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Trends in Automobiles and Auto Show Practices Seen at the Chicago Auto Show

March 2016 Marketing

Across North America, there is an auto show in a new city at regular intervals. The Detroit Auto Show currently has the most unveilings of new models and the most press coverage. The Chicago Auto Show is larger in both square footage and consumer attendance.

When attending Chicago Auto Show press day information sessions, a strange thing happens. You hear in every press conference, “We’ll see you again next month (March, 2016) at the New York Auto Show.” Press at auto shows tends to be rather intimate. You’ll often see public relations people say hello to reporters on a first name basis. You might want to think about this when you research your next car.

Most of the automobile manufacturers have only marketing and public relations representatives on site. Many of those leave as soon as their press conference is over. There are exceptions. Volvo’s CEO of North America Lex Kerssermakers gave a luncheon speech. It was co-hosted by The Economic Club of Chicago and the Chicago Auto Show about his vision for the company.

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I have noticed one car company breaking the rules of engagement at the Chicago Auto Show the past two years. Kia Motors America, Inc. has public relations people on hand like every car company at the show. They also had product mangement exectutives like Vice President, Product Planning Orth Hedrick and Manager, Long Range Strategy Steve Kosowski onsite. They stayed onsite for both press days – interacting with people and taking product feedback.

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Their customer focused culture is on display everywhere you look. Their executives show this in their actions as they introduce market leading products. They unveiled the all-new Kia Niro Hybird at the Chicago Auto Show.

Available in early 2017, the Kia Niro Hybird will be a new crossover utility vehicle (CUV). They started from scratch with the design. First they did market research about what consumers didn’t like about hybirds. The answer? The look and feel isn’t so great. So they set out to build a hybrid that had style, and adjusted heavy parts to reduce weight. For example, the car has no standard 12 volt battery. A smaller engine compartment transalates into more room inside the cabin. The cargo area has more space than the Toyota Prius. Kia estimates that the Niro Hybrid will achieve an impressive 50 miles per gallon. This is an improvement of 15-17 miles per gallon over competitor models.

While Kia is the automaker that impressed me the most the past two years regarding their vision and strategy, I still had ideas to offer: decrease the size of the camera equipment behind the review mirror to improve sightlines, give high-crime, urban area drivers the option not to get a sunroof in a luxury package and improve headroom for tall torso drivers. Additionally in Chicago, Kia needs to add several dealerships to have a strong dealer network.

Will Kia’s model of auto show engagement change Kia’s market share dynamics in the years ahead? Will others follow their lead? Time will tell. One thing is for certain, I’m looking forward to my first drive of the Kia Niro Hybrid.

The announcement of the all-new Kia Niro Hybrid by Kia Motors

David Dalka is the Business Model Editor at the Wiglaf Journal.