The L.A. Auto Show was weirdly normal

We’re in year two of the coronavirus pandemic, and it has continued to take a toll on major auto shows. A few were canceled altogether, such as the New York and Geneva shows, and other shows such as Chicago and Detroit were dramatically scaled back with different formats. When we were planning our coverage of the L.A. Show, we were again expecting something meager, since only four mainstream OEMs were holding press conferences, with the rest of the day filled by small startups. But turns out, it was almost business as usual at the convention center.

Sure, there were still signs that the world remains a bit of a mess. Masks were required throughout the convention center. Attendees had to show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test before entering. One of the stranger decisions was not to provide name badges, to keep contact between employees and attendees to a minimum. This led to a lot of awkward stares as we all tried to figure out who each other was behind our masks. James Riswick and I brought our own name tags because of this.

But put that aside, and nothing was really out of the ordinary. The displays were spread out over the same main halls as years past. And unlike at Chicago, everything was assembled before the media arrived. Each hall was pretty full, even with the absence of a number of major manufacturers such as Audi, BMW, Honda, Mazda and Volvo. Technically the latter three had displays, but only because their Galpin dealerships put something together. And once the press conferences kicked off, each display was packed full of journalists who spilled into the adjacent booths. If you hadn’t shown up at least five minutes before the start of the conference, you’d be staring at the backs of people’s heads and cameras.

But the fact there were big new reveals was the main sign that things are getting back to normal. Hyundai and Kia brought flashy electric concepts. Subaru launched its production Solterra (rebadged Toyota bZ4X), and Fisker gave more details about its Ocean electric SUV. Those were just the big automakers with press conferences. Porsche launched a slew of new models, some of which are some wicked performers. Dodge revealed yet more powerful Hellcats. Nissan showed a new engine for the Rogue and pricing for the Ariya, which turns out to have quite a nice interior. Even automakers without official presence showed stuff close to the show, such as the Acura Integra a week before hand, and the Mazda CX-50 the same week as the show.

This is all just touching on the establishment automakers, too. Startups made quite a splash, particularly Fisker and VinFast. The latter is a Vietnamese EV builder with cars styled by Pininfarina, and their display was just as big as any of the big OEMs.

The fact that the L.A. Auto Show was as normal and well-attended as it was, while still in a pandemic, gives us hope that rumors of the death of the auto show are greatly exaggerated. As James Riswick astutely pointed out, shows still have major benefits for everyone involved. It’s a chance for automakers to share the costs of getting press to an event for coverage. It’s a chance for journalists to get up close and personal with new vehicles, and more important, talk with executives, engineers and others without being held hostage through hours of one company’s presentations. And it’s a chance for consumers to experience products without being stalked by dealers who are dying to get you into a car, any car, today.

There’s of course still plenty of uncertainty in the future (we did mention the pandemic, right?). And we wouldn’t be surprised if we still see the odd cancellation next year. After all, Geneva already canceled for 2022. But we think auto show seasons are going to keep rebuilding into next year. In a year or two, we might even see them at pre-pandemic levels.

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