Musings on the Motoring World

Coronavirus could kill the motor show

Keep calm and don’t despair, it isn’t the end of the world just yet. That should have been the general message people should be getting from the data on the CORVID-9 virus, or otherwise more popularly known as the Coronavirus. But, like leaving your toddler in the caring jaws of a Dingo, having to live amidst a “pandemic” is bound to trigger many in this post-Walking Dead world. 

The world is far from descending into a World War Z like scenario, but the border quarantine and the seemingly overly-cautious restrictions on public spaces is a correct proportional response to a virus that is yet to be fully understood. Unfortunately, these restrictions have resulted in a number of big international public events being caught in the ensuing fallout. 

The first indication that things were going awry, was the postponement of the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, then the 2020 Beijing Motor Show got postponed and later cancelled, and as the virus breached the safe haven of Switzerland, so too did the Geneva Motor Show get the chop as Swiss authorities imposed a ban on “large-scale events involving more than 1000 people” at the show’s eleventh hour. This left manufacturers with half-built million-dollar show stands and a number of secretive show cars that had made the arduous journey there only to be backed up into the trailer from which it came. 

Normally when the two tentpole events of the year get axed, it would be a devastating blow to any the industry, but not in this case. Almost immediately after the announcement, big-name manufacturers simply redirected everyone to its respective websites where models previously earmarked for Geneva would be unveiled online from the comfort of its own design studios. And just like that, the prestige of motor shows was exposed for the modern-day facade it is. 

This was salt to add to the existential wound motor shows around the world are facing. For years attendance rates have been in decline, which in turn fed a feedback loop that convinced more manufacturers to pull out from the expensive endeavour altogether; instead many simply redirected its resources to more “cost-efficient” methods.

It is not a surprise to anyone that the internet has changed the way we do business, but the automotive industry, more than most, has revolutionised the way manufacturers have operated and its customers have interacted with it. Gone were the days that readers had to depend on traditional media to learn about any car manufacturer’s latest creation. 

No longer would the average customer have to travel to showrooms or wait for the annual motor show to catch a glimpse or learn of the latest model. Instead, manufacturers are now piping it straight into our smartphone apps, giving an unprecedented level of connection and interaction to potential customers for a fraction of the millions usually spent to set up a stand at an international motor show.

Furthermore, being able to directly reach customers rather than compete in a shared space with hundreds of other competitors seeking the audience attention is a far more appeal prospect to manufacturers looking to deliver its message straight and clear cut to a captive audience rather than risk getting muddled up in the noise. 

A static car display at any motor show is no different to the consumer than seeing one in the showroom or being showcased on their phone, which is why more high-end manufacturers are showing preference to smaller events like the Goodwood Festival of Speed or Monterey Car Week where the right target demographic is in attendance and a more flexible platform is present to demonstrate its showcases. 

The real losers of the loss of the international motor shows are small scale and boutique manufacturers where such events offer a platform to showcase its products on an equal footing to the big manufacturers with a well-known name, advertising budgets in the millions and slick websites that are able to stream live events to global audiences in high definition. 

Motor shows offered small manufacturers like aftermarket and coachwork specialists the break it needs to let showgoers judge the quality and feasibility of their work for themselves. Without such a platform, it would be nigh on impossible for a name like the American Czinger to prove to the world that its creation is more than just a zinger of a car. 

However, just like the likelihood of Coronavirus killing you, this new development isn’t a certain death knell to the future of motor shows just yet. Instead, it serves as a flashpoint for manufacturers to find out if there is really is any relevance for it. 

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