Car shows, will the electric car save the furniture?

The big car shows are back, but it looks like the party is over. Blame it on Covid? Not only.

The major motor fairs are gradually returning to the scene of inevitable events in the sector.

Essential? It’s not so safe anymore. While the Paris Motor Show, the Geneva Motor Show, the Frankfurt Motor Show, the NAIAS in Detroit or the Autoshow in Los Angeles for decades made headlines in the automotive industry and even general news weeks before, during and after they were held, come back long awaited seems to be done in some discretion. When it is not canceled once again, as with Geneva, which will probably have a hard time rising from its ashes and recovering from three consecutive capitulations.

The fault of Covid, of course, which will also have had the skin of many demonstrations, but not only. The trend was already there before the pandemic hit, with a drop in public participation and, above all, sulking from the big manufacturers, who started skipping these big meetings from the late 2010s.

Covid is not the only culprit

The Detroit NAIAS, which also returns from September 17 to 25 after a three-year blackout, nevertheless looks bleak, with only three American manufacturers on the exhibitor list, Jeep, Chevrolet and Ford. It was the lowest attendance by automakers 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 various products during this annual event.

The Paris Motor Show, which will be held exactly one month later, has also reduced the flying profile by halving its duration, this going in three editions from two to one week. However, the 2018 version had attracted more than a million visitors, but we were still quite far from 2014’s figure of one and a half million, which is still the absolute record to date, as Mondial remains the most visited car show in the world. world. However, the signs of discontent were already present as no less than fifteen major manufacturers were already absent. We are talking about brands like Volkswagen, Ford, Nissan, Infiniti or even Volvo, Opel, Mitsubishi…

Indeed, even before the pandemic hit, change was underway. The once-mighty Frankfurt Motor Show ended its long run in 2019 due to waning interest from manufacturers and dwindling consumer participation. At its peak, 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, which was also postponed several times, it returned in November 2021 with a sparse audience due to the pandemic (hard to get figures, the organizer does not provide them) and limitations that this imposed on this type of major event , and especially with also absent brands, including Mercedes, Tesla, Honda, Buick, GMC…

However, you would think that with the advent of the electric car and the abundance of new products announced every week here and there… but this is not the case.

So where does this dissatisfaction with the big shows come from? Probably from the public, but not only. The evil is certainly deeper, and perhaps here too an expression of a change in mentality, even – dare we say – of civilization.

The producers are taking it easy

It is primarily the producers who are now reluctant to spend millions of dollars to be present at events that they consider to some to be outdated. In an age of digital, internet, apps, streaming, virtual reality and even the metaverse, spending a fortune to maintain a booth seems more and more a practice of the past, whereas it is easier and infinitely cheaper to organize online events, which sometimes has just as much influence. A fortiori, when the media can always act 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 well over 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 the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. First to present a particular technology (Ford with Link, Audi with its Virtual Cockpit for example), then, successfully, by directly launching models in their own right. A trend that the regulars of these shows had already seen for many years, but which had escaped, it seems, the organizers of classic car shows. The advantage for the manufacturers was twofold: on the one hand to show an image of technological progress, on the other hand to capture a younger clientele more oriented towards new technologies. And by the way, be immersed in geeks to do some surveillance. In other words, before tech was invited to auto shows, today it is the car that invites itself to tech shows. And it is just as much less budget for other events.

An attitude and choice that also fits 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 relation to the CO2 footprint, and inviting hordes of journalists to the other side of the world when a well-executed internet streaming launch can do that, followed by a few local test sessions.

Also on the manufacturer side, if many new electrical products come from China, apart from a few big names that are already known, in the end there are quite a few manufacturers from the Middle Perium present at the major international fairs, compared to the number of Chinese brands , which is responsible for the service. in the area. Among other things at specialized fairs such as EVS35 in Oslo, where Asian manufacturers could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

A new public… that no longer travels

As far as the public is concerned, we are also witnessing a changed view of the car, with young generations for whom it is no longer a subject of interest and even less passion, but a purely utilitarian thing, and which remains polluting and more of a source to trouble than pleasure. If they are still slightly interested in the matter, it may be that the new electromobilists, the type of thirty-year-olds whose first car is a Tesla Model 3, do not really constitute a motor show clientele. More generally, this type of clientele sees ecology more as a much broader whole, where the “clean” car is only one component – and not the most virtuous one.

So do we still go to car shows? Absolutely, and that’s all the damage we wish them. But we’re certainly getting fewer, and it’s not certain that the electric car will be a sufficient argument to help them rise from their still smoldering ashes, even more so when we see the rather starved list of new electric cars that will be revealed 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…

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