Photo courtesy State Sen. Mallory McMorrow Photo courtesy State Sen. Mallory McMorrow

State Sen. Mallory McMorrow designed cars for Mazda and reported on the auto industry. She’s seen the Detroit Auto Show from all sides, and is ready to reinvent it.

DETROIT, Mich.—Mallory McMorrow thinks it’s time for a bold reimagining of the Detroit Auto Show. 

She’s a state senator from Royal Oak, but she’s not just any legislator pitching an idea. McMorrow designed cars for Mazda, and covered the automotive industry as a journalist before seeking office. She’s seen the Auto Show from multiple angles, and has big ideas for what the Auto Show should become. 

And, it’s born from the questions the industry needs to answer.

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In order to make real, meaningful progress on the future of cars, namely autonomous and electric vehicles, there are certain areas where the industry needs to answer critical questions, McMorrow explained. 

“That requires a very intentional focus and investment, on not only the product side of things but on electric vehicle chargers and infrastructure,” she explained. “How do we connect all these things? And do the vehicles talk to the road or to each other? And what do we need to do to put that in place so Michigan can be the model the rest of the county follows?”

McMorrow has an idea where those questions could be discussed, and plans proposed. It’s an idea that could also help increase Michigan’s profile on the electric vehicle stage, create excitement about electric vehicles, and give Michigan a more ambitious and modern image. And it’s a surprisingly old idea.

A Modern Take on Classic Futurism

While talking about her favorite cars, McMorrow got wistful for a that ended the year she was born, where people would gather to celebrate engineering and design: a World’s Fair. 

Though there have been several World’s Fairs in McMorrow’s lifetime, it’s impossible to not recognize their decline. Since 1851, the World’s Fairs have highlighted both technological development and entertainment, with a splash of flashy marketing. While it’s history nearly two centuries long hasn’t been without controversy, the concept has inspired people like McMorrow for generations before fading from prominence in the past several decades. 

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The 1964 fair is one that she pines for in particular. 

“I just wish I was around at the time when we had the World’s Fair, where people were really sold on these visions of the future and the Mustang came out,” she explained. “It was just so radically different from anything else that had come before it … Good design should be for everybody. And that was what was so cool about the Mustang.”

The classic image of a World’s Fair in American’s consciousness comes from the middle of the last century, where the location of a fair would become a kind of flashpoint of modernism. Families would travel great pilgrimages to see the latest ideas, designs, concept, and even entertainments in what is often conceptualized as Disney’s EPCOT but with more practical, yet still fantastic, engineering. McMorrow thinks America needs that again, now.

“I think one of the things that we’re missing is we don’t have events like that, where people can see and experience a future and get excited about it,” McMorrow said. “Once we buy off and we’re all going that direction, that gives us, like, ‘we know where we want to go, let’s figure out how to get there.’ But we don’t have that anymore.”

There have been efforts to bring World’s Fairs back to the United States in recent years, but McMorrow doesn’t think the concept is too different from something Detroit already does—the difference is just in audience and scale. She wants to expand the Detroit Auto Show.

“Once the Auto Show comes back, I think there is such a unique opportunity, let’s totally reimagine it,” she said. “Take over the entire city. Make it a Detroit City of Design celebration. Let’s bring in urban planners. Let’s bring in auto designers. Let’s bring in futurists. Let’s just imagine everything and just show people, and see what people get excited about.”

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She pointed out that the classical purpose of the Detroit Auto Show was a press event, with automotive journalists attending and reporting on car reveals that were hard to directly communicate to consumers. But with the advent of online reveals, the identity of the Auto Show might need a tune-up. The video game industry recently had a similar transition with it’s signature press event E3, which only recently opened to the general public.

“I’m working on it. I’m pitching to anyone involved in the Detroit Auto Show, let’s completely redo it,” she said. “Make it a destination. Let’s have people from all over the world come for this show. I think we can do it.”

McMorrow’s pitch for the Detroit City of Design celebration isn’t only about her history in the auto industry, but also her present work as a state senator. She sees it as a chance for lawmakers to learn about design and futurism in a way that’s tangible and exciting, and to see what their constituents are motivated by.

“We need to bring it back and just imagine what the future looks like,” McMorrow said. “And then, build it.”