In 1989, Detroit became a location that could no longer be ignored. Since then, the show, staged in the second and third week in January, has been named North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). The Vice President of the show at the time was quoted to have said: “We will prove that this is Motor City, the world’s automotive capital. And we will bring the world’s respect back to where it belongs.”
Since then, the Detroit auto show has been accorded special significance within the motor industry. The trade fair managers quite openly court importers who, in turn, use Detroit as the stage for world premieres. As a result, NAIAS has been ranking among the Top Five of worldwide motor shows, alongside Frankfurt, Geneva, Paris and Tokyo, since 1989; meanwhile, Auto China in Beijing raised the number of the most important motor shows to six. This was confirmed by “Automotive News” in February 1993: “Other events may attract a larger number of visitors, but Detroit has become the Number One place for new-product premieres which move into the center of the international media’s attention. The show reached this status in January 1989 after the inauguration of the expanded Cobo Center.”
Since then, Mercedes-Benz, too, has been keen to show its new features and products in Detroit. In 1992, the new SEC coupe from the 140 series celebrated its world premiere here – in more ways than one. The German brand not only presented the new coupe to the international public but for the very first time launched a new car outside Europe; the European premiere followed at the Geneva Motor Show two months later.
The basic concept outline for the shows in the United States for model year 1992/93 stated that “during the past few years, three – geographically well placed – events with an international character and great worldwide media response have emerged” in the American market. Alongside Los Angeles, a motor show “in a highly important sales market in the USA and great media response especially with respect to fun cars and emission legislation” as well as New York as the show with the largest number of visitors, Detroit is described as the “event with enormous international media attendance in the United States’ Motor City.”
According to the organizers, the 17th edition of NAIAS in 2005 attracted some 780,000 visitors. Mercedes-Benz is today using the show as a platform for predominantly presenting its models in an American format. In 2005, for instance, the new M-Class, built in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, celebrated its world premiere in Detroit. Sales likewise started first in the United States in the summer of that year and only then in Germany. “It is not least the design that clearly reflects the American buyers’ taste,” “Süddeutsche Zeitung” (South German Newspaper) wrote about the car, and continued to say that accordingly, the R-Class with up to six seats was a particularly interesting proposition for the American market: “And since Americans do go for the XXL format, the R-Class available in the USA clearly exceeds the five-meter mark in length.” In addition, the Stuttgart-based manufacturer documented at the 2005 Auto Show in Detroit that alongside the diesel engine, hybrid drive systems form part and parcel of the German brand’s tightly focused strategy, exemplified by a Mercedes S-Class with combined diesel engine and electric motor.
In 2006, the show in Detroit saw 91 exhibitors displaying well over 700 cars – including some 60 new models – to 760,000 visitors.
Mercedes-Benz once again celebrated a world premiere – that of the new GL-Class – at NAIAS. Again, North American buyers were, in the spring of 2006, the first to be able to lay their hands on this trendsetting luxurious offroader which, according to Dr. Dieter Zetsche, chairman of the Board of Management of DaimlerChrysler AG, is simply tailor-made for them. European customers have been able to drive the offroader since September 2006.
According to analysts’ estimates, the economic significance of the auto show for the greater Detroit area amounts to 600 million dollars – NAIAS is considered to be one of the three most influential industry events in the United States. Mercedes has no reason to complain about its business in the land of unlimited opportunities, either: the brand sold over 177,000 passenger cars in the USA during the first nine months of the year 2006 – a 13 percent increase compared to the same period in 2005.