Sign In or Create an Account.

By continuing, you agree to the Terms of Service and acknowledge our Privacy Policy

Electric Vehicles

The Detroit Auto Show Is an Ominous Snoozefest

On the fall of a storied automative event.

A car missing from an auto show display.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

I had high hopes for this year’s Detroit Auto Show. Open to the media last week and running through Sunday, the Big Three automakers’ premier event came hot on the heels of big announcements from GM, Ford, and Stellantis on their plans for bringing electric car chargers to the masses. With a new late summer slot in a renewed downtown Detroit, what better time could there be to showcase the exciting new models that could usher in our electric future?

But I was wrong. This year’s Detroit Auto Show was concerningly underwhelming. The Big Three only revealed four new models, down from the six it had said it planned to show off and about half of what it debuted last year. Three of the four models weren’t even really new. They were just revised versions of existing gas-powered models on sale: the Jeep Gladiator, Cadillac CT5, and the Ford F-150. The only all new model was the GMC Acadia, a gas powered mid-sized crossover.

It was a missed opportunity. Auto shows are important not because they serve journalists but because they serve the public. They’re one-stop shops where ordinary people, no matter how car-inclined, can get information on the entire automotive industry and interact with direct representatives of the automaker, not dealers. Regular citizens can ask questions and try vehicles without pretense.

Yet the Detroit Auto Show was desolate. An industry colleague described its central Huntington Place as an “empty bingo hall.” It was a far cry from, say, 2007 when the hall had nearly 50 new model debuts and concepts.

This isn’t (just) sour grapes. Examine this year’s auto show with a wide-angle lens and it becomes clear the Big Three are stunningly half-hearted about electrification.

Now, to be clear, there was some EV presence at the show — it was just minor. Attendees perusing the Detroit AutoMobili-D area of small vendors and startups could encounter plenty of noble ideas about batteries, charging, and automotive technology. They could also ride in aspirational cars like the Tesla Model S Plaid or GMC Hummer EV. But riding shotgun in a $100,000 EV rocketing to 60 MPH in less than three seconds is like being driven to school in a Ferrari. Cool experience, but how relevant is it to your life? In an ideal world, the Big Three would show off a fleet of reasonably priced EVs — or at least new concepts that suggest the electric future is just around the corner for everyone.

Get one great climate story in your inbox every day:

* indicates required
  • But, they didn’t. Stellantis had the RAM 1500 REV EV pickup tucked away in a corner of its display. It showed off the Chrysler Airflow EV concept, but that model was canceled a few months ago. Ford had examples of the Mach-E and F-150 Lightning, but aside from a couple of special editions, there were no substantial changes to either model. The Chevrolet Equinox and Blazer EV were there, but they were unveiled a year ago and there was no news about either model. Instead, the two examples on the showroom floor were non-working preproduction models quarantined on top of plexiglass turntables not meant to be looked at too closely by the general public. If you were a consumer in search of a reasonably priced, compelling EV model, it’s clear that Detroit didn’t have much to offer.

    That’s a striking contrast to what’s happening overseas. This month, both China’s Chengdu Motor Show and Germany’s IAA in Munich featured model debuts and concepts that previewed a more egalitarian EV future. Both shows had EVs across many price points, not just super expensive luxury cars and big trucks that cost well into the six-figure range. IAA had keynote speakers from big companies like Continental and LG that outlined their roles and promised innovation in the EV future.

    Detroit had none of that.

    This might be partly explained by auto shows’ increasing irrelevance. Even before the COVID pandemic, auto show attendance had been in decline as individual automakers preferred to atomize, opting for their own big, highly curated press events full of hand-picked journalists and influencers. For example, last year’s Paris Auto Show only had a handful of similarly irrelevant debuts. One of the biggest unveilings — that of Mercedes-Benz’s fully electric EQE SUV — wasn’t even affiliated with the show; it happened at the prestigious Musée Rodin, the night before the event’s official press days.

    But here’s the thing: When the traditional automakers skipped Paris, someone else jumped in: Chinese automakers like BYD, Great Wall Motors, Leapmotor, and more. They stunned the Parisians, much to the chagrin of the Western automakers. These automakers came with fully realized EV model lines that felt impressive and undercut their European competitors.

