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LOS ANGELES – What a difference two years make. The 2019 Los Angeles Auto Show featured a parade of vehicle debuts, a series of press conferences and other events in the first two days, along with hundreds of thousands of people eager to see new cars.

Fast forward to 2021. The Los Angeles Auto Show, the first major American auto show since the start of the pandemic, kicked off on Wednesday with a single day of press events, with some automakers even skipping the show.

The show illustrates how the pandemic has accelerated automakers’ shift to the online world as consumers buy more vehicles online, although many still prefer in-person visits.

The LA Auto Show opened to the public for 10 days on Friday. A smaller crowd waited for the doors of an exhibit hall to open, and visitors were scattered throughout the convention halls.

“I’d love to see it with my own eyes instead of always seeing it on the iPad,” said Peter Borch, who flew from Denmark to see Fisker’s electric SUV Ocean.

“The size is bigger than in the picture,” said Borch, 52, who said he had already spent his pension to buy an Ocean, which will start deliveries at the end of next year.

Dustin Haug, 47, a construction manager in Los Angeles, said, “It’s nothing like seeing a real car in person, touching it, feeling it.”

David Fortin, director of consumer marketing at the Los Angeles Auto Show, told Reuters that while online reservations are lagging behind 2019 levels, they are “strong enough to believe we’re going to have a great year.”

Honda and BMW both skipped the show in favor of separate, past events. Honda showed off a reincarnation of its iconic Integra prototype sedan at a livestream event in Los Angeles about a week earlier.

“That was an event that was exclusive to us. We find that we don’t have to compete like you do on the press days of an auto show to get attention,” Honda executive vice president Dave Gardner told Reuters in a Zoom interview. .

The Korean car manufacturer Kia expressed a similar position.

“The pandemic has taught us that we can work differently. … There will still be auto shows in the future, but there will also be different kinds of presentations,” Karim Habib, head of Kia Design Center, told Reuters on the late see.

Kia and affiliated Hyundai Motor were among the few automakers to debut electric SUV concepts at the show, flying executives, including chief executives, from their headquarters in Seoul to Los Angeles.

“Auto shows used to be very, very popular for automakers to make a big media splash. That has changed with social media and with other forms of consumer access to the media,” said Brett Smith, technology director at Center for Automotive Research . . “I think the pandemic may have been the last straw in this.”

Smaller companies see a positive side of the changes.

“It gives more attention to us,” Henrik Fisker, CEO of the electric vehicle startup Fisker, told Reuters.

He said his Ocean SUV is a “sexy sports car” best seen in person. “I know I’m zoomed out. I don’t think I enjoy just looking at computers and pictures anymore. I want to see the real thing,” Fisker said.

IN photo: Visitors view VinFast’s E35 SUV at the 2021 LA Auto Show in Los Angeles, California, USA, Nov. 17, 2021. REUTERS/Mike Blake

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