Are Motor Shows Dead?

What happened to all the new car launches?

By Shahzad Sheikh

I’m staring at the online media page specifically for car journalists. I’m hitting the refresh button every few seconds hoping to see more news stories on the feed. I’m waiting for the deluge of concept car reveal images and new car launch press releases. Two days later I’m still waiting. Perhaps I should log off now?

The only really significant new car launch at this year's Paris Motor Show was the BMW 3 Series

The only really significant new car launch at this year’s Paris Motor Show was the BMW 3 Series

Well clearly that’s what the motor industry seems to have done when it comes to traditional international motor shows. This is the Paris Motor Show I’m referring to that’s on right now. It alternates each year with the Frankfurt Motor Show – literally the biggest motor show on the planet in terms of floor space.

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If you ask me to name the major shows that are always worth focussing on, Paris, along with Frankfurt, Geneva, Detroit and then perhaps New York are the ones I would have put at the top of the list.

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Having said that, I stopped going to major international motor shows a few years ago – simply because it was easier and quicker to get all the latest news to you from my desk. It seemed preferable to rushing from press conference to press conference, dealing with patchy to non-existent WiFi and having to fight for desk space in the press centre.

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My normal routine in recent years has been to wait for the opening of the press day at my computer and prepare for the avalanche of press releases which would come so fast it would getting harder and harder to repost them in a timely fashion for you to see, forget about actually trying to assimilate, comprehend and comment on what the stories were.

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However for a while now we’ve seen interest in traditional motor shows decline, both from attendees and more crucially from manufactures, some of whom have even pulled out of local and international motor shows – something that would have been unthinkable in the 70s, 80s and even 90s. A clear indicator of the impending end of the Motor Show as we know it.

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Don’t get me wrong – I love motor shows. Always have. As a kid, going to the London Motor Show at Earls Court was for me the most anticipated event of the year. Getting up close and personal with the cars, collecting posters and brochures and sitting at the wheel of a bunch of shiny new motors and dreaming of driving them was what fuelled my car love.

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Yes – that’s me at the London Motor Show in the 1980s

Today I believe Motor Shows are perceived very differently to how they were in my youth. Now people think: ‘So I have to buy a ticket to go and look a bunch of cars that I could just go see in the showrooms for free anyway.’

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Fair point. You could even collect the brochures from there, not that anyone does much of that anymore because – newsflash – we live in the digital world and there are websites and apps that will feed car enthusiasts’ appetite for info through their devices without having to put trousers on and leave their homes. As for dreaming the dream? There are hyper-realistic driving games, virtual reality 3D apps, and the opportunity for living the life through the posts of vacuous influencer types on Instagram.

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Again, why go traipse around a giant hanger, stand in queues to view a car covered in other people’s greasy paw prints? Plus there’s never anywhere to sit and the food is awful and outrageously expensive. Generally speaking.

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There was also this at the Paris show and a Mercedes B-Class

As for manufacturer’s – why launch your breathtaking concept car or launch that new car you just invested a billion dollars in developing at a venue where there’s a very real risk of being upstaged barely moments after you’ve lifted the sheets, by a rival manufacturer in a the next hall.

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There seemed to be as many classic cars at the Paris show as new ones – now that’s interesting

Especially when you can now create your own digital and physical spaces to hype up your own products, effectively deploying the full force of social media and live streaming. Now your new car or concept car can be news for  days, even weeks between Motor Shows, rather than minutes.

Jaguar put on their own shows and perform headline-grabbing stunts to launch their cars

Jaguar put on their own shows and perform headline-grabbing stunts to launch their cars

And then there’s Car Shows. Eh? Hang on, isn’t that the same thing as Motor Shows? Well I’m using the term Car Show as an umbrella term to include car meets, motorsport events, concourse shows, custom car gatherings, and the like.

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So whilst attendances to Motor Shows have declined, these events have seen a growth in the number of events and the number of people attending them.

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It makes sense. Frankly they offer so much more than the giant showroom in a hanger. Classic cars, modified cars, rare cars, owners’ clubs, live shows.

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You see people want to be surprised, delighted and entertained, they want to see action. And they get it. As evidence may I present the Goodwood Festival of Speed?

Exoticars seen doing what they do best - moving - at Goodwood Festival of Speed

Exoticars seen doing what they do best – moving – at Goodwood Festival of Speed

What began as – and to a large extent still is – a celebration of modern and historic motor sports with cars racing up the famous hill, is now Britain’s biggest motor show with manufacturers not only putting on major displays, but also running their cars up the hill, or more.

For example this year Ford introduced its Ranger Raptor at regular intervals by Jumping it out of the woods directly onto the track area right in front of the main grandstands. Spectacular!

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In these economically challenging times, such events are cheaper for manufacturers to participate in too – sometimes less than a third of the cost of a big stand at a traditional static Motor Show.

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This of course suggests that us Motor Show fans need not weep too much, as we may well be about to get something even better instead. So actually we’re not talking the death of Motor Shows, we’re talking the advent of the next evolution.

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The Motor Show is dead, long live the Car Show!

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