Those wanting to display a vehicle at the world’s first international motor show, the Automobile Club de France’s Exposition Internationale d’Automobile of 1898, held on the terrace of the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris, first had to drive the car from Paris to Versailles and back in the presence of an ACF official. To “avoid the presentation of automobiles which would only carry the name, and not the qualities”.
It’s hard to imagine that, last week, as the world’s oldest motor show hit its 120th anniversary, organisers of what is today called the Mondial de l’Auto would have made anything like the same demands of exhibitors. Or any demands at all. Please, just come. The door’s open.
The show’s problem isn’t declining visitor numbers. At least, not yet, though it’ll be interesting to see how many came this year. But in 2016, organisers say a million visitors walked through the show’s doors, making the biennial exhibition the most visited motor show in the world.
There is, though, an issue with no-shows from manufacturers. That Ford, Opel, FCA, Volkswagen and others didn’t think there was enough in it to turn up to Paris suggests big motor shows are in a downward trajectory. The Detroit motor show, once a show so important that correspondents and executives would see in the new year while travelling to it, has had to move to June in 2020 in search of a new impetus.
The short of it is that exhibitors will turn up to events if they think they’ll sell cars at them. Someone in Volvo’s UK management once told me – probably 15 years ago – that country fairs were better for selling cars than traditional motor shows, because they gave Volvo the chance to put relevant metal before the right kind of people.
If people want to stay away from some of those, though – and given the cost and time it takes to get there, I wouldn’t blame them – they don’t even need a real location to see cars up close, because car makers will gladly electronically visit their lap. And they can do that without the help of traditional media. They’ve got the money and time to make better- looking videos and presentations than editorial broadcasters.
And, crucially, in doing so they can present a potential customer only the information they choose.
And so car makers have the option: spend half a million pounds or more creating a show stand and crewing it for weeks, presenting a car to the (mostly local) several hundred thousand people who come through the door, who have an interest in cars, but not necessarily that particular one. Meanwhile, an independent media presents said car (on display, statically, beneath blinding lights and sitting on lino or tiles or carpet – a situation it’ll never be in in real life) however it chooses; almost certainly mentioned alongside its rivals.