Big auto shows are crumbling globally in the wake of coronavirus.
First, it was the Frankfurt Motor Show in Europe. Then it was the Beijing and the Geneva auto shows. This week, the outbreak caused the New York Auto Show to postpone its event to later in the year.
Meanwhile, it’s business as usual at many smaller car conventions across the nation, including events held in counties with confirmed cases of the deadly respiratory illness.
In fact, food vendors plan to line up, display cars are set to roll into position and organizers say they’re hoping for the best at small scale shows planned for this weekend.
“Several contacts in the past few days have called and asked if we’re canceling. I told them we aren’t planning any cancelation or curtailment of the event,” said Jim Evans who runs the All Sports Car Swap Autojumble in Wheaton, Illinois — a suburb of Chicago.
Chicago’s Mayor canceled the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade this week citing “unnecessary risk to the public.” There are 25 confirmed coronavirus cases in Illinois.
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Heavyweight auto shows tend to get national attention, as the coveted conventions are marked by glitzy unveilings, celebrity appearances and the new age technology.
Still, there are modest automotive festivals happening almost every weekend for vintage car lovers, motorsports buffs, budding collectors and customization junkies around the country.
Organizers say these events are continuing to happen in the age of coronavirus because they attract mostly local and regional interest, while premier auto shows attract international attendees who may have come in contact with the outbreak abroad.
“It’s likely that smaller gatherings will still continue unless things get considerably more dier and alarming,” said Robert Ross, an automotive consultant for Robb Report Magazine. “People will be circumspect about anything that requires long-distance travel by air.”
There has been panic in the wake of the spreading illness that recently was deemed a pandemic. Some people are canceling flights, avoiding large groups and stocking up on groceries as the number of infection cases rises.
So even if the show goes on at local auto meetups, there is no guarantee the public will show up.
“People are obviously concerned about it,” Evans said. The event has gone on for 24 years. “I am expecting a lower turnout. This type of event caters to an older crowd who are more vulnerable to the situation.”
Coronavirus is most lethal among older adults with heart and lung diseases, according to the CDC.
Four people pulled out ahead of a Tri-State Auto Show, a custom car showcase set to happen in Denver this weekend, according to Troy Seyfer who’s planning the event. The display vehicle owners cited coronavirus concerns.
“We’re still running the show,” Seyfer said. “One of the guys who canceled wants to be there but his father is elderly so he’s not going to go.”
Coronavirus is mostly spread through face-to-face contact with infected people, but the illness can survive on surfaces for days, according to health agencies.
At auto shows, it’s common for people to hop behind the wheel of multiple vehicles, putting their hands on door handles, steering wheels and other surfaces touched by several strangers. Therefore, it’s possible for bacteria and viruses to spread.
“Car shows are really a hands-on experience,” said Jennifer Newman, editor and chief at Cars.com. “What you see is people going up and experiencing the car. They’re checking out the cargo area, they’re sitting in the back seat, the front seat, touching the buttons.”
Another reason local car shows are still happening is these events support small businesses that provide food and experiences for attendees, organizers said. The festivals help spur local economies and encourage community involvement.
“If people don’t want to go to a crowded place, that’s going to be a problem,” said Seyfer, who’s organizing the car show in Denver with about 190 registered cars. “That could be a $40,000 in ticket sales lost for us.”
While many are forging ahead with local auto show plans, some have called things off at the last minute, citing coronavirus concerns.
The Quail Run Classic Car Show in Wesley Chapel, Florida, was prepared for up to 1,000 attendees this weekend but canceled plans a day in advance to keep residents safe.
“Everybody understands that we were more concerned about keeping everybody as healthy as we can rather than worrying about a 4-hour event,” said Vince Roe who planned the gathering set to take place at an RV park.
Losses due to last-minute cancellation include T-shirts designed for the event, Roe said, while food and drinks ordered in advance will be sold at a local convenience store.
Follow Dalvin Brown on Twitter: @Dalvin_Brown.