The bang from auto shows is back.
A new study found auto shows are serving as more than a market thermometer for the latest splashy coupe or concept crossover by automakers.
The Auto Show Immersion Report, conducted by Foresight Research and released this month , found that 84 percent of 1,185 auto show attendees in 2013 and 2014 intended to shop for a new light vehicle. And more than half said their purchase decision was influenced by an auto show.
Auto show influence increased from 2009 to 2010 — despite the auto industry bailouts and sales downturn — but declined in the following two years, according to past Foresight data.
Auto shows regained influence in 2013 with 72 percent of attendees intending to shop for a new vehicle, and has continued to rise.
The study identified six advantages of auto shows that make them a powerful marketing and sales tool. Auto show visitors are more educated and affluent. And auto shows have a greater effect on potential customers, attract influencers, engage buyers, maintain influence after the event, and move buyers through the purchasing tunnel.
“There are more and more marketing things that knock your socks off,” Nancy Walter, vice president of business development for Foresight, said of today’s auto shows. “That’s why people go.”
The auto show study was part of a larger survey of new-vehicle buyers conducted in March and April. Respondents weren’t polled at auto shows but were asked if they had attended an auto show in the past 12 months.
The impact of auto shows was not limited to a bump in dealership sales in the weeks following a show. Results of the survey indicate an auto show experience remained in the minds of visitors surveyed for about eight months.
Scott LaRiche, chairman of the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit and vice president of Lou LaRiche Chevrolet in Plymouth, Mich., said auto show bonuses like cash incentives ensure increased sales in January — the month the show takes place. He added that increased showroom traffic continues into February.
Engagement is a key motivator for buyers at auto shows — purchase influence increased 25 percent for visitors who participated in a ride and drive at a show and 70 percent reported that they talked to specialists at brand displays they are considering.
The entertainment at auto shows makes them a more attractive shopping environment for buyers, Walter noted.
“It’s a way to shop without going to the dealership,” she said.
LaRiche said auto shows provide a relaxed environment to shop a variety of brands and learn from product specialists, rather than go straight to a specific dealership.
“Some people may be apprehensive about going to a dealership if they’re not armed with the right information,” he said. “You go to a Chevrolet dealer to look at Chevrolets, you go to an auto show and look at everything.”
LaRiche said holding the Detroit auto show in the winter helps maintain consumer interest when showroom traffic slows.
“It’s a great way to showcase what you have,” he said. “It really truly does equate to sales at a dealership.”
Nissan Motor Corp., which returned to the major auto show circuit after opting out of the 2009 Detroit, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles shows, has seen an increase on its return on investment in recent shows.
“We recognize the value of auto shows, that’s why we’re back,” Nissan spokesman Dan Bedore said.
He added that the company has seen a correlation between showroom traffic and dealership sales one to two months after a show.
Mercedes-Benz, which sat out of the Tokyo Motor Show in 2009, has recently been experiencing record sales.
However, Mercedes spokeswoman Donna Boland said in an e-mail that auto shows are just one of many factors that have been driving the brand’s sales.
“Auto shows continue to be a top event for us in terms of ROI, but events themselves can be directly correlated to only a very tiny fraction of annual sales,” Boland said.