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Chutzpah column: Is it the beginning of the end of the motor show as we know it?

As Ford, Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover among others skip the Geneva International Motor Show, Rachel Boagey addresses the elephant in the room: are motor shows past their sell-by date?

This time last week I was complaining of blisters at the close of the 2019 Geneva International Motor Show, but while the halls were the same size, my list of manufacturers to pay a visit to was noticeably shorter than ever before.

The show celebrated its 89th birthday this year, though it was only the fifth time that I’d visited. But even so, something felt a little different.

In the run up to the show I visited the GIMS website where it read: “The 89th Geneva International Motor Show is open to new ideas: The regulations for the 2019 Motor Show have been made more flexible. Participants from all domains of individual transportation can now inscribe.”

On arrival in the main hall, where the usual suspects including Ford, Volvo, Jaguar Land Rover and Hyundai usually greet everyone, it soon became apparent that none of these were immediately obvious, despite their GIMS press releases flooding our phones throughout the first press day.

OK, we have come to expect the Germans to strut their industrial might at Frankfurt every other year, but Geneva is usually fair game for all manufacturers to show off their upcoming production cars and whacky concepts. But as I looked around for the stands I was expecting to see, it hit me. They were not there.

Worryingly, this is not a one off, but a growing trend. It’s easy to blame it on the cost of buying floor space at a show like Geneva. Apparently a stand here can cost upward of £10 million. But can the exposure a company receives at Geneva really have a price tag for those manufacturers? Motor shows are still a great opportunity for media and consumers to check out the latest automotive reveals all in one place, so forgoing that seems a big mistake, right?

Jaguar Land Rover confirmed back in 2018 that it wouldn’t be attending the 2019 Geneva motor show in an official capacity as part of cost-cutting measures. It said its brands are “looking at the effectiveness of each motor show individually” and have decided that there is no tangible benefit to coughing up the cash to attend this year’s show, instead choosing to host their own launch and reveal events, almost like an anti-valentines day ball.

A number of manufacturers have even started to embrace CES in Vegas in recent years, including Mercedes, which cited the "rising complexity of our industry" for its decision to ditch its stand at the Detroit Motor Show.

The truth is the world of individual transportation is changing. Manufacturers and suppliers must get a handle on questions regarding the electrification, connected mobility, driverless cars, and digital and transportation services.

Looking around the stands at Geneva, there were many concept cars, many of which were electrified and connected. But what became obvious while I was there this year more than ever before is that the cars were sat there completely static, at most they were revolving, often with a scantily clad woman stood next to them bearing a fake smile.

Volkswagen Group chairman Dr Herbert Deiss recently questioned the future of the traditional motor show and said festivals and dynamic events such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed are the way forward, so that people can have more interaction with the product that they now come to expect.

Interestingly, the upcoming 2020 Detroit Auto Show plans include outdoor displays and dynamic debuts echoing Goodwood, but unfortunately something that the 2019 show in Geneva failed to embrace.

As the 89th Geneva International Motor Show came to a close, it seems traditional motor shows are changing, but at the same time they are arguably less relevant than ever before.

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