As auto shows struggle, give some offbeat ideas a shot

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How bad has it gotten for auto shows? It looks like the Frankfurt show is leaving Frankfurt.

To be fair, the home of Germany’s financial center is one of seven cities bidding to host the next IAA, the auto-industry showcase held in odd-numbered years.

But the fact that it’s even a contest after almost 70 years in Frankfurt speaks volumes about the sad state of the show. I wasn’t there last year, but the reports were pretty bleak.

So it’s a good move for the organizers to rethink the old formula that isn’t working any longer.

Our correspondent, Christiaan Hetzner, points out that Berlin — where Tesla is building a factory — is more of a tourist hub than Frankfurt is, and it’s home to the IFA consumer electronics show. He also notes that Hamburg is developing a reputation as a “smart city” with progressive transportation policies.

Still, a change will feel strange — like, if the Detroit show were held in Traverse City. That could never happen, since it is an event put on by Detroit-area dealers. (The IAA is organized by a national industry group.)

But it’s not the wrong kind of thinking. With automakers finding less benefit from spectacular new-model reveals at traditional shows, the trend is toward giving the public a fun way to spend a day — and trying to tell them about new cars and future transportation modes while they’re enjoying themselves.

It seemed to work in Tokyo, where Akio Toyoda put together an array of entertainment options, including a hot pop-music group and a popular drag queen.

Is that the kind of thing we’ll see this June in Detroit — Kid Rock and RuPaul?

It sounds as if the local automakers are planning significant hands-on displays well beyond the TCF Center. No word on entertainers yet, but the big companies know how to bring out the stars, if they see value in it.

The problem with using Tokyo as a model is that it has long stopped being much of an international show. It isn’t even a pan-Asian event — it’s mostly domestic, provincial.

And that’s part of what’s at risk for Detroit, as well as Frankfurt or any once-global auto expo.

Last year, 24 brands opted out of the Frankfurt show. Big European luxury brands skipped Detroit last year, and it doesn’t look like they’re coming in June.

So while Germany considers moving its show’s location and Detroit moves its place on the calendar, I hope someone can figure out a formula that brings the whole auto world together again.

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