The Festival of Speed is something people look forward to for the whole year. A social event, a celebration, a place where the famous are there as themselves, where the cars are the celebrities and are driven rather than merely displayed. An occasion. Frankfurt is the ultimate conventional motor show, a giant corporate trade show which lets the public in to wear out their shoes trudging between air conditioned halls full of static cars. A giant exhibition of national corporate muscle.
In Frankfurt the German companies have whole halls to themselves. No surprise when you look at the vast portfolio of the VW group. The Paris show is similarly focused on its own. It’s no coincidence that by far the best European show is Geneva, which takes place in a country with no car industry of its own. It’s also small enough to walk around in a couple of hours, as opposed to two days for Frankfurt. But the compactness has a more important effect, meaning that no manufacturer gets too much space, and small carmakers and styling houses sit right next to the big boys.
But Geneva, like all motor shows, is still an anachronism. Despite the incredible pace of vehicle development, motor shows are a contradiction: things which move, transform our lives and stir the soul, parked up regimentally in stuffy halls on the outskirts of cities. Even electronic vehicles, which the industry urgently needs to make appealing, are presented in the same way – static, ironically. There is little to excite or involve the customer. In the age of experiential marketing and digital communication, the motor show as we know it is an endangered species unless radical changes are made to its format.
If the ability of the industry to reinvent itself and the design and R&D brains within the car companies could be applied to the production of motor shows, the experience could surely be transformed into something spectacular. An occasion rather than a corporate event.