By: Aaron Robert (@AaronJRobert)

Every year, automakers show off their newest models and designs at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit. From unique shimmery colors, hybrid technology, luxurious trucks, and the return of Ford’s Mustang Bullitt, the 2018 Detroit Auto Show has something for everyone to enjoy.

While I was scanning the floor at Cobo Center, I noticed several glaring trends. Amidst our highly polarized political climate, economic state, and demographic shifts, the auto industry is a reflection of our society. As public relations professionals, we must be aware of all these societal changes, forces, and trends. It’s not just about the cars, it’s about the climate in which they’re placed—and it’s up to PR professionals to make sense of all of this to best serve clients. Below are four trends I noticed during my time at the Detroit Auto Show.

  1. Color me surprised: Color is highly symbolic and trendy. At this year’s show, automakers mainly opted for white. This is no surprise, as white is the most popular vehicle color in North America. PPG, a Fortune 500 global paint supplier, released 2018-2019 automotive color palettes to automakers. Based upon PPG’s research, popular colors for 2018-2019 automobiles included whites, copper tones, and pops of bright orange. Below is PPG’s “IM Perfect” palette, which symbolizes authenticity and wellness.

    PPG’s “IM Perfect” palette. Source:

    PPG’s other palette, “Lucid Dreams,” was extremely popular at the show. Below, you can notice the popularity of whites and copper tones. According to PPG, these colors symbolize refuge, sensitivity, and privacy.  It is no surprise that during a time of political scandals, concerns over “fake news,” and low government trust,  these white and natural hues would be popular among consumers. “There is nothing you can hide underneath the color white,” says Emily Kaufman of TODAY.

    PPG’s “Lucid Dreams” palette. Source:

    Below are some examples of these colors at the show:

  2. So Long, sedans: While gas prices are expected to increase in 2018, they are still significantly lower than several years ago. Trucks, crossovers, and SUVs also create large profit margins. Because of these factors, automakers are pushing their trucks, crossovers, and SUVs. While mid-size car sales are declining, full-size car sales are rapidly increasing. Below are some trucks, crossovers, and SUVs that turned heads:
  3. Electric displays pushed to the back corner: At the 2017 show, Mercedes-Benz and Audi proudly displayed their electric wall-charging stations, promoted their lithium-ion batteries, and boasted their eco-friendly plans. While these technical aspects are still discussed and displayed, they are not the main selling point. In the Mercedes-Benz display, the electric vehicles and wall-charging stations were placed in the back corner by the showroom’s exit, while their large G-class vehicles (which require premium unleaded gasoline) stole center stage. 

    Mercedes-Benz’s EQ concepts (which are electric-run) were placed in the back corner.

    Mercedes-Benz’s G-Class took center stage in their display.

    This sidelining of green energy vehicles may be due to several factors. In North America, gasoline prices are relatively cheap and coupled with Americans’ desire for larger vehicles, automakers are displaying vehicles that will attract potential buyers at the Detroit show.  Volkswagen (who owns Audi) is another automaker that sidelined their green energy vehicles when it unveiled their new gasoline-powered Jetta. Because Volkswagen has achieved record sales in 2017 despite its emissions scandal, it currently does not need to solely position itself on clean, electric energy. 

  4. Women behind the wheel: As I’ve mentioned last year, women are the majority of those who carry a driver’s license and influence vehicle purchasing decisions. According to data compiled by AutoAlert in 2017, women influence up to 85% of vehicle purchases. They are considered the “fastest growing consumer group” for automobiles. The same data also showed that women often feel misunderstood by automakers. 

    Many automakers are attempting to appeal to women and families.

    Automakers still have much to learn. Only about 21% of dealership employees are women and if you walked around Cobo Center on Industry Preview Days, a large gender gap was present. Currently, with increased attention to corporate diversity efforts, the auto industry still lags behind.

More than just gears, the auto industry is a direct reflection of us. From the economy, politics, social forces, and more, the Detroit Auto Show displays it all. I enjoy attending the Detroit Auto Show every year and I would like to thank Lambert, Edwards & Associates for allowing GV PRSSA the opportunity to attend this great event during Industry Preview Days.


Aaron Robert is a junior at Grand Valley State University studying advertising and public relations with a minor in writing. He is also on the e-board for Grand Valley’s PRSSA chapter. He enjoys creative writing and is a contributor to The Artifice, an online arts and literature magazine. In his free time, Aaron enjoys running, traveling, and mentoring with GVSU Pals Student Mentors.