    The Detroit Big Three should count their stars that tariffs and an increasingly precarious geopolitical situation make Chinese vehicles unpalatable in the United States. Ordinary people are increasingly becoming EV curious, and they’re hungry for models beyond an oversized pickup truck or a hyper-expensive luxury sedan. The lack of new EV model debuts or even concepts tells the public that Detroit’s Big Three don’t have much to say about electrification for anyone that isn’t wealthy.

    The Detroit Auto Show should be the crown jewel of the American auto industry. It should be a place where the Detroit area automotive giants can show off their latest tech, flashiest concepts, and newest models amid an ever-competitive automotive market. It should be where automakers vie for the public’s attention via innovation and technology. Instead, it was a boring show where executives tried to shake the impending threat of a labor strike. Where were our reasonably priced electric cars?

    GM, Ford, and Stellantis claim that managing labor costs is imperative to investing in EVs. But given the lack of progress at the Detroit Auto Show, it seems like something else is going on.

    Read more about electric vehicles:

    The Electric Cars Worth Waiting For

    Kevin Williams profile image

    Kevin Williams

    Kevin Williams is an automotive journalist focused on the corner where electrification meets automotive culture. Published in spaces like The Verge, Road & Track, The Drive, and more, he focuses on how electric vehicles impact everyday drivers.


    Is Sodium-Ion the Next Big Battery?

    U.S. manufacturers are racing to get into the game while they still can.

    Sodium-ion batteries.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images, Peak Energy, Natron Energy

    In the weird, wide world of energy storage, lithium-ion batteries may appear to be an unshakeably dominant technology. Costs have declined about 97% over the past three decades, grid-scale battery storage is forecast to grow faster than wind or solar in the U.S. in the coming decade, and the global lithium-ion supply chain is far outpacing demand, according to BloombergNEF.

    That supply chain, however, is dominated by Chinese manufacturing. According to the International Energy Agency, China controls well over half the world’s lithium processing, nearly 85% of global battery cell production capacity, and the lion’s share of actual lithium-ion battery production. Any country creating products using lithium-ion batteries, including the U.S., is at this point dependent on Chinese imports.

    Keep reading...Show less
    Electric Vehicles

    AM Briefing: Tesla’s Delay

    On Musk’s latest move, Arctic shipping, and China’s natural disasters

    Tesla Is Delaying the Robotaxi Reveal
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    Current conditions: Heavy rains triggered a deadly landslide in Nepal that swept away 60 people • More than a million residents are still without power in and around Houston • It will be about 80 degrees Fahrenheit in Berlin on Sunday for the Euro 2024 final, where England will take on Spain.


    1. Biden administration announces $1.7 billion to convert auto plants into EV factories

    The Biden administration announced yesterday that the Energy Department will pour $1.7 billion into helping U.S. automakers convert shuttered or struggling manufacturing facilities into EV factories. The money will go to factories in eight states (including swing states Michigan and Pennsylvania) and recipients include Stellantis, Volvo, GM, and Harley-Davidson. Most of the funding comes from the Inflation Reduction Act and it could create nearly 3,000 new jobs and save 15,000 union positions at risk of elimination, the Energy Department said. “Agencies across the federal government are rushing to award the rest of their climate cash before the end of Biden’s first term,” The Washington Post reported.

    Keep reading...Show less

    What the Conventional Wisdom Gets Wrong About Trump and the IRA

    Anything decarbonization-related is on the chopping block.

    Donald Trump holding the IRA.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    The Biden administration has shoveled money from the Inflation Reduction Act out the door as fast as possible this year, touting the many benefits all that cash has brought to Republican congressional districts. Many — in Washington, at think tanks and non-profits, among developers — have found in this a reason to be calm about the law’s fate. But this is incorrect. The IRA’s future as a climate law is in a far more precarious place than the Beltway conventional wisdom has so far suggested.

    Shortly after the changing of the guard in Congress and the White House, policymakers will begin discussing whether to extend the Trump-era tax cuts, which expire at the end of 2025. If they opt to do so, they’ll try to find a way to pay for it — and if Republicans win big in the November elections, as recent polling and Democratic fretting suggests could happen, the IRA will be an easy target.

    Keep reading...Show less