Detroit may be where cars are made, but Manhattan is becoming the town to show them off.

Just look around at the New York International Auto Show at the Javits Convention  Center in Manhattan. Honda Motor Co. chose the Big Apple to surprise the motoring press and car buffs with a sneak reveal of the all-new Civic, one of the Japanese company’s most important models.

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General Motors Co. could have shown off its bread-and-butter Chevrolet Malibu and its most expensive Cadillac sedan in Detroit in January, executives instead chose Manhattan.

For this year at least, Manhattan was the staging ground for some of the glitziest and most important cars that the industry’s big players wanted to show off in North America. That’s in part because Detroit is where industry insiders gather, but Manhattan is home to more affluent shoppers and influential television personalities.

“New York is a fantastic consumer show and a ton of the media is already here,” said the head of Audi's U.S. sales Scott Keogh. “I see New York getting stronger and stronger, and it seems to be taking on a new position in the luxury corner of the market.”

Chevy showed its vitally important Malibu sedan on April 1, just hours before Honda rolled out the new Civic. That was after Toyota Motor Corp. started the day with its new RX crossover sport utility vehicle, the luxury brand’s top seller. The night before, Cadillac revealed its new flagship model, and Ford Motor Co.’s Lincoln division showed off an all-new Continental.

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The New York auto show has long been a place for luxury brands to show the wealthy and fashion conscious of Gotham their coolest new looks. But mainstream brands are also opting to show.

In addition to Honda, Kia Motors Corp. introduced its Optima family sedan, a rival to the Malibu. Toyota’s low-priced Scion brand also showed off the iA, its first sedan.

Detroit not done

Is the Detroit auto show -- full name the North American International Auto Show --  starting to fade? No, said Nissan spokesman Dan Bedore. He said the company wouldn’t use Manhattan to show a brawny vehicle like a pickup: Nissan introduced  its new Titan truck in Detroit in January. The Maxima, which starts above $30,000, is a better fit for Manhattan, he said, adding that the Northeast is the car’s biggest market.

And for the most part, Nissan decides when to show its new cars by selecting a show that is close to the time the vehicle goes on sale, he said.

Detroit is the “granddaddy” of auto shows because it attracts the most international media, Bedore said. “All of the manufacturers bring out a lot of new products to attract the media,” he said of Detroit. “It’s the big show in the U.S. -- it’s clearly the important one.”

GM chose to show the new Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid and Bolt electric car in Detroit to tell its technology story, leaving the Malibu for the Manhattan show. Plus, New York is the biggest family sedan market, said Steve Majoros, marketing director for Chevrolet.

Cadillac brought its new flagship model to the Big Apple because that’s where so much of America’s wealth and luxury buying is concentrated, said Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen. Plus, Cadillac has made Manhattan its new headquarters. BMW AG and Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz brand have had their headquarters based in New Jersey, just across the Hudson from Manhattan, for years.

‘Epicenter of luxury’

“New York is very much at the epicenter of luxury,” de Nysschen said. “It’s a place where not just American trends are established, but also global trends. The New York show is going to hold a prominent position on Cadillac’s calendar.”

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Jaguar Land Rover had the same logic. The Indian-owned brands didn’t show anything new in Detroit in January, but they  made a splash showing off the new XF sports car with “Mad Men” star Christina Hendricks.

“It’s absolutely important for us as a luxury brand to come and showcase here.” Fiona Pargeter, head of global communications at Jaguar Land Rover Automotive Plc, said in an interview this past week at show. “New York is a really very important show for us and the last couple of years we have supported the show with global debuts.”

The Detroit show is still bigger, but Pargeter said most luxury buyers are in cities on the coasts so it’s more important to reach the affluent audience in those markets.

“For both the east coast and west coast of North America, these are predominantly our key markets for our brands,” she said.