The Future of the Car Show

by Brian Coleman – Chief Strategy Officer, MotorK

The Geneva Motor Show recently concluded, and there were some notable absentees from previous editions. Ford, Hyundai, Opel, Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover were among the many brands skipping Europe’s biggest car show. What’s surprising about this is that it’s not so surprising.

Audi chose to unveil its first all electric vehicle, the e-tron SUV, at a mid-September event in San Francisco. Mercedes held its own special event in Stockholm to unveil its all-electric SUV, the EQC.

And the Bologna Motor Show organisers cancelled the 2018 event as the organisers rethink their entire approach.

What’s going on?


The short answer is that the digital revolution has changed the media landscape. Traditionally, manufacturers took advantage of car shows and the presence of the world’s media to unveil new cars, show off concepts and, in general, grab some free press. But that formula is losing its power.

Increasingly, car companies are leveraging digital platforms to spread the word about new products. The internet gives them the ability to reach audiences at scale — and in a more targeted way. It also allows them to do so at times when there’s less competition for attention.

The Internet has also changed how people shop for cars, which means fewer people are going to the car shows to check out what’s on offer. Why fight the crowds when you can sit on your sofa and look in detail at every car in the world, configuring and comparing or watching video test drives?

Manufacturers are also increasingly exploring other venues to display their products. Events like the CES technology show give brands a chance to tap into new audiences and enhance their technology creds.

At the end of the day, automotive marketers need to evaluate the return on investment of their activities. Car shows cost millions of euros for the major exhibitors, from building stands to staffing to making the costly concept vehicles on show. Inviting key journalists to a private launch event costs less and allows a brand to get their message across without the noise of competition.

What’s clear is that car show organisers need to rethink a few things if they are going to survive. Large scale events like Paris are particularly at risk. They depend on the formula of media attention and brand presence to succeed. Smaller, regional events with a focus more on selling to customers and less on the unveiling of new products may still have a niche role. That’s particularly true in markets where sales are tilted toward a particular season rather than spread out through the year.

Another solution is for shows to refocus on particular technologies, such as electric vehicles or driverless cars. This focus on a narrower subject may not attract big crowds, but by reducing cost and stressing a strategically important topic show organisers could generate the return on marketing investment that car brands seek.

Whatever path they choose, one thing is clear for car shows: The future will look very different from the past.