2018 Detroit auto show: Construction crews already pouring in to Cobo


On an open stretch of floor at Cobo Center, an escalator lies waiting to be installed, wooden crates marked “Ford” stand like sentries, semi-trailers are unloaded, and workers install the trusses that will eventually transform the lighting of the large hall into a sensory overload.

The 2018 North American International Auto Show is about two months away, but the construction needed to create one of the premier auto shows in the world at Detroit’s downtown convention space is happening now.

The crescendo of construction activity will build until moments before the doors open, according to Max Muncey, a spokesman for the event which started in 1907 and has had an international focus since 1989.

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About 1,500 union laborers and perhaps just as many working in other capacities will turn approximately 700,000 square feet of mostly open, unfinished space into an ultimate showroom for more than 750 vehicles from automakers across the globe. The rest of the center, including its meeting rooms, also will be fully occupied.

“I love when it looks like this. It looks so big and then when the show comes together it looks so small,” Muncey said, describing how the giant undifferentiated room will eventually become a much more intimate and glitzy showcase for individual automakers.

On Monday, Muncey led a Free Press reporter and photographer on a tour of the main show hall. Workers moved about on the floor and overhead. Survey crews had already begun placing what looked like white stamps on the floor to mark specific exhibit spaces.

Although automakers compete to outdo each other’s displays, Muncey noted that the teams responsible for the exhibits do speak with each other to ensure the exhibits line up properly.

Over the coming weeks, 1,800 semis will be bringing in and later removing the materials for the show. What takes about 12 weeks to install will only take about two weeks to dismantle after the show ends.

The building will really begin to ramp up in early December after the Los Angeles Auto Show wraps up and exhibit teams’ focus shifts completely to Detroit.

Muncey said work will continue almost until the moment the media preview opens on Jan. 14. The show will be open to the public from Jan. 20-28. Several other events will make up the total show, including The Gallery for ultra luxury brands, many of which will not have vehicles on display for the general public, a return of the AutoMobili-D technology showcase and the annual Charity Preview, one of the largest single night charity fund-raisers in the world.

Tickets for all events are already on sale at naias.com.

Exactly which companies will be at the 2018 show has not yet been released. Muncey did, however, say that China’s GAC Group, which had three worldwide debuts at the 2017 show, will return with a bigger display than last year.

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The upcoming show will also have seven new exhibit builds, eight exhibit location changes, $60 million in new investment and more than 7,500 overhead lights installed. The show is estimated to have an economic impact of about $450 million. Last year, more than 806,000 people attended the public show, almost 40,000 automotive executives, engineers and analysts attended the Industry Preview and more than 5,100 journalists were on hand for the Media Preview.

Archie Bane, 57, of Clarkston, has been working auto shows since 1978. The forklift foreman is working this year on the Mercedes-Benz exhibit, but previously worked on the Toyota exhibit. Monday was his first day on the job for the upcoming show.

Bane has seen the show change over the years, becoming bigger and more glamorous, and he’s thankful to the organizers for making the show what it is now.

“It’s like the cream of horse races,” he said, mentioning the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. “It’s pretty amazing down here. … (The displays) get more and more elaborate.”

Contact Eric D. Lawrence: [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @_ericdlawrence.

Fun facts about the North American International Auto Show:

  • It takes 78,000-square-feet of aisle carpet (1 1/3 football fields) and more than 400,000-square-feet of raised flooring (more than 85 basketball courts) to accommodate all exhibits.
  • During the show’s Public Days, 25,000 bottles of water, 17,000 soft pretzels and 14,000 slices of Detroit-style pepperoni pizza are sold, based on previous results.
  • On Charity Preview night, about 100 cases of champagne and 300 cases of wine are served for the champagne reception.
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