Traditional motor shows under threat as focus shifts
Volkswagen Group chairman Herbert Diess tells Michael Taylor that the traditional motor show’s days are numbered
The Detroit car show will move to June in 2020 in a bold effort to stay alive, but the Volkswagen Group’s chairman has cautioned the effort may be in vain.
Herbert Diess has warned that there may not be a future for traditional motor shows, with events such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed and off-site standalone exhibitions taking their place.
"Motor shows are dead," Diess insisted at the recent Goodwood event. "They are a product of the 1960s and they are not as relevant anymore.
"They’re not delivering what we want and they’re not delivering what car buyers want."
The Detroit show, the traditional season opener for the world’s car industry, has been under pressure since the global financial crisis in 2008 and has never recovered.
It has effectively been kept alive and relevant by European car makers, but Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have already announced their absence from January’s edition. Brands such as Jaguar, Land Rover, Mitsubishi and even Bentley and Lamborghini have been skipping the show for years.
The show has also been swamped by the burgeoning presence of automotive brands at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which usually falls within a week of the Detroit schedule.
The Detroit show isn’t the only one under pressure. The Geneva Motor Show, in March, is seen as neutral ground in Europe and is the traditional show seemingly under the least pressure. But the Frankfurt and Paris shows, which rotate annually, have suffered immensely. The entire Volkswagen Group has pulled out of 2018’s Paris show, with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (including the Jeep, Fiat and Alfa Romeo brands), Ford, Infiniti, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Opel, Subaru and Volvo.
Embarrassingly, Mitsubishi and Nissan are part of an alliance with Renault, a significant shareholding of which is held by the French state.
But the Germans aren’t just picking on the poor old French. They’re also cutting back at home, where BMW has already announced it would slash its Frankfurt 2019 presence back to a third of its usual display area, which usually comes complete with its own track so people can see cars running.
"People need to see more interaction with the product. They expect it. Those days of relying on tradition are gone," Diess insisted.
"It’s events like the Goodwood Festival of Speed that are showing us the modern way to show cars to people," Diess said.
But the Detroit show organisers have pushed into a summer show slot for 2020 in an effort to tie in with the IndyCar Grand Prix at Belle Isle to create a speed festival event in the Motor City.
"The potential to create a month-long automotive festival in Detroit starting with the Detroit Grand Prix, going through our show and concluding with the nationally celebrated fireworks on the river, will provide an unmatched festival-like experience for all attendees," Detroit Auto Show executive director Rod Alberts said.
"June provides us with exciting new opportunities that January just didn’t afford."
The organisers have also shifted the show to summer to open up the possibility of events outside the show halls, which would be impossible in the frigid Michigan winter.
"As we look to break out of the traditional auto show model, there is not a need to follow the normal show season," Detroit Auto Dealers Association president Doug North said.
"The new direction and focus of the show will disrupt the normal cadence of traditional shows and create a new event unparalleled in the industry."
The move has been made to "to deliver dynamic exhibits and experiential opportunities outside of the show’s four walls".