NAIAS – My Friend Wore Black

I attended the NAIAS Auto Show this week with a friend and he wore black. I should have. The pallor of death hung over Cobo Hall, a demise in the form of empty spaces where manufacturers like Mercedes, BMW, Volvo, and Land Rover once hawked rolling art. These companies haven’t died, the show has. Vacant square footage isn’t a positive vital sign.

Sure, the organizers will gather the bones and drive the casket down the calendar to June 2020. A summer setting in the energized D promises a sun and fun renaissance for everything automobilia. The show’s internal combustion heart should recover just fine.

Will it? How relevant is a car show today? As kids we went to the show with our parents. So cool to sit in a Corvette or Porsche. So different from Mom’s Oldsmobile or Dad’s Monza. Does anyone remember the Monza? The NAIAS could end up with the same rusty fate. “We’re going electric.” “Autonomous is the fashion.” “Driving is so twentieth century.” “VR is our future. Experience the world, no, the universe, without leaving the bedroom.”

Wait! Hold those electric motors, robotic chauffeurs, and uncomfortable goggles for a moment. All the hype may be true, but perhaps the show will never die. Why can’t it survive in an altered reality? An event where one can go to experience style, the latest people pod designs, modular seating concepts, and entertainment gizmos. A place showcasing performance, in the form of distance traveled versus dollars spent, and flashed on giant tablet displays. A one stop venue for studying prices and deciding which ride share is worth a cut of some Google or Apple employee’s pay.

Ok, we get it. The show will change and is liable to shrink. Those vacant square feet will grow, replaced by summer grass instead of indoor carpet. But the Auto show will remain. It’ll be different, but it’ll conquer computing and stay-at-home VR, because people enjoy real events. People enjoy interacting with each other. They take satisfaction in comparing this against that. And people love to buy things and brag to their friends.

We could drop the word Auto and just call it “The Show.” Does anyone know when tickets go on sale? I plan to buy the first one and not wear black.

NAIAS Observations – Merger Mania

Rumor has it, the company that put “America on Wheels” and the one which created the “People’s Car” will announce a major agreement next week. A Ford Beetle? A VW Ranger? How about a Golfstang? Don’t laugh just yet. The auto industry grew on mergers and acquisitions. Think way back to Ford purchasing Lincoln, or GM bringing in Cadillac and Oakland. For those of us who had to look it up, Oakland become Pontiac. In the mid-century the tradition continued as the independents struggled against the big and mighty three. Packard merged with Studebaker, a not so swell ending. But simultaneously, Nash merged with Hudson, formed AMC, added Jeep, and soldered through some good times and many bad. Sure, they’ve ended up a brand of FCA, but a mighty powerful one. Thinking about FCA, recalls the miserable DaimlerChrysler alliance, a miscue all around. Yet FCA continues forward, showing the Europeans and Americans can succeed together if the union is right.

Today’s market is rife with potential mergers and acquisitions. None with a bigger impact than the future of Tesla, a company with market value 30% greater than Ford and gaining on VW. But those actions are farther out. Let’s focus on next week’s announcement. How will Ford and VW work together to broker product and culture? Bang or bust? I’m betting on a bang, but with potential for backfires and broken parts scattered along the way. What do you think?