The choice of when and where to announce a new car isn't always obvious, and plenty of planning goes into it.
uto-show season is in full swing, with the Los Angeles, Detroit, and Chicago shows in the books and the New York show coming up in a month.
Auto shows aren't just a chance for the public to see a bunch of new cars under one roof—the major auto shows are also used by the automakers to unveil new cars to the automotive media. As one might imagine, lots of planning and decision-making goes into how an automaker approaches a show.
Detroit usually gets the most important car debuts, while Chicago is known for the unveilings of sports cars and trucks. Los Angeles has a reputation for hosting green cars, sports cars, and convertibles, and New York serves a very large market. As automakers decide when to unveil a new product, they must think strategically about when and where to do so.
Take General Motors, for example. Earlier this year, the seventh-generation Chevrolet Corvette made its debut in Detroit. The launch was highly anticipated by the media, and GM had a lot at stake, given the car's iconic status.
Not surprisingly, GM chose Detroit because it's the automaker's hometown and because the North American International Auto Show (the official name for the Detroit show) gets the biggest media spotlight. It made sense to preview the next generation of the iconic Corvette in the Motor City. However, the choice of when and where to announce a new car isn't always so obvious, and plenty of planning goes into it.
Automakers we spoke to told us that the number one factor is timing—they don't want to show a car too far in advance of when it goes on sale, but they want to have time to build anticipation. For example, a car shown in Detroit might be available for media drives a month or two later, before going on sale to the public shortly after that. The timeframe varies, but automakers want to capture PR buzz as best as possible. They also want to keep building that buzz.
"You want to have good stories going throughout the year," Grace Morgan, GM's Director, Global Auto Shows, Exhibits and Events, said.
That means the message has to be carefully managed, and one way to do that is target specific markets. While the press may be reporting on new-car launches from a national perspective, automakers are aware that public days follow the press days and that certain types of cars sell better in certain markets. That's why Los Angeles has gotten a reputation for green cars and convertibles, for example.
Erich Marx, Nissan's Director of Interactive and Social Media Marketing, summed it up like this: "When is the vehicle going to go on sale, and what primary markets will it be sold in?"
Nissan spokesman Josh Clifton told us that the company sometimes chooses when to launch a car based on how ready the vehicle is for sale.
"There's a lot of different reasons that we may decide to defer or pull forward," Clifton said.
Outside of whether a car is ready to go or not, automakers might also change timing due to what a competitor is doing. No one wants to be overshadowed by a rival, especially in a media-heavy environment like Detroit. Other times, the spotlight is big enough to be shared.
"We always kind of err on the side that…the sheer amount of coverage that comes out of Detroit…usually trumps whatever concerns you might have," Marx said.