John McElroy doesn’t get too misty-eyed when he talks about moving the Detroit auto show from January.
“It was 17 degrees outside when I left this morning. I am so glad it’s moving to June,” the longtime radio and television journalist said Monday.
After decades as a blustery automotive extravaganza held in freezing winter climes, the North American International Auto Show will shift to June dates beginning in 2020.
Since it’s opened as the first major show of the calendar year, the Detroit auto show has been derailed by massive snowstorms, blistering cold, or this year, a water main break that cut off drinkable running water to the show and downtown Detroit. In 1999, a massive North American blizzard crippled the show’s opening days and stranded hundreds of travelers. There have been sub-zero temps, inadequate heat, and power outages, too—even a small fire on a display stand.
It wasn’t natural—or man-made—disasters, the “Cobo Cough,” or even brisk weather that forced organizers to reconsider its long-time January date. Staying relevant among automakers and car shoppers did.
Highlights from the 2018 Detroit auto show
McElroy said competition from the Consumer Electronics Show, held in Las Vegas just weeks before the Detroit show, forced organizers to reconsider the show’s direction and timing.
“It just sucked out the energy from this show,” he said.
Moving NAIAS from frigid January to balmy June will be a boon but also bittersweet for many longtime industry attendees.
FCA’s design chief Ralph Gilles warmly remembered the launch of the last-generation Ram 1500, when cattle driven through downtown Detroit streets stopped for brief, romantic rendezvous on Washington Boulevard.
“That’s my favorite memory,” he said.
Riskier moments have happened inside, too.
Dominick Infante, head of public relations for Subaru and a former Chrysler spokesman, remembered the 2003 debut of a V-10-powered motorcycle inside the Cobo center. High-revving, loud, and very custom-built, the Tomahawk’s debut was as risky as the motorcycle itself.
Dodge Tomahawk Concept
“It was a real Viper motor and it really did have 500 horsepower and it really was controlled by a hand-clutch. The possibilities of it going wrong were extremely high. (Then-Chrysler exec Wolfgang Bernhard) kept revving and revving and revving the motor with the clutch in and we’re all staring at his clutch hand. Because if (he) let go and that thing’s in gear…it could basically just launch itself through the crowd,” Infante said.
Jim Trainor, Detroit native and chief Hyundai spokesman, goes back further.
“I’ve been coming to the show since I was a little kid. We’d get dropped off by someone’s mom, walk the show for a couple hours and go home,” he said.
Each year makes a new memory from him, he added.
Even McElroy, who seemingly feels like decades spent in the cold weather is decades too many, has warm memories of the show’s chilly adventures.
2007 Chrysler Aspen
He remembered the Chrysler Aspen SUV debut in 2006, when the automaker created an indoor blizzard and hired actors from Broadway's "Slava's Snow Show."
“They made snow with paper. It was so thick you couldn’t see, then…the Aspen drove up through the snow—it was so fun,” he said.
McElroy sees a future for the Detroit show that brings back elaborate sets and stage choreography, but also interactivity.
“It needs to be a little Broadway, a little Hollywood, and a little Vegas,” he said. “But the Motor City needs to now be Mobility City. People are wary of autonomous tech; this show should introduce people to that.”
“I just hope that everyone realizes that this is the Motor City, and this is the Motor City’s auto show,” he said. “We should all be here. This should be a celebration of everything autos…and show off.”
Nissan exec Dan Bedore said the show's future may be tenuous, but there's a future.
"Everyone has to grow and adapt, and that's what we're seeing here," he said. "This is the Motor City and we think it's important to be here."
For more from the 2019 Detroit auto show, head over to our dedicated hub.
Motor Authority reporters Kirk Bell and Joel Feder contributed to this report.