Just about everyone connected with motoring who also owns a lounge suit trooped off to St James’s Palace on Wednesday evening to hear about the new London Motor Show, planned for May 2016 in an impressive collection of temporary buildings in London’s Battersea Park.
For those of us who hardly ever inhabit the Royal Apartments it was a special occasion, but once the schedule of speakers began in earnest, the low commercial thrust of the occasion came plainly into view. The organiser ran through all the usual good reasons way London needed its own motor show: biggest of Europe’s capitals; everyone else has one; thriving local industry and so on. He also made it clear that both the cost to exhibitors and attendees would be low.
Then we heard persuasively from Lord Montagu’s daughter Hon. Mary, about why a London event needs a historical context (which the National Motor Museum would be happy to provide). Then Leon Daniels, the Transport for London boss, welcomed the event, congratulated car makers on reducing urban emissions and spelled out the extent to which traffic congestion would increase between now and 2030. Technology would save us, he seemed to be saying.
The evening’s star turn, Prince Michael, then reiterated that London “deserved” its own motor show, and claimed the idea had strong support. When it came to naming names, the thing most of us had come for, he volunteered three — Aston Martin, JLR and Geely, the Chinese manufacturer. Then, in an extraordinary development 15 hours later, it emerged that HRH has “mis-spoken” and that the trio’s funds weren’t yet in the bag.
The later development wasn’t that much of a surprise. Inside the Palace I’d been standing right next to an Aston bloke, sent to observe, who confided he’s not heard of any agreement. And as far as I could see, there was no-one from JLR in the entire throng. Tesla, we heard later, did rate the idea.
As things stand, a London Motor Show sounds a decent and plausible idea, just as proposals for London motor shows always have done. But the big task — patently not yet achieved — is to get unequivocal and early support from the motor industry.
At times like this you’re reminded how much of the UK’s “thriving” car industry is actually controlled by bosses in foreign parts, who can’t quite see a case for investing in a London show. Attracted by the low entry price, they might this time break the habit of a lifetime, but I’m not betting my mortgage on it.