News of the sudden and very late cancellation of the Geneva International Motor Show may have far reaching ramifications for events such as these. In case you’ve been buried in a hole, you’ll be aware of the implications of the current Coronavirus [COVID-19] outbreak, which is sweeping across the globe – as I write this more than 85,000 have contracted it and approaching 3000 have died from it globally. But because there’s no vaccine against it, and it’s highly contagious, there are real fears it may develop into a pandemic.
And… that means large gatherings are being cancelled all across the world. In the days leading up the cancellation of Geneva, there was a lot of talk about when not if it was going to be canned – but the very late action from the organiser meant that most of the show was already in place, and many people were getting ready to travel (or tell their bosses why they wouldn’t be going), myself among them.
The global automotive industry is big business – and, for those who should have been displaying on Tuesday, Geneva would be a massive financial commitment. Consider that the cost of the stands, the logistics and staffing for a big car company would easily run up to more than £10m, and the cancellation has cost dearly. The cost to the organiser will be huge too. Then there’s all those visitors who have booked travel, hotels and taken time off (including me). All that’s down the drain now. Yes, health comes first, but there is always a financial cost – just see what’s happening on the world’s stock markets right now to see what I mean.
There were many carmakers who had already decided not to display at Geneva, anyway. Ford, Jaguar Land Rover, Vauxhall (alongside all other PSA brands aside from DS Automobiles) weren’t going to be there anyway, and the number of no-shows was already disturbingly high. Even two years ago, this would have seemed unimaginable for the industry’s showcase event – where the glitzy launch meant everything. But here we are, and now it’s all been cancelled.
The trouble is that international motor shows are already on the ropes. The Frankfurt Motor Show is toast, thanks to the current venue ending its contract (much to the relief of those journalists who walked miles round this huge event), while the North American International Auto Show in Detroit has ceased to be an important global car event. Tokyo hangs on by its fingernails – while evocative former global-level events such as the British and Italian Motor Shows have long since ceased to be. The Beijing Motor Show is the only one I’ve been to in recent years that seems to be in rude health – carmakers are increasingly launching their new products away from public events, such as these, while visitor numbers are falling rapidly.
There was a real and genuine feeling across the industry that in the 21st century, motor shows are becoming an increasingly irrelevant financial drain. Let’s face it, you can get more eyes on a new car by creating a clever viral video about it than you ever could by displaying it in a motor show hall, and hoping the media picks it up. Moreover, in a world in which cars are becoming increasingly commoditised, general interest in them is in decline falls and so you have the perfect reason to justify killing off the motor show as an event phenomenon.
And that creates a perfect storm to justify killing the Geneva International Motor Show for good. There will be denials that this is going to be the case, and it may soldier on for a few years, but the trend for increasing no-shows will continue to gain momentum. Trust me…
The thing is, as an old school car enthusiast, I really do love a good motor show. Some of my fondest car memories are centred around them. Wandering around various motor shows in the 1980s and ’90s, staring at the new cars, collecting brochures, price lists and models, helped fuel my passion for the subject and allowed me to see cars that I had no hope of encountering in the real world. I still remember seeing the Austin Metro, Rover 75, Jaguar I-Pace and Range Rover Velar for the first time – all at motor shows.
To then end up being paid to go to them and be closely involved was a dream come true – and, if this really is the end of days for motor shows, I will be extremely sad.
I guess that, in the fast-moving world we all exist in today, I’m becoming a bit of a dinosaur. But I am sure I won’t be alone in feeling that way. Maybe, just maybe, classic car shows will become the new de facto motor show for people like me. There are many car enthusiasts who will be feeling that the potential end of the Geneva International Motor Show would be a bitter blow that isn’t worth thinking about, and that it’s yet another way in which the car industry is becoming just a little bit more distant from the people who have such a passion for it.