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Coronavirus is inflicting automakers to rethink debuts from Ford Bronco, GMC Hummer EV and others

Tim Kuniskis, head of Fiat Chrysler's North American passenger car division, unveiled the Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat SUV 2021 during an online event on July 2, 2020.


Automakers are trying to decide how and when to expect highly anticipated new cars and trucks after the coronavirus pandemic has forced organizers of some of the world's largest annual auto shows to cancel by 2021 and beyond.

Car makers spend millions of dollars a year debuting new vehicles – from elaborate starts and displays at auto shows to private previews for wing journalists, dealers, owners, and social media influencers. The goal is to generate hype and demand for a vehicle before it arrives in the showrooms.

"Awareness is so important. If you don't know anything about a vehicle in the showroom, you don't know if you should go to the showroom for that vehicle," said Rick Deneau, communications director at Fiat Chryslers Brands, Sales, Marketing, Technology, and Quality in North America. "It's pretty easy how to do that."

The event's cancellations have led to a backlog of automatic debuts, including a new range of Dodge's SRT power units launched on Thursday afternoon.

Other highly anticipated vehicle debuts were canceled this spring, including the all-electric GMC Hummer pickup from General Motors and the Bronco SUV family from Ford Motor.

The cost of such cancellations can add up, but more importantly, it can shorten the time it takes automakers to get attention for their products.

"The schedule is discarded," said Stephanie Brinley, principal automotive analyst at IHS Markit. "We didn't have a New York auto show, we didn't have a Detroit auto show. And we have cars that are still for sale, and automakers have to tell them they're coming … they need to get people excited about them and traditional delivery for them Content is gone. "

GM declined to say when the lobster will be launched. However, since the vehicle will not go into production until next fall, the company has some time to find out. Other automakers like Ford don't have this luxury, as vehicles like the Bronco SUVs and the Ford F-150 – its main product – will be available in showrooms later this year and early next year.


Ford, that has a number of debuts this year, was forced to take alternative routes to reveal vehicles more than other automakers.

The automaker launched the Ford F-150 2021 last week during a pre-recorded event hosted by actor Denis Leary, a former Pitchman for the truck. The new "Ford Bronco 4×4 family" will be introduced later this month.

"The challenge that marketers are currently facing is that all of these revelations can look and feel the same," said Matt VanDyke, Ford's US marketing director, to CNBC. "I think we as an industry really need to think about how we don't let them all become the same. We were really aware of that at Bronco. We really wanted to do something special."

Ford debuted the 2021 Ford F-150 during a pre-recorded event on June 26, moderated by actor Denis Leary (right), a former Pitchman for the truck.


Ford will be launching its new Bronco range on July 13th on Disney's media networks such as ABC, ESPN, National Geographic and Hulu. Ford worked with Disney CreativeWorks, the company's creative agency, to create custom three-minute videos for each network that featured the vehicles.

"We are very optimistic that this will be a unique opportunity," said VanDyke.

Ford has changed the date of the Bronco's unveiling at least three times. Two personal revelations earlier this spring, including one for the Detroit Auto Show, have been canceled due to Covid-19. An online debut on July 8 was also postponed as controversy about the event happened to be with O.J. collapsed. Simpson's birthday.

Revealed online

Officials who unveil plan for automakers say there are costs and logistical benefits if done online. But it also prevents people from physically touching and looking into the vehicles, as would be the case at a motor show or private event.

Many automakers have been running live stream events with a live audience in recent years to expand their reach.

"We have worked on broader revelations in the past," said Joe Jacuzzi, GM general manager for brand and product communications. "We have been going in this direction for some time.

"Not that this should necessarily replace physical disclosure, but it certainly offers an opportunity for a much broader audience where we can reach our customers and dealers alike."

The luxury SUV Bentley Bentayga, the crossover Nissan Rogue, the sedan Kia K5 and the crossover of the Audi e-tron Sportback concept are presented online. Other planned vehicle debuts include a new electric crossover called Ariya from Nissan Motor and the luxury brand Cadillac from GM, which introduces a fully electric crossover called Lyriq.

Before the corona virus pandemic, automakers were already considering how to reveal vehicles. Many had moved away from debuting a vehicle at a motor show. Instead, they hosted a private event and broadcast it online so that the public could see it. Some expect this to continue when a "new normal" is established.

"For some of these products that are transitioning to online products, it may turn out to be just as effective. For some products that need more attention, are more important for volume and profitability, and the changes are bigger, they may be they still wish they had a larger venue to reveal, "said Brinley of IHS Markit.

The only major domestic auto show left this year is in Los Angeles in November. Johnathan Lowe, marketing director of the show, told CNBC that the organizers are "in full planning mode, including developing appropriate protocols and procedures for the show."

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