Twin Cities 2021: Broncos, Pronto Pups, and Parades

When it was announced that the Twin Cities Auto Show was going on the road, I was wondering what it would it actually look like. 

Several things came up deep in my mind. One, how much of the Minnesota State Fairgrounds will the show take up? What areas would the show take advantage of for displays? How much can the auto show replicate the feel of the Minneapolis Convention Center, even when it is outdoors?

The big one has been one of the biggest issue that has been challenging this year’s Twin Cities Auto Show – dealing with the COVID-19 Pandemic. 

Early on, the show set up some protocols to have everyone mask up, stay six feet away from the vehicle displays, and enforce a constant cleaning and disinfecting regimen for vehicles, displays, and everyone on site – including the spectators. 

Just two days before the show opened up to the public, the Centers for Disease Control came out with a revised guideline for fully vaccinated individuals to forgo masking requirements. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz affirmed that the state will follow this new guideline.

The next day, the Twin Cities Auto Show removed the masking requirement on site. 

Without getting into a debate about the issues surrounding the change in masking rules, the show had begun. 

The interesting aspect about having the Twin Cities Auto Show is its venue. During the Minnesota State Fair, automakers would have certain displays throughout the fairgrounds. I found it interesting that those manufacturers did not take their space as they would in August and September. 

Instead, the mainstream brands were set up near the fairway, while other displays were scattered all over the fairgrounds. No part of the fairgrounds was spared from the auto show. 

If you have been to more of your share of Minnesota State Fairs, you will be able to take advantage of everything the Twin Cities Auto Show has to offer. Walking shoes and stamina were definitely required for this show. 

For many Minnesotans, the big attraction to this auto show is the return of some food vendors. An auto show with fair food? In Minnesota? Perhaps on a stick?

Unless you have worked the auto show at the Texas State Fair, the concept is very novel. It was actually working here at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. 

For those of you who have never been to a Minnesota State Fair – or any state fair, at that – the pronto puff is the ultimate fair food. Unlike corn dogs, Pronto Pups are dipped in pancake or another flour-based batter. Don’t confuse this with a corn dog, please?

The Bronco part is of course the new 2021 Ford Bronco. A they slowly head to showrooms to meet some of the first orders, the two- and four-door “larger” Broncos have made their appearance at the fairgrounds. If you find the yellow two-door with dark gray roof, then you get to do a ride-and-drive in the Mustang Mach-E. You also get to see a fair share of the smaller, Escape-based Bronco Sport at the show, as well. 

Subaru rolled out the 2022 Outback Wilderness, a factory-lifted version of their most popular vehicle. Not only did they increase the angles of approach and departure but have enhanced the two-speed X-Mode for managing tougher terrain. 

If you’re looking for big debuts, Jeep rolled out their latest models at the Twin Cities Auto Show. On display were the Wrangler Rubicon 392 with the 6.4-liter V8 engine, the plug-in hybrid Wrangler 4xe, the all-new Grand Cherokee L three-row model, the Wagoneer, and the Grand Wagoneer.

When you reach Luxury Hill, it would appear that the Minnesota Car Enthusiasts Club have dominated that area – along with an evangelical church. The luxury vehicles brands were not as present as they once were, and their exhibits looked forlorn. Cadillac did not have a tent, while I was unimpressed with Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, and Lincoln booths under their own tents. Morrie’s Luxury Autos appear to have just two of their vehicles at their tent, including an Aston Martin DBX. 

If you were not part of MNCEC, it doesn’t really make sense heading to Luxury Hill at all. However it is worth checking out MNCEC’s rides while you’re out that way. 

Because of the uncertainty and doubt over the show, several brands were missing from the fairgrounds. Not just BMW and MINI, but also Audi, Porsche, Lexus, Infiniti, Acura, Honda, Genesis, Jaguar, and Land Rover. Their reasoning was more than economic this time around. Should they be excused for being absent at the show? If this show becomes a success in this format at the state fairgrounds, maybe those absent brands should reconsider for 2022. That is, if the Greater Metropolitan Auto Dealers Association would return the show to the fairgrounds. 

What is certain is that GMADA added a lot more experiences for attendees at the fairgrounds. 

One experience that was carried over for the auto show were the Ride and Drives. At the show, I was able to take my first drives in the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E and 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe four-door. 

The Mustang Mach-E is actually a very good battery-electric vehicle. It felt lighter than the Volkswagen ID.4, while it is not as practical as one. I had a lot of mixed feelings about Ford’s newest EV, in particular the use of Mustang’s brand equity to market this vehicle. The platform is good enough to spawn a new generation of EVs for Ford – including the just announced F-150 Lightning pickup truck. 

Jeep has been touting their electrified strategy with the 4xe plug-in hybrid architecture. In the Wrangler, I felt that the turbocharged four-cylinder engine with the electric motor and rechargeable battery might not be the best combination for this off-road hero. It drove OK, but not enough to win me over. Sorry, Jeep. 

As usual, I did not come just for the media preview. As one of my duties with being on the board of the Great Northern Region of the Lambda Car Club International, I had a hand to coordinate a group outing for the club the following weekend. Part of that role was to bridge the President and Vice President of the region with a request from GMADA’s public relations agency for vehicles to participate in the daily parade at the auto show. 

Yes, a daily parade. 

Because the show was set outdoors and had the full reign of the fairgrounds, GMADA and its agency added a parade based on a theme. Our region was featured on the final Saturday’s parade of the show. The club’s five vehicles were placed towards the front between a beautiful two-tone silver/light gray mid-1980s Nissan Maxima and some vintage fire trucks. 

Even with the humidity, we obviously had a good time. We could have been a bit more visual and representative, but I am glad that this club shown that we are indeed part of a wider car community and automotive enthusiast base.

After all, with Twin Cities Pride cancelling their annual parade for the second year in a row, we might as well get into some parade this year! 

If I have a complaint about the Twin Cities Auto Show’s format for the fairgrounds – well, there are two. One is the Main Street section could use a wider walkway for more folks to go up and down without a lot of pinch points. Also, every time I had to go between the mainstream brands to the luxury brands, it reminded me of that long walkway between the two halls at the Los Angeles Convention Center for the Los Angeles Auto Show

One of the potential pitfalls of an outdoor auto show is its exposure to the elements. We had plenty of rain fall at the fairgrounds. Most exhibitors were prepared with tents and a locked vehicle plan to protect them from being dragged with mud and wetness inside their interiors. However, there was a sense that no matter the weather, GMADA ensured that the show must go on.

What is significant about the Twin Cities Auto Show is the fact this Tier 2/3 event has given some indirect and inspirational guidance to the Tier 1 shows that are ramping up for their amended exhibitions. Chicago will have a shortened show in July with Detroit doing a few smaller iterations between the downtown core and out in suburban Pontiac. New York has hinted at a new show date, even with the completion of the Javits Center expansion. 

For us, the Twin Cities Auto Show was an example of thinking outside of the box – rather, the convention center. If they do the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in 2022, I certainly hope that the missing brands in this year’s show find value in what GMADA have pulled together for a safer show in the face of a continuing pandemic. Including bringing back some state fair food vendors and adding more of a State Fair atmosphere across the venue. 

Oh, and one more thing…I might need a golf cart for next year…

All photos by Randy Stern

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