Next year’s British motor show axed? No surprise there, really. Back in October I put the London event on Deathwatch knowing full well that the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) would drop it all together. Being lucky enough, or mad depending on how you look at it, I travel the global-motor-show-circus with a press pass around my neck to see what’s in store for the coming year. For years the Detroit motor show in January has always been the most anticipated. However this year this automotive jump start was a real let down. Partly because the Americans were driving forward an economic lecture. However, the biggest blow came in the form of Land Rover, Nissan, Porsche and Ferrari all deciding to skip Detroit in favour of Geneva.
Don’t get me wrong, I have to re-cycle too and although the motor industry is the only body forging ahead with cleaner, more environmentally friendly technology why Detroit thought that home- grown consumers would swap their pick up for a Chevy Volt is the most farfetched, ridiculous idea since the States thought that introducing European diesel power would be a good move for the Star Spangled nation. In fact, SUV and pick-up truck sales rose by 50% tail end of 2008.
With Detroit another twelve months away, it was back onto a plane and off to Geneva. With a few more exciting debuts it somehow lacked its pizzazz and was missing its former glory by miles. I certainly don’t remember it being like this before. Nevertheless, if we re-wind to Excel however, I have to confess, it had potential.
The 2008 London motor show came back with something a little different to offer. Instead of the traditional haul through the halls and sore feet at the end of your day out, the organisers had put on a variety of different events to make it, I suppose, more accessible. Truth be told a motor show is predominately a blokes thing and any female making the effort or brave enough to tag on usually ends up making a be-line for the bar to sip cheap tasting plonk from a plastic cup only to get ripped off in the process. Excel on the other hand had a record number of families attending last year whilst any tyre-kicker could roam around the stands, take a decent photo and actually get right up to any car without getting barged to the back of the ten-deep crowd all trying to do the same thing. In fact, it made a real change being able to come and go and not rush with a show guide under your arm trying to navigate ten miles of carpet having earmarked the latest launch the night before. I have to say it, Excel worked.
OK so important launches were delayed until Geneva but what the manufacturers forgot was that those new cars pushed back had key sales potential in London. Take the new Mitsubishi Colt as an example: Launched in Paris. As I reported back in October, with small car sales rocketing here in the UK, why get our backs up and send the face lift off to Paris? As a result, the Japanese manufacturer is having trouble shifting units through its UK dealer network. A revolt of some description, perhaps?
Despite the recent news, Excel saw 70 per cent of its attendees making the trip to consider what their next car should be. Rather than traipse to the dealer us reliable Brits made the effort and supported the show. Who else would carry on having a BBQ if it started to rain?
Back in Paris, I spoke to one of the Renault PR’s and although he cited the Parisian city as one of the world’s major trading posts he forgot to include London; “Europe is the car-hub-capital, and Paris is one of the major cities for global business”, he said. Where else could you pee in the street legally?
So why have the SMMT scrapped next year’s London show? The trade body which organises the two-week show in July said it had consulted with its members before making the decision. It would be inappropriate to expect struggling carmakers to commit themselves to taking part. Some companies employ more than 200 people during the event, incurring considerable hotel bills and other expenses. Paul Everitt, chief executive of the SMMT, said: “It’s obvious that companies’ budgets are under pressure and it would be tough for them to make a commitment. We are working in an industry where people have been made redundant and are facing an uncertain future.
“It would be inappropriate to then say ‘We are going to be holding a multimillion-pound event next year’ when we don’t know what the economic circumstances will look like.”
However, in a separate statement the SMMT did mention that if the economy picks up the show could be back as soon as 2011. They even cited a pre-Olympic motor show being held several months before the 2012 games. How that would fit in with the plans is anyone’s guess, but it could have a lot of potential.
With plenty to see at Geneva I had no idea that several weeks later, London would be off the list. A spokesman for OICA, the International Organisation of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers, which helps organise the calendar of events for the industry, admitted that a number of smaller shows might not take place next year either. But the “Big Five” – the showcases in Geneva, Paris, Frankfurt, Tokyo and Detroit – would all go ahead. It still begs the question; if the world is suffering from the credit crunch why are the “Big Five” still going ahead, yet London loses out? The SMMT can make up all the excuses they want, but something tells me there are other demons being held at bay here and we’ll probably never know what they are. Fingers crossed that something might happen in two years time; otherwise it would be yet another national treasure lost to the money men.