12 Car Shows Every Automotive Enthusiast Should Know

Aug 25, 2021

Category: Rides

Worth literally trillions of dollars, the global automotive industry accounts for roughly 3% of the world’s total GDP output, though in some countries that figure is as high as 7%. And while new model reveals steadily trickle out over the course of each year, most major OEMs rely on annual trade shows to maximize exposure and reach when debuting their latest respective technologies, concepts, and production models. Backed by an industry worth literally trillions of dollars, the annual auto show circuit has grown from a few key players into a robust array of high-profile — and often highly-focused or specialized — events scattered across the planet.

Because many of these events date back a century or more, annual trade shows and exhibitions have become an important tradition in the car space, revered by automotive enthusiasts and utilized by today’s biggest manufacturers to unveil their latest and greatest offerings — and to give a glimpse into what the future of the industry holds. However, with several hundred these now held annually, it’s become harder and harder to sort through the sea of mediocre events and hone in on the few truly legendary shows. So, with this in mind, we’ve scoured the globe to deliver this curated guide to the best automotive shows every enthusiast should know.

Photo: Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance

Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance

Avid car collector, businessman, entrepreneur, and automotive magazine writer Bill Warner had spent years attending Concours d’Elegance events on the west coast and eventually got to thinking about the fact that the east coast lacked such a prestigious auto event, prompting Warner and a few pals to organize the first Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance — not far from Warner’s hometown of Jacksonville, Florida — in 1996. Taking place over the course of the second weekend of March each year, the AICdE is held on the pristine grounds of The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island. In addition to standing as one of America’s most elite auto events, the AICdE is also a charity that generates hundreds of thousands of dollars each year via its proceeds.

First Year Held: 1996
Specialty: Elite Model Reveals, Concours-Grade Classics & Restorations
Location: Amelia Island, Florida

Learn More: Ameila Island Concours d’Elegance

Photo: IMAG | Auto Shanghai

Auto Shanghai

Historically speaking, China has had a somewhat lackluster reputation in the automotive world, both as a buyer and a producer, though in recent years the nation has seen enormous strides made in terms of technology and overall quality, along with an economic boom that’s given rise to an ever-growing middle and upper-middle-class population. As a result, Auto Shanghai was created to cater to this emerging market. Officially dubbed the Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition but better known simply as Auto Shanghai, this biennial event showcases many of China’s newest brands and models, as well as being utilized by foreign car companies to show off their products to the Chinese public.

First Year Held: 1985
Specialty: New Models, Startup, & Technology Reveals
Location: Shanghai, China

Learn More: Auto Shanghai

Photo: Concorso D’Eleganza Villa D’Este

Concorso D’Eleganza Villa D’Este

Held on the picturesque western shores of northern Italy’s Lake Como, the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este is widely considered to be one of, if not the most prestigious auto show in existence. First held in 1929, the event is renowned for its Concours grade antique cars and vintage racers, though the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este is also routinely used by high-end luxury brands to debut new projects or production offerings. With single-day passes starting at a few hundred dollars, this is an exclusive event that’s no doubt aimed at a more affluent crowd, though any gearhead, no matter how passionate is guaranteed to be blown away by the world-class selection of rare and exotic cars on display.

First Year Held: 1929
Specialty: Elite Model Reveals, Concours-Grade Classics & Restorations
Location: Lake Como

Learn More: Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este

Photo: Geneva Motor Show

Geneva Motor Show

In terms of the sheer number of new production models and concept cars that are debuted each year, the Geneva Motor Show is unequivocally the most significant automotive show held each year. And while Geneva features representation from just about every major brand, the show is particularly well known for the bevy of luxury OEMs supercar and hypercar manufacturers that use the event to pull the cover off of some of the year’s most anticipated and talked-about new models. With a lineage that dates back some 116-years, the Geneva Motor Show also holds a considerable amount of historical significance. The pandemic has thrown a wrench in the workings of this event in recent years, though it’s set to return in 2022.

First Year Held: 1905
Specialty: Concepts & Major Model Reveals
Location: Geneva, Switzerland

Learn More: Geneva Motor Show

Photo: Goodwood Festival of Speed

Goodwood Festival of Speed

The Goodwood Hillclimb course is steeped in race history and dates back to 1936. After sitting dormant for decades, this iconic venue was brought back to life with the launch of the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed. Hosted at the famous Goodwood House in West Sussex, England, this event is a multi-day celebration of all things motorsport and allows spectators to view a slew of modern and vintage motorcycles and cars careen up the fabled hill climb — as well as wheel-to-wheel competition on the venue’s 2.37-mile race track. This annual summer event — held in June or July — has become so popular that attendance has needed to be capped in previous years to 150,000 heads.

First Year Held: 1933
Specialty: Classics, Model Reveals, & Live Racing
Location: West Sussex, England

Learn More: Goodwood Festival of Speed

Photo: International Motor Show

International Motor Show

Quite possibly the oldest car show on earth, the inaugural International Motor Show was first held in 1897 in Berlin. In 1951, the event would relocate to Frankfurt, becoming the Frankfurt Motor Show — a title that remained until being rebranded as the International Motor Show in recent years. For decades, this German event was arguably the most important annual auto show, though a steady decrease in attendance compounded by a myriad of other factors ultimately lead to this show’s organizers pulling the plug on this once-iconic event. Despite the unfortunate recent history of the event the International Motor Show will be fondly remembered as the venue used by a slew of important brands to debut new concept and production cars — an occurrence that continued up until the show’s final year.

