DETROIT — Most of the show at the new Motor Bella event in suburban Detroit took place off the stage for its debut Tuesday.
The event at M1 Concourse drew hundreds of industry representatives and media members in Pontiac, Mich., as it marked the return of a major auto show to metro Detroit and offered a glimpse into the possible future of the North American International Auto Show.
At the event entrance, Jeep Wranglers, Compasses and Grand Cherokees lined up on an off-road track like roller coaster cars, taking passengers over a steep hill and a mound of rocks and through 19 inches of water. On the opposite end of the show’s 87-acre footprint, racecar drivers in Toyota performance vehicles put on a noisy show for spectators lined up along the track.
Around 80 companies and sponsors set up tents and activations to exhibit products and meet with clients and potential customers. For many, it was among the first large in-person events since the COVID-19 pandemic began 18 months ago.
“Relationships are important,” Mike Mansuetti, president of Bosch North America, said at the supplier’s tent Tuesday. “It’s been a struggle to keep up those relationships and foster new ones. Being back and being able to be in person … it’s really valuable.”
Bosch had participated since 2016 in the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, which has been idled for nearly three years due to the pandemic and scheduling changes. Mansuetti said he thinks the industry is ready for a new type of auto show.
“In the old days, when we used to talk about fuel injection or anti-lock brakes or traction control. It’s much different talking about it than actually feeling it and getting out on the track and seeing what the car can do,” he said. “This is a much different look and feel than what we’ve seen at Cobo. It’s nice to be outside and not freezing.”
That said, the weather wan’t quite ideal Tuesday. Some wind gusts and rain showed the risks and challenges of hosting a mostly outdoor show. The Detroit Auto Dealers Association, which hosts Motor Bella and the NAIAS, has said it intends to return to Detroit in September 2022 with an indoor-outdoor show format informed by this week’s event in Pontiac.
Around 150,000 people are expected to attend Motor Bella over the course of its four public days Sept. 23-26. Organizers aimed to create a festival-like atmosphere for attendees, with dozens of food trucks, a kids zone and hands-on activations during public days.
Electric systems supplier Eaton Corp. established a presence at the show for media and industry days Tuesday and Wednesday. Scott Adams, president of emobility for the company, said Motor Bella is the first large in-person event in which Eaton has participated since the pandemic began and that being back is important for business.
“It’s important to maintain relationships,” he said. “It’s important to understand what’s going on in the industry, what others are doing, whether it be customers, competitors or partners.”
Adams said he initially worried how the show would shape up and whether it would be worth it to attend. After the first day, he said he’s sold on returning. That is if Motor Bella comes back next year. Organizers said they have not decided.
“My first impression has been very positive,” Adams said. “They’ve been able to squeeze a lot in the M1 course area. Based on first impressions, it’ll definitely be on the short list for us to consider it next year.”