Four years later, the Cobo Center's general manager says multimillion dollar renovations have paid off.
We needed to keep the auto show in Detroit," said Thom Connors, who also serves as Cobo's regional vice president. "The auto show was very interested in more and improved space, and I think halfway through the renovation of the facility, they got what they asked for."
What they got was 150,000 square feet of flexible spaces, a ballroom looking across the river to Canada and a food court serving local cuisine, among other things.
The flexibility is essential for an event like the North American International Auto Show, which is celebrating its 25th year. Automakers from around the world set up elaborate stages to show off their newest products.
"It's probably the most elaborate set of exhibits you'll see anywhere at a trade show in North America," Connors said. "You've got 50,000 square foot automobile showrooms, created one after another side by side for the US brands, European brands, the international brands and that's what people come to see."
More than 800,000 people are expected to make their way through the doors once the show opens to the public Saturday. Companies like Ford are using interactive exhibits to keep their eyes on their brand.
"It's a show; we want them to be engaged and have fun," said Joe Hinrichs, Ford's president of the Americas. "Yes it's great to see the new product, we actually want them to interact with new technologies, new features with the vehicles, so they actually stay a while and get to know Ford a little better."
Ford is offering several hands-on exhibits, notably a driving simulation that looks like a video game.
For Hinrichs, every auto show is exciting, but 2014 is even more special. Two old Ford favorites are being revamped: a 50th anniversary edition of the Mustang and an aluminum-bodied F-150. Hinrichs says he loves seeing the looks on peoples' faces when they walk by.
"These shows are really gratifying because we've known for years that these products are coming," he said. "We work on them for years before people know they're coming. And so for us it's like showing off your brand new baby that takes even longer than nine months."
Doors open to the public Saturday and stay open through January 26.