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Ian Richardson


September 17, 2018

AutoMobility LA: Selling Cars Is No Longer Enough

Ian Richardson

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When AutoMobility LA takes over the Los Angeles Convention Center this November, luxury autophiles will certainly be there, but you might be surprised by how many attendees are not there for the cars.

The massive kickoff party in the technology pavilion is centered around topics like counterterrorism and robotics, has been designed to attract a very different crowd.

“Auto” is right in the title, but so is “Mobility” – signaling that this car show has evolved into a mobile tech convention. Right next to concept cars from Aston Martin and GM, you could find experiential pavilions for Amazon’s Alexa or commercial mobility chip-maker U-Blox.

Watch our latest webinar, "The Future of Experiential & Events: How Top OEMs  Leverage Digital To Impact Engagement & Bottom-Line Results," and learn what  major brands like Cadillac and GM are doing to deliver a rich brand experience  and drive sales across tiers. 

Here’s a closer look at why auto shows have had to redefine their missions and what automakers are doing to stay relevant.

Driven Off the Road Show

Earlier this year, Audi announced that it would join BMW and Mercedes-Benz in skipping the 2019 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit. Audi explained, “For 2019, we have decided that we will not participate in NAIAS. We will continue to evaluate Auto Shows on a case by case basis relative to the timing of our product introductions and the value the show brings from a media and consumer perspective."

The same is happening to the Frankfurt auto show, where absentees this year will include Peugeot, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, DS, Infiniti, Jeep, Mitsubishi, Nissan, and Volvo.

Larger, more interactive venues like the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas have attracted car makers as customer want more exciting experiences that speak to their integrated lives. Cars are no longer road machines for exploring the adventure of travel. They are mobile connectivity hubs that open up new experiences regardless of the distance covered.

Auto shows go all the way back to the turn of the prior century – not the 2000, but 1900. The theme at that first event was “Dispense with a Horse!” A collection of electric, steam-powered and gasoline engine automobiles were on display for 50 cents, and the big attraction for most people was just seeing them in person for the first time.

By the 1950s, auto sales had become a primary driving engine of the American economy and road trips were all the rage. Mercedes-Benz shocked Europeans by unveiling their latest Gullwing to US auto buyers first at the 1954 New York auto show. That launched the tradition of using auto shows for showing off concept cars and turning big launches into events.

The auto show world hit reset in the 1970s when the global oil crisis made “economic” into a popular buzzword. Car shows were no longer about bigger, flashier, more powerful cars. They took into consideration how the nature of consumer relationships with cars had changed, with Japanese auto makers Datsun, Mazda and Honda introduced to American families for the first time.

The turn of the next century brought revolutionary changes as well. After 2000, auto shows began spotlighting cars that reflected an increased cultural awareness of environmental impacts and the recognize the buying power of a new generation. GM brought attention to its hybrids while Jaguar brought in Spike Lee as their new spokesman, saying, “We need to communicate with a much younger, a much broader and a much more diverse audience."

That sets the stage for what auto makers are doing to sell more cars in 2018.

Consumers Expect Omnichannel Experiences

Consumers are demanding more from brands in every industry, not just auto makers. They want experiences that move them and give them bragging rights on social networks. In recognition of this new reality, Ford CEO, speaking at AutoMobilityLA in 2016, said, “We are attending the first major auto show in the world that is not just about cars.”

Just like more OEMs are using tech to improve the consumer experience, auto shows are reaching out to tech companies, security companies, mobile connectivity specialists and experiential marketers to prove their value to auto makers and other critical industry players. 

People can see cars and do virtual test drives inside their own virtual reality glasses from home. Physical shows must become physical experiences, enlivening all of the senses. 

Technology is both the driver of change and the solution in this case. It can help create a premium experience from both the front and back end, both building exciting new possibilities into the cars themselves and giving people new ways to interact with dealerships during the buying process. Experiential marketing, then, becomes the cornerstone to a functional omnichannel strategy in the auto industry.

“It doesn’t make sense to be a car manufacturer anymore. I need to give you an integrated solution for your mobility," says Giuseppe Moder, Digital Marketing and Customer Relationship Management Director at Fiat Chrysler in a World Economic Forum report.

The end result? Consumers needs are met, automakers deliver a more memorable experience, and OEMS save more money, and sell more cars. 

Industry consultants Bain & Company estimate that up to a fifth of building a customer-centric ecosystem can be cut with an integrated, or omnichannel model. According to the brief, "Similar cost reduction potential is hard to find elsewhere along the automotive value chain." 

In addition, Forrester found that marketers see more impact with omnichannel implementations:

  • Online sales increase by 67%
  • Profitability increase by 60%
  • Customer satisfaction increase by 56% while costs decrease by 51%

Experiential marketing, data capture, and other event technologies will be everywhere at AutoMobility LA this year and will shape what consumers will expect to see in 2019.

There's no telling what the visitors at the first auto show more than a century ago would think about the hyper-connected, screen-heavy, self-driving vehicles on display at auto shows now. The certainly wouldn't call them cars. Maybe "entertainment pods."

Consumers today move effortlessly among a swarm of personal devices. This is just as true in auto sales, where customers slide across to different online and offline channels at least four times on average before a purchase. They expect their suppliers to know them and remember them, carrying data across those fluid boundaries.

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