Opinion : Has the Geneva cancellation spelled the end of motor shows?

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.

Austin Maestro Vanden Plas at Geneva 1983 (Image via www.zwischengas.com, Automobil-Revue)

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.

Keith Adams

13 Comments

  1. As a boy with similar “growing up” motor show memories I desperately don’t want what you have written to be true. Lamentably I think you are absolutely right.

  2. Let’s be honest here. The only people who enjoy any motorshow are the press and television crews on the nice quiet press days leading up to the public opening. I don’t even want to write this but the reality was and is always chaotic, noisy, crammed with people, fighting to sit in a display car, expensive food and drinks with massive queues, no stand staff due to VIP areas cut off or above display. Many of the cars open on press day were (understandable) locked to the public. Saying that I have fond memories but many don’t. The glitz and glamour was real enough under the lights and the brochures were worth their weight (quite literally).

    • Nah, you are wrong, there are still many hundreds of thousands that go to these events because they WANT to see the new cars, and enjoy the events, most now take their own refreshments, i have been to many hundreds over the years, and they have developed from just cars static to cars moving and being able to drive.

      And to say that the UK has NO car shows, TOSH, what about the London Motor show that’s been going on for a few years, there are other area specific shows, the Two counties Motor show, including Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, has dozens of new car stands as well as lots of classics and trade stands too, all on the Newmarket Race Course, then there is the New Show that i feel will fail, it is too far south to get many interested, then there is probably the best show in the world GOODWOOD, dozens of new car stands, from Dacia to Bentley, Ford to Rolls and most inbetween, thats along with the drive it day on Thursday’s, and all the famous people that appear, every day, F1 to BTCC, Designers to Owners, and more, no other country offers anything near this.

      And please, this is UK website, not a US one, do we really need to ISE put on the end of words, that’s a US invention, and its stupid, sounds ridiculous when perfectly used English would sound far better.

      • I better answer your rather fevered critique of my opinion piece in saying that I never at all even hinted that the UK doesn’t have car shows anymore. But what it doesn’t have is an international-level car show, where new product is launched. You’re right, of course, about the Goodwood Festival of Speed, which is very much an international event. Remember the GFoS’s Moving Motor Show, though? Fell flat on its arse, that one…

        And please, this is UK website, not a US one, do we really need to ISE put on the end of words, that’s a US invention, and its stupid, sounds ridiculous when perfectly used English would sound far better.

        Actually, smartarse, the ‘ise’ ending is widely used in British English as opposed to Oxford English, which is the editorial standard across the UK right now, with my current employer following the practice introduced by The Times in 1992.

        Although it shouldn’t be seen as gospel, here’s the Wikipedia explanation of ‘ise’ vs ‘ize’. As you’ll also see, the Americans prefer using ‘ize’ to ‘ise’ anyway.

        -ise, -ize (-isation, -ization)

        See also: Oxford spelling
        Origin and recommendations

        The -ize spelling is often incorrectly seen as an Americanism in Britain. It has been in use since the 15th century, predating -ise by over a century.[53] -ize comes directly from Greek -ιζειν -izein and Latin -izāre, while -ise comes via French -iser.[54][55] The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) recommends -ize and lists the -ise form as an alternative.[55]

        Publications by Oxford University Press (OUP)—such as Henry Watson Fowler’s A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, Hart’s Rules,[56] and The Oxford Guide to English Usage[57]—also recommend -ize. However, Robert Allan’s Pocket Fowler’s Modern English Usage considers either spelling to be acceptable anywhere but the US.[58] Also, Oxford University itself does not agree with the OUP and advocates -ise instead of -ize in its staff style guide.[59]

        Usage
        American spelling avoids -ise endings in words like organize, realize and recognize.[60]

