Are Motor Shows Remnants Of The Past?

Updated: Jul 3

With the dawn of the coronavirus pandemic in late 2019, the world's biggest Motor Shows all faced great uncertainty. Concerns only really grew in 2020, when the Geneva motor show was put on hold, and later cancelled in March. Not long after, the New York International Auto Show, in April and the rest of the year’s major automotive shows faced a ripple effect of cancellations in the wake of everyone's new favourite buzzword: Covid.



The Frankfurt Motor Show, which is typically the largest, and certainly one of the most important of the lot was a far cry from its former glorious and buzzing self back in 2019. Met with numerous absences, as automakers passed up the opportunity to show off their latest and greatest, environmental protests and dwindling attendances in the past 4 years, it's unsurprising that the show was axed for 2020.

Year

Attendances

2015

932,000

2017

932,000

2019

500,000

Big names like the FCA Group, including Alfa Romeo, Jeep, and Ram were no-shows, along with the PSA Group, as Citroen and Peugeot too decided to ditch the party. Seems the two companies took a liking for each other as they merged in early 2020 to give birth to a new company - Stellantis - the 4th largest automaker globally. Toyota and Volvo also declined their invites to the show.


With the life of the party not attending, you can imagine the vibe must've been rather boring. To make matters worse, a group of anti-car protesters forced their way to the Frankfurt Motor Show without invites, which made things ugly. Not much damage done, considering the party wasn't doing all that great in the first place. Jokes aside, anti-car protesters at a Motor Show were clearly not welcomed, as heavy security was deployed to ensure a smooth-running show for the few people who actually RSVP'd (sorry, I couldn't help myself with that one).


Protests weren't the only thing people were worried about at the Frankfurt Motor Show. The economy in Germany was slowing down, with manufacturing down 5% and exports at an all-time low from the past 6 years. Trump’s tariffs and the questions over how the world would be after Brexit occurs were on people's minds, not to mention car sales levelling off at the time globally.


Automakers were investing incredible amounts of capital in electrification and autonomous vehicles, as the fundamental idea of what a car really is, and should be, is being explored. Especially with the EU's stricts CO2 regulations and strong desire to ban ICE-powered vehicles by 2035, the automotive industry is sure to be shaken up in the future, with many believing current giants will topple, and new, emerging companies will be at the forefront of innovation. What does this have to do with Motor Shows, you ask? Well, all of this is affecting how companies plan for future spending.


With high profile automakers essentially getting away with skipping high profile events, automakers see a greater benefit in avoiding the multi-million dollar attendance costs, and instead invest in their future on multiple fronts. Some companies are choosing to adapt current conventional platforms for future EVs, while others are going all in and taking a gamble on EV-only platforms and autonomous futures.


Getting back to the question - Are Motor Shows remnants of the past?

Yes, and No.

With vaccination programmes, a greater understanding of precautions, and herd immunity from Covid, people are more comfortable in large indoor spaces with other people. Sure, they may not have as many attendances as they would have if it were held in the early 2010s, but with a return to normalcy almost globally, it's not the end of the world for event organisers.


However, I do believe many manufacturers are choosing to invest money elsewhere. Combined with dwindling attendances, automakers will instead prefer to do things their own way. Like tech companies, such as Apple and Samsung which hold keynotes for their new product launches, I believe many automakers - which are now becoming more tech-oriented than ever before - will follow suit with this format. Companies will set dates for launch events and unveil their products through press releases and keynotes for their big reveals, ensuring that they can dominate headlines without the worry of competitors stealing the spotlight from them.


I'm sure many large automakers will continue to participate in most major Motor Shows, as some like Geneva pose a great opportunity cost to those who don't attend - especially if you make cars that go fast. Customers will want a hands-on feel for their cars and want to see what they're putting their hard-earned money on, in the flesh. Of course, this is exactly what showrooms are for, but there's just nothing like the vibe of a bustling Motor Show. It's those electrifying vibes that I hope many automakers will want to preserve as we accelerate towards an exciting automotive future.