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A chance to define Detroit auto show’s future

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DETROIT — The 87-acre M1 Concourse, built on General Motors’ former Pontiac West factory site, just may be the perfect venue for tinkering with the future of the Detroit auto show.

Next week, about 15 miles north of the Detroit city limits, Motor Bella will be the first major auto show in the region since 2019. It is taking the place of the North American International Auto Show this year and is being produced by the Detroit Auto Dealers Association.

The world, of course, has changed dramatically since the curtain closed on the final winter Detroit show. But even before the pandemic, organizers were moving away from the traditional static displays and toward a more hands-on, experiential event. Test drives were available in the basement of the former Cobo Center; on Belle Isle, an island park east of downtown Detroit; and elsewhere near the show. But those were mostly slow-moving affairs that didn’t allow participants to get a great feel for the vehicles.

M1, which is constructed around a winding, 1.5-mile racetrack, adds a new twist to the auto show experience. “People can engage all their senses with the product,” says Rod Alberts, executive director of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association. Professional drivers will take attendees around the track at breakneck speeds to demonstrate the massive torque of electric vehicles or the rumbling power of Hemi-engined Dodge Challengers. Attendees can catch rides in exotic cars from Lamborghini and other high-end brands. Jeep officials built an off-road course designed to demonstrate the brand’s capability.

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Suppliers will also be a part of Motor Bella. With the transition to electric and self-driving vehicles moving at a lightning speed, suppliers’ presence will be integral to demonstrating the changes fast coming to automobiles.

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Motor Bella has been designed as a sort of Disney-inspired, automotive-themed amusement park. It will give Detroit auto show organizers a look at whether an even more interactive show held in warmer weather has the right ingredients to revive the Detroit show.

“It’s a very flexible look into the future of what can be done,” Alberts told me. “After we see Motor Bella and the way it works, then we can set the game plan for 2022 and beyond.”

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