Convention Center. Look for Hyundai’s new Venue crossover and Sonata sedan plus Subaru’s all-new Outback, among dozens of others.