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Skinny Detroit Auto Show Kicks Off a Tough Year for Budgets

It looks like another tough year for auto shows in 2010, starting with an abbreviated press preview for the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next month. Skipping the auto show has gone from unthinkable to increasingly common.

There are only enough press conferences at the upcoming Detroit auto show to fill one day and a half, Monday, Jan. 11 and Tuesday, Jan. 12. Before last year, there were enough press conferences to make the Sunday before the show a third full day of press previews, with events starting to crop up on Saturday or even earlier.

The recession reversed that trend. It was news a year ago when Nissan opted to skip the Detroit show, but since then, automakers have become much more selective about spending potentially millions on auto show displays unless they have some really significant new product to show.

For this year's Detroit show, the list of 19 brands holding a press conference is shorter than the list of 26 that aren't. The 19 include Chinese manufacturer BYD, which isn't on sale in the United States yet, plus Tesla, the electric-car brand.

The list of press-conference no-shows includes the brands that GM is dropping - Hummer, Pontiac, Saturn and Saab. That's understandable, but none of the Chrysler brands - Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep - is holding a press conference, either. Neither are Nissan or Infiniti, or Jaguar or Land Rover. Even without a press conference, most of those brands are expected to have consumer displays at show. That's the other role of an auto show, to serve as a giant showroom.

The lack of a press conference might not be all bad, since a press conference with no real news is a waste of time and resources. However, Chrysler in particular needs to show it has some momentum going on the five-year Chrysler recovery plan it recently unveiled, and the Detroit auto show is a logical place to do that.

Graphic: North American International Auto Show

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