First Year Held: 1897 (1951)
Specialty: Concepts & Major Model Reveals
Location: Frankfurt, Germany

Learn More: International Motor Show

Photo: LA Auto Show

LA Auto Show

Since 1907 the LA Auto Show has been one of the biggest auto events in the US and remains a key annual event in the industry. This expertly coordinated event includes your typical array of new model reveals and concept car unveilings, though one aspect that hugely separates this Southern California show from other events is its plethora of supplementary content, such as seminars and Q&As with industry leaders and new technology showcases showing off everything from self-driving AI programs to the latest sim racing systems. This massive annual event also attracts a host of companies that are loosely related to the auto industry, giving it a slightly broader appeal than most auto-focused events.

First Year Held: 1907
Specialty: New Tech & Major Model Reveals
Location: Los Angeles, California

Learn More: LA Auto Show

Photo: North American International Auto Show

North American International Auto Show

Unsurprisingly, the largest annual auto show in the US is held in the Motor City of Detroit. More commonly referred to as NAIAS, the North American International Auto Show event is also part of what’s called the global “Big 5” — being one of the five most important shows alongside Geneva, Tokyo, Paris, and the now-defunct Frankfurt. NAIAS boasts everything one would expect from a high-profile industry event, though, in addition to news from European, Korean, and Japanese automakers, NAIAS also tends to be the go-to event for many American car manufacturers to reveal their latest respective offerings. With any luck, NAIAS won’t fall victim to the same fate as the International Motor Show.

First Year Held: 1907
Specialty: US Model Reveals
Location: Detroit, Michigan

Learn More: NAIAS

Photo: Paris Motor Show

Paris Motor Show

The Paris Auto Show is one of the oldest and most iconic car events in history, first held just one year after the inaugural International Motor Show in 1897. Another one of the global Big 5, the Paris Motor Show is a monumentally important event with numbers and statistics that speak for themselves. The event features booths, displays, and conferences from more than 250 brands from all over the world, all presenting in one of eight pavilions that collectively boast 1,350,000 square feet of real estate. And, with more than 1.25M attendees, this Parisian auto show currently stands as the most widely visited auto show on earth.

First Year Held: 1898
Specialty: Major Model Reveals
Location: Paris, France

Learn More: Paris Motor Show

Photo: Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

Held at the end of the equally ritzy and elite Monterey Car Week, the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance is the west coast’s most prestigious car show. As a result, it tends to attract some of the finest vehicular specimens on earth, rivaled only by the likes of its Lake Como counterpart that originally inspired it. Rather than utilizing a tradeshow format, the PBCdE is a classic car show that is divided into different classes in which owners compete for the finest specimens amongst their genres. Often graced by some of the most expensive cars ever sold, this show routinely sees several hundred million dollars worth of cars all displayed in a single, magical location.

First Year Held: 1950
Specialty: Elite Model Reveals, Concours-Grade Classics & Restorations
Location: Pebble Beach, California

Learn More: Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

Photo: Specialty Equipment Market Association Show

SEMA

A bonafide household name amongst gear heads and auto enthusiasts, the Specialty Equipment Market Association Show — or SEMA as it’s much better known by — is an aftermarket tradeshow held in Las Vegas. Despite being held for more than half a century, it wasn’t until the last decade or so that SEMA started garnering a reputation as the premier annual event to showcase over-the-top and elaborate custom auto builds and concept cars. This trend has become so popular, that countless aftermarket companies now commission insane one-off projects to use for marketing purposes at SEMA and spread awareness for their respective brand and offerings. So, while it by no means is home to the most model reveals or the year’s biggest news announcements, SEMA unequivocally deserves a spot on this list.

First Year Held: 1967
Specialty: Customs, Concepts, & Aftermarket Parts
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada

Learn More: SEMA

Photo: Tokyo Motor Show

Tokyo Motor Show

After Japan was barred from aircraft development at the end of WW2, the island’s brightest mechanical minds focused their attention on the car and motorcycle sectors, leading to Japan becoming the automotive (and moto) powerhouse that it is today. And as a global leader in the automotive market, Japan is host to its own world-class auto event. Each year, the show sees more concept cars and production models from Japanese brands debuted than at any other auto event in the world. As previously mentioned, this event is also one of the four remaining Big 5 auto shows held each year.

First Year Held: 1954
Specialty: Concepts & Major Car & Motorcycle Reveals
Location: Tokyo, Japan

Learn More: Tokyo Motor Show

25 Concept Cars We Wish Made It To Production

The reveal of prototypes and concept vehicles is undoubtedly one of the biggest draws at annual auto shows. So, if you’re interested in checking out some of the coolest one-off projects revealed over the last few decades, be sure to cruise over to our guide to our favorite concept cars that we wish made it to production for more than two-dozen remarkable auto designs that sadly never saw the light of production.

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