        British spelling mostly uses -ise, while -ize is sometimes used (organise/organize, realise/realize, recognise/recognize):[60] the ratio between -ise and -ize stood at 3:2 in the British National Corpus up to 2002.[61] The spelling -ise is more commonly used in UK mass media and newspapers,[60] including The Times (which switched conventions in 1992),[62] The Daily Telegraph, The Economist and the BBC. The Government of the United Kingdom additionally uses -ise, stating “do not use Americanisms” justifying that the spelling “is often seen as such”.[63] Meanwhile, -ize is used in some British-based academic publications, such as Nature, the Biochemical Journal and The Times Literary Supplement. The minority British English usage of -ize is known as Oxford spelling and is used in publications of the Oxford University Press, most notably the Oxford English Dictionary, and of other academic publishers.[64] It can be identified using the IETF language tag en-GB-oxendict (or, historically, by en-GB-oed).[65]

  3. Christian’s got a point (or two). I used to work near the NEC and often found that there were more interesting vehicles in the public car parks… Brochures seem to be an endangered species too which is bad news for young collectors.Maybe there should just be European/regional motor shows, eg North America, Asia, with rotating venues.

  4. I always hoped for Geneva to stay as at least last international car show.
    Many years it was the car event, we waited unpatiently to visit together with my best friends, kind of road trip.
    I als visited IAA in Frankfurt since 1991 (i was 16 and came with a bus).
    Nowadays we see online presentations or youtube to present new models, but it will never re-create the sensation of seeing new models and concept cars with own eyes and discussing that with well known people on a fair.
    Sad to see that going down the drain…

  5. I would say that international car shows are on the way out, with the Corona virus only helping in this instance to accelerate the pace a bit. There is a sharp decline in younger people’s interest in cars. Hardly anyone in North America wants to buy a car with a manual box. With rare exceptions, the concept of sports cars as a mainstream part of the market has gone away, with sports cars being mainly, although not entirely, relegated to the realms of the rich and famous. Technology is also changing what a car is. They are becoming, more and more, computers with wheels. New Age environmental concerns, particularly amidst the young, are casting a less-than-favourable glow on the concept of the automobile…even the electric ones, as their electricity comes mainly from burning coal, and their batteries use things such as cobalt,mined in Africa by young children de-facto sold by poor families to Chinese companies that exploit them ruthlessly… Sorry for the doom and gloom, but the writing is on the wall. I wish it were not the case.

  6. I used to love motorshows, right up to the age of 15 in 1979!
    But they haven’t played any part in the cars that I’ve bought new since and I can completed understand why manufacturers can see so many better ways to spend their marketing budgets than this phenomenally expensive and time consuming exercise.

  7. I remember them with nostalgia as a boy and later when I worked at the NEC. Nowadays, and probably because I find contemporary cars boring, they have lost their appeal. It may be different with a press pass, but it cost us the best part of £100 to visit the NEC bike show last year, taking parking and a snack into account. It was obvious there that manufacturers were cutting-back. I will give the classic show a try though and local shows can still create the atmosphere.

  8. I’ve never been to a Motor Show and don’t particularly want to, but in the early 60s one of the highlights of my year was my father buying me the Daily Express Motor Show publication. It contained photos and technical spec of all the models on display for that year, and I would spend hours reading every word from cover to cover. Now it would all be on the internet.

  9. @ KC I remember that Daily Express Motor Show publication. I’ve been to 2 shows in my life (Earls Court in 1968 with my parents and NEC in 1980). Both were great days out – hard on the feet but worthwhile for a young lad back then. Collecting brochures then was part of the fun!

  10. I think the thrill has gone now. I can remember going to Earls Court in 1983 and seeing vehicles as diverse as a Reliant three wheeler, with the promotions staff working damned hard to drum up interest( they were delighted when an old boy said he wanted to trade in his Robin), to a Lamborghini Countach behind a roped off enclosure, where only the serious and seriously rich customers would be allowed in. Also seeing now forgotten names like Talbot and their cheap and cheerful range of cars, and on to Opel and their little remembered Monza, a cheaper alternative to a BMW 6 series that was once a popular sports coupe over here.
    Nowadays, it would be more and yet more crossovers and SUVs, electric cars and someone from Jaguar who in 1983 would be proud to tell you the latest XJS could reach 155 mph would be more interested in telling you that an E Pace SUV could manage 200 miles on a single charge. Sadly political correctness, green issues and health and safety, supposedly SUVs are better to see out of, have spoiled everything. Also I doubt it’s very PC to have a model standing next to a Ferrari like the old days.

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