The Detroit Auto Show Proves Americans Sure Love SUVs

The Detroit Auto Show circa 2004: Gas prices are low. Auto sales are is good. Bigger is better. The only electrics on the floor are the hybrids brought along by the Japanese automakers like Toyota and Honda. Tesla is a Silicon Valley startup with big ideas, safely ignored. Cars are machines that people buy, own, and drive themselves. Automakers are taking the wraps off their latest machines, talking up power and comfort while the metal gleams in the spotlights.

Fast forward to the 2019 edition of the North American International Auto Show and, well, things haven’t changed all that much. Every automaker is happy to talk about how they're addressing the shifts transforming the industry—the rise of electric propulsion, of shared ownership models, or autonomy. But this is also the show where they sell to the people looking for a machine they can have now, in the present. And right now, the internal combustion engine rules, and bigger is better than ever.

The few cars on the show floor are, for the most part, the high-performance sort, like the new Shelby GT500 Mustang and Toyota Supra. You'll find an electric here and there, but mostly in concept form. The Detroit show is all about business as usual for global car builders. And these days, that means catering to the tastes of American buyers with SUVs.

But even if the metal on display doesn’t seem to change, the venue and date for the biggest US car show will. Starting in 2020, the show will become a summer event. Held in June, it will be more car festival than typical car show, on Detroit’s riverbank rather than the classic Cobo Center. So the automakers and showgoers may dodge winter—but they can't escape the fact that change is coming, eventually.