GRR

Farewell to the ghost of Geneva, you weren’t fun anyway

13th June 2024
erin_baker_headshot.jpg Erin Baker

Farewell, then, Geneva motor show. You will not happen next year, or any other year, it transpires. Renault and Dacia were the only two legacy car makers present, while public attendance fell from about 500,000 visitors to 168,000 this year. In the wake of the half-empty hall, organisers have finally called it quits.

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Organisers have apportioned the show’s demise to “competition from Munich and Paris” and “difficult industry conditions.” But these factors have always been in the mix, almost as far back as 1905, when the Geneva motor show first happened. Is the cancellation of Geneva a bellwether for wider industry ructions between brands, the public, and the media?

At the heart of the motor show’s demise is the inevitable realisation that most people don’t want to look at an exciting new car in a stuffy, grey exhibition hall on the industrial outskirts of a city, where the static cars are roped off and suited male executives and lycra-glad girls (yes, some brands do still employ them) stroke the vehicles lovingly with plastic grins on their shining faces. All this while hosting nameless execs behind curtain or wooden slats and the public watch the VIPs sipping coffee and eating croissants.

What is remotely pleasurable about any of that?

Compare the ghost of Geneva with the healthy existence of the Goodwood Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard, and ask yourself why the latter thrives. Could it possibly be the element of actual fun at Goodwood, from the visceral thrill of seeing, hearing, and smelling these cars sprinting up the hill, to stands that actively encourage the public towards to them, to interact with their favourite marques? Or might it be the fact that these are genuine family events where there’s something for everyone, including things far removed from cars, like jazz bands, Champagne tents, bikes, and planes?

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Maybe it’s the fact that Goodwood takes place in the open air, so you don’t feel like you’ve spent all day underground, or that everywhere you look there are rolling hills, as opposed to sad neon exit signs to empty carparks. Maybe it’s the fact that Goodwood joins past and future together through its celebration of classics, motorsport, EVs, and tech innovations, and in doing so, provides context to whatever car people are looking at. Maybe, maybe not.

But, brief though this list of Goodwood’s attributes might be, it undeniably serves to highlight that the international motor show is a horrendous idea, and if they are the industry’s take on a good time, or a celebration of a brand and product, then the industry deserves to die.

Then what about news stories, executives ask? Board interviews? Scoops, unveilings, networking? As a national motoring journalist of 20 year’s standing, I can genuinely say I’ve never found a single motor show remotely useful. They have all been an utter waste of time. Interviews with executives are conducted in a round-table format, so you will never get a quote that 10 other journalists don’t have, and very few MDs are stupid enough to let a news story break in that environment.

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Furthermore, I hate to burst the media bubble, but few consumers give a toss what an MD or CEO has to say about the next 10 years. They just want to know which used car they should buy today. And as for networking, if you want a coffee with an MD, grab one in London, Munich, or Paris, or jump on a Teams call. It’ll be quieter and more useful.

No, journalists love a motor show because it makes them feel at the heart of something; it gives them the buzz of community, of rushing round to file on deadline or interview a CEO, of the good old days. But the whole thing is an illusion, because nothing ever happens at motor shows that matters, and you can cover the whole thing more effectively from your desk, as the press releases come rolling into your inbox.

Most crucially, it was never about a decent consumer experience, and therefore it was only ever an embarrassment, for what are we as an industry if not consumer-facing? All this navel gazing and mutual back-patting is what got us into this mess in the first place, where consumers don’t trust car brands or retailers, and dread buying a car.

Let Geneva signal a change for the industry. Let’s stop looking in, and start reaching out.

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