Recent months have seen repeated calls for a UK motor show. So far this year we’ve had Detroit, Geneva, Beijing; Paris is next. Why not the UK? We’re Europe’s second largest market, and poised to become its third-biggest manufacturer, producing luxury brands Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Aston Martin, Range Rover and Jaguar as well cars for the global market leader, Toyota.
But the fact is that motor shows are moving away from traditional automotive locations. The best European show is Geneva’s, in a country with no automotive industry and an ambivalent attitude to motoring. China’s auto industry is in its infancy, yet the industry descends on the Beijing and Shanghai shows. And New York is becoming a favoured event even though it’s a million miles from Detroit in motor culture.
There’s a change of axis which is driving this. Asia is now the world’s economic powerhouse, and with its emerging economies is the land of mass opportunity for car sales. In the mature markets a smaller show like New York is now as likely to be chosen for a major launch, especially by high-equity brands – Land Rover used it this year to unveil its future in the form of the Vision concept, because the city is a style capital, global influencer and catalyst to the US market. Detroit is not.
But the New York show itself is just like Detroit and all the others: an anachronism. Cars – things which move, transform our lives and stir the soul – parked uninspiringly on stands in vast exhibition centres. And with little to excite or involve the customer. In the age of experiential marketing, digital communication and virtual reality, the motor show needs new forms.
In that sense, the UK already has a motor show. It took place last weekend and it’s called the Goodwood Festival of Speed. It’s 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. It’s an occasion. A networking opportunity with props.
That attracts people – 200,000 of them -and it attracts the carmakers, who get involved in not only the celebration of motor sport at the core of the event but now also bring – and allow visitors to drive – everyday models in a lovely setting. The Festival’s Moving Motor Show alone attracted 19 car brands this year, so not just those with performance models. Dacia, Renault’s Romanian budget brand, was there with its entire range; manufacturers launch new models there (18 this year): this is now a mainstream motor show, even if it takes place outside in the grounds of a stately home.
The Festival of Speed is not a template – it’s unique, idiosyncratic – but it is an illustration of what people want from a motor show: interaction, informality, fun. Despite the incredible pace of vehicle development, the industry’s other motor shows are stuck in the 1960s. They need to change, especially if they’re not in a hot market.
If carmakers’ design and R&D brains which are transforming mobility and allowing the industry to reinvent itself for a more sustainable world could be applied to the production of motor shows, the experience could surely be transformed into something spectacularly cutting-edge. Combine that with the Festival’s more intimate virtues and it would be inspiring.