6 Trade Show Booth Trends From the New York Auto Show

By Chad Kaydo March 29, 2013, 3:23 PM EDT

Photo: Nadia Chaudhury/BizBash

With more than a million people expected to wander through the New York International Auto Show over the next 10 days, the car makers showing their newest offerings need to do what they can to stand out. At this year's show, that means lots of inviting, serene-looking booths that put the visual focus on the cars, along with some high-tech elements to draw people in and engage them with information about the new models on display.

In press days at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center Wednesday and Thursday, the big car companies gave a preview of what the public will see when the show opens today and runs through Sunday, April 7. Here's a look at the trade show exhibit trends on display.

1. Simple, modern design
If the main point of the Auto Show is to let consumers see the latest cars, the vast majority of exhibitors chose sleek structures that showed them off without any design distractions. That meant lots of restrained color palettes and bright, well-lit areas that felt modern and airy.

If you were touring the show looking at the design of displays rather than cars, that made for some sameness. But it likely—and rightly—put the focus squarely on the vehicles for people more concerned with such things.

2. White
Speaking of sleek, what can be more minimalist than a white box? That's what many brands chose—Porsche among them—displaying cars without any unnecessary frills. Rolls-Royce used white tiles on the floor and wall, and both Rolls-Royce and Volvo incorporated some wood tones into otherwise all-white designs.

White leather cubes were a popular choice for simple seating in front of presentation stages. Some brands even drove in a fleet of color-free cars for visual consistency: Almost all of Audi's autos on display were white.

3. Contemporary architectural shapes
Some of the brands with more elaborate stands appeared to take their design cues from architects like Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas, using unconventional shapes and angular elements to convey a sense of innovation and modernity.

Hyundai used a sleek black structure that rung around the ceiling along the perimeter of its space, touching down to the floor only at the back wall. (The shape brought to mind the CCTV Headquarters designed by Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren of OMA.) In the Volkswagen area, a large white trapezoid-shaped structure had video screens embedded inside. Likewise, in the Lexus booth, giant partitions—white, naturally—were cut into trapezoids by decorative silver lines.

4. Giant screens
If so many sleek, all-white booths made for a serene setting, brands put some energy in their areas with enormous LED screens showing dynamic graphics. Most booths seemed to have at least one large screen incorporated somewhere, often above or behind the main model on display. Others used giant screens as space dividers and focal points.

Ford's large space had a huge screen showing videos with moving text and lit other large blue walls to look like glowing screens. (Perhaps the design team figured at this point we're all so used to looking at screens at all times, we can't help being drawn to something that looks like one?) Scion hung three huge LED screens from the ceiling that defined its space and put four smaller video walls behind four cars.

On Wednesday, the screens showed large logos, energetic graphics, video of cars driving—the kinds of things you'd see in a slick TV commercial. What you didn't see was product specs or text-filled, corporate-looking slides. As a well-attended presentation in the Hyundai booth finished, the host—standing in front of a giant video wall broken up into several screens with live video feeds and car shots—bragged, “We just did this whole thing without teleprompters or PowerPoint.”

5. Interactive games
There were smaller screens, too—and many of them showed games meant to entice consumers to engage more actively in the displays. Lots of touch screens let you get more information about the cars. Other games mimicked the experience of driving them: Toyota had a giant kiosk with three screens for just one driver; tire maker Pirelli had a line of simulators meant to recreate the experience of a Formula One race track.

6. Caffeine
This trend is decidedly an old-fashioned and low-tech one, but effective: Several car makers kept the press engaged on Wednesday with espresso bars. With 846,000 square feet of exhibit space in use at the Javits Center—plus plenty of announcements, promotional events, and nighttime parties during the run of the show—journalists on Wednesday were lining up for a jolt of caffeine.

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