The big car shows are back, but it looks like the party is over. Blame it on the Covid? Not only.
The major motor shows are gradually making their return to the scene of unmissable events in the sector.
Essentials? It’s not so sure anymore. While for decades, the Paris Motor Show, Geneva Motor Show, Frankfurt Motor Show, NAIAS in Detroit or the Autoshow in Los Angeles made the headlines in automotive and even general news weeks before, during and after they were held, the comeback long-awaited seems to be done in a certain discretion. When it is not canceled once again, as with Geneva, which will probably have difficulty rising from its ashes and recovering from three successive capitulations.
The fault of the Covid of course, which will also have had the skin of many demonstrations, but not only. The trend was already there before the onslaught of the pandemic, with declines in public attendance and above all sulking from the major manufacturers, who began to skip these major meetings from the end of the 2010s.
The Covid is not the only culprit
The Detroit NAIAS, which is also announcing its return from September 17 to 25 after a three-year blackout, is nevertheless looking gloomy, since only three American manufacturers are on the list of exhibitors, Jeep, Chevrolet and Ford. It was the lowest automaker attendance since the largely local Detroit Auto Show was transformed into a North American international auto show in 1989. At its peak, organizers claimed to have held up to 70 unveilings of distinct products during this annual event.
The Paris Motor Show, which is held exactly one month later, has also reduced the airfoil by cutting its duration in half, this one passing in three editions from two to one week. The 2018 version had however attracted more than a million visitors, but we were still quite far from the 2014 figure with its million and a half, which remains the absolute record to date, the Mondial still being the most visited motor show in the world. world. However, the signs of disaffection were already present since no less than fifteen major manufacturers were already absent. We are talking about brands like Volkswagen, Ford, Nissan, Infiniti, or even Volvo, Opel, Mitsubishi…
In fact, even before the pandemic hit, change was underway. The once mighty Frankfurt Motor Show ended its long streak in 2019 due to waning interest from manufacturers and dwindling consumer attendance. At its height, the German event attracted 2 million visitors. But attendance has continued to decline, falling to 931,000 people during the 2019 edition, a 40% drop in paying attendance compared to two years earlier.
As for the Los Angeles Autoshow, also postponed several times, it returned in November 2021 with a sparser audience due to the pandemic (difficult to obtain figures, the organizer does not provide them) and constraints that this implied on this type of major event, and especially with also absent brands including Mercedes, Tesla, Honda, Buick, GMC…
One might however think that with the advent of the electric car and the plethora of new products announced every week here and there…, but that is not the case.
So, where does this disaffection for the big shows come from? Probably from the public, but not only. The evil is certainly deeper, and perhaps indicative here too of a change of mentality, even – dare we say – of civilisation.
Manufacturers take it easy
It is first of all the manufacturers who are now reluctant to spend millions of dollars to be present at events which they consider for some to be outdated. In the era of digital, internet, apps, streaming, virtual reality and even the metaverse, spending a fortune to maintain a stand seems more and more to belong to a practice of the past, whereas it is easier and infinitely less expensive to organize online events, which sometimes have as much impact. A fortiori when the media can always serve as a relay for full-scale car tests, which can then be found in the press, on TV, and on YouTube or… TikTok.
Another paradigm shift, perceived for a good ten years, is the fact that manufacturers are more and more present at Tech shows. This is how Audi, Ford and BMW have been pioneers in putting their foot in the door for a decade at major events such as CES in Las Vegas or Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. At first to present a particular technology (Ford with Link, Audi with its Virtual Cockpit for example), then, with success, by directly launching models in their own right. A trend that the regulars of these shows had already spotted for many years, but which had escaped, it seems, the organizers of classic auto shows. The benefit for the manufacturers was twofold: on the one hand, to display an image of technological advance, on the other hand, to capture a younger clientele more oriented towards new technologies. And incidentally be immersed in geeks to do a little monitoring. In other words, before, tech was invited to auto shows, today it is the car that invites itself to tech shows. And that’s as much less budget for other events.
An attitude and choices that also fit with a time when we talk more and more about sobriety (and rationing…) and where it is increasingly frowned upon to mobilize monstrous logistics, costly in terms of carbon footprint, and to invite hordes of journalists to the other side of the world when a well-executed streaming launch on the internet can do the trick, followed by a few local test sessions.
On the manufacturer side too, if many new electrical products come from China, apart from a few big names already known, there are ultimately quite a few manufacturers from the Middle Empire present at the major international fairs, compared to the number of Chinese brands officiating in the area. Including at specialized fairs such as the EVS35 in Oslo, where Asian manufacturers could be counted on the fingers of one hand.
A new public… which no longer travels
As far as the public is concerned, we are also witnessing a change of outlook on the automobile, with young generations for whom it is no longer a subject of interest and even less of passion, but a purely utilitarian thing, and who remains polluting and more a source of trouble than pleasure. If they are still a little interested in the thing, it could be that the new electromobilists, of the type of thirty-year-olds whose first car is a Tesla Model 3, do not really constitute a clientele of motor shows. More generally, this type of clientele sees ecology more as a much broader whole of which the “clean” car is only one component – and not the most virtuous.
So, do we still go to car shows? Certainly, and that’s all the harm we wish them. But there will certainly be fewer of us, and it is not certain that the electric car is a sufficient argument to help them rise from their still smoldering ashes, all the more so when we see the rather starved list of new electric vehicles that will be unveiled on the next. Because the real motor show in 2022 is every day on the internet.
Of course, we hope we are wrong. See you in three months to take stock after Detroit, Paris and LA…