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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 message people got from the data on the COVID-9 coronavirus infections. 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. 

Don’t worry, the world is far from descending into a World War Z like scenario. Border quarantine and overly-cautious restrictions on public spaces is the correct proportional response to a virus that is yet to be fully understood. Unfortunately, these restrictions have snared a number of big international public events 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 at the eleventh hour as Swiss authorities imposed a ban on “large-scale events involving more than 1000 people”. An unnerving sight of half-built million-dollar show stands is what was left of the 2020 Geneva Motor Show as secretive show cars were backed into the trailers.

Normally when 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. Manufacturers 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, the automotive industry notwithstanding. The internet has since 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 is a far more appeal prospect to manufacturers. Imagine being able to hold the audience’s attention captive and deliver straight and clear cut message that isn’t 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. This is why high-end manufacturers are seeing the value in smaller events like the Goodwood Festival of Speed or Monterey Car Week. It also helps that these events have the right target demographic in attendance with a more flexible platform to present its showcases.

That being said, the decline of the international motor shows is not without its casualties. The most notable of which will be the small scale and boutique manufacturers. Big international motor shows offer an equal platform for such companies to showcase its products alongside its bigger counterparts. Without a physical presence at motor shows, manufacturers like Pagani and Koenigsegg couldn’t hope to garner the attention in its formative years without the advertising budgets and slick websites big-name brands have at their disposal.

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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