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Last week the spread of the coronavirus across Europe led the Swiss government to put restrictions on large gatherings, which forced organiser of the Geneva motor show to cancel the event. It was just days before the show was to begin, with car companies having already spent millions preparing stands and concept cars for the annual extravaganza.
It has led to more talk that the days of the motor show are numbered. Geneva is now at risk of joining the likes of London, Sydney and Melbourne as a former motor show host city.
With too much time and effort already committed to the cars meant for Geneva, many carmakers – including BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Aston Martin – produced ‘virtual press conferences’ to unveil and discuss what they were going to show on their physical stands.
All of this adds to the argument of those who want to see the motor show disappear because it’s too expensive and doesn’t directly impact on how many cars a brand can sell.
“The entire automotive industry is undergoing a transformation, especially with regard to digitalisation,” a Mercedes-Benz spokeswoman told the BBC this week. “Of course, this also includes the way we present our products in the future.
“We ask ourselves the question: ‘what is the best platform for our various topics?’ May it be digital or physical – we will therefore not opt for one or the other option in the future."
This argument was one of the reasons given by car brands happy to see the end of the Australian International Motor Show when it collapsed in 2013, with the individual Sydney and Melbourne shows forced to alternate in order to ensure enough manufacturers committed to attend from 2009.
The talk at the time was that motor shows were too expensive, people got information from the internet and the modern showroom was now so glitzy you didn’t need to bother with the fanfare of a motor show.
Except that’s all garbage.
As a car-obsessed child growing up in the Harbour City, the Sydney motor show was an annual highlight of my adolescence and helped foster my love of all-things automotive. Now that I’m a father myself, with my own car-mad nine-year-old son, I miss the Sydney show even more.
Motor shows should be about more than simply showing off cars and pushing for extra sales. There must be an element of supporting and encouraging a wider car community.
Yes, they are hugely expensive (European shows cost the car companies tens of millions), but nobody is forcing them to spend that amount of money. Multi-story structures with kitchens, meeting rooms and lounges are lovely and surely appeal to would-be customers –but they aren’t critical to the running of the show.
The cars should be the stars.
A motor show stand doesn’t have to be so elaborate it could win an architectural prize; it should be functional and loaded with the latest metal the brand has on offer. If the return-on-investment isn’t good enough, perhaps it’s time to look at how much you’re investing and ask if a similar result could be achieved for less money?
Then there’s the argument that people today get loads of information from the internet and dealerships are nicer than ever before. Both are valid points, but also miss the bigger picture.
Yes, the internet is filled with data, images and video but there’s a big difference between looking at a car on a computer screen and seeing it in real life. Just like there’s a huge chasm between going to a single showroom to look at a car and being able to walk around and compare cars within the same hall.
The tactile sensations and emotions you get from seeing the cars of your dreams in real life can create a lifelong impression, and more brands should be aware of that. In an era where competition is cut-throat and buyers have little loyalty, creating an early bond between a child, teenager or young adult will lead to devotion and most likely eventual sales.
But it’s about more than just individuals, there’s an element of automotive culture we risk damaging if we lose these marquee events. People enjoy spending time with like-minded people and embracing their shared interests. Look at the rise of ‘Cars and Coffee’-style events in recent years, more and more are popping up around the country as car lovers look to spread the love.
It would be a shame if a combination of the coronavirus, fiscal responsibility and apathy damaged the automotive community in the long-term. I, for one, am hoping the 2021 Geneva motor show is bigger and better than ever before.