Are Auto Shows Losing Their Charm?

Since its inception in 1905, the Geneva Motor Show has been recognized as one of the most renowned and significant global auto show events. The Geneva Motor Show has been synonymous with quality and the future of automobiles for over a century, introducing the world to great vehicles that defined their era.

However, in 2020, the show was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was canceled again in 2021, then hosted in Qatar in the subsequent year. Now the comeback event for 2024 which will be held in its traditional Swiss home after the 2019 edition, is already losing its luster as major automakers have decided not to participate.

1954 geneva motor show
1954 Geneva Motor Show

BMW, Volkswagen, Audi, and Mercedes have already said they will not be part of this year’s Geneva event, whereas Stellantis might also not want to invest millions to be there, according to renowned German automotive news outlet Automobilwoche. The report adds that Skoda, Cupra, and Porsche had yet to make a concrete decision regarding their plans to be part of the show, and it is highly likely that they will quit too.

Related: European Automakers Challenged by Chinese EVs at Munich Auto Show

For many reasons, Geneva was always the best of the classic European shows. First of all, it was quite close to the airport, and secondly, it was compact, with just two main halls next to each other, so you could view everything without having to trek miles in all directions and risk falling and dying.

2016: Geneva Motor Show in its full glory

However, even before the pandemic, automakers had been reducing their participation in motor shows. As the senior marketing representative of a supercar manufacturer justifies the company’s decision to skip the Geneva Expo:

“Why would I spend a million dollars to build a motor show stand when I could spend that money making a really cool viral video and push it out on social media?”

The fact is that automakers no longer need to attend auto shows to establish a connection with the public, and consumers no longer need to go to exhibitions to view a car that will merely be on static display. With shrinking global sales of traditional cars, automakers really don’t want to spend too much on auto shows these days.

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Auto shows are really expensive. It is quite expensive to move cars as well as to design, build, and set up elaborate displays. Then hire models and other support staff to manage their presence for multiple days. Of course, this has always been like this, but now the shows are competing with the internet. Website development can be costly as well. But at the very least, automakers don’t have to move them around and fill them with actual automobiles.

In addition, car manufacturers face stiff rivalry for attention at auto events. If a carmaker has truly important news to announce, say, the debut of an all-new car, why do it in a place where many other car companies are unveiling their own new cars? Then, auto-shows aren’t only for journalists. They also allow the public to see new cars and even get inside them. But, once again, there is a wealth of information available on websites, as well as images, videos, and reviews. And no one has to buy a ticket to view a website.

Related: 150 Companies to Participate in the 2023 Pakistan Auto Show (PAPS)

The same happened in Pakistan during the recently concluded 2023 Pakistan Auto Show (PAPS). Although the organizers claim that over 150 companies were present at the show, the majority were auto parts makers, small vendor companies, and a few motorcycle makers. Yes, symposiums were held, and industry pundits visited the show that spanned 3 days at the Expo Center in Karachi, only Honda was there among automakers, and literally, no one else was present.

GiGi EV at Pakistan Auto Show 2023 1
GiGi EV at Pakistan Auto Show 2023

There was also a rather unknown company that displayed a couple of DFSK-rebadged EVs, the star of which was the Gigi EV (a rebadged DSFK Mini EV) that caught the attention of onlookers. But with a mind-boggling price tag of Rs 46.5 lac, the car already lost half of its appeal at the show.

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Leading names including Toyota, Suzuki, Kia, Hyundai, Proton, Changan, DFSK, Chery, MG, BAIC, Haval, Prince, Isuzu, and Peugeot were all happy not to participate in the show. The last time a true auto show was held in Karachi was the PAPS 2019 edition which saw the unveiling of Pak Suzuki Alto, all major automakers including truck & tractor makers were present at the event with their full glory.

Kia Stinger on display at the 2019 edition of PAPS

But Kia was the one automaker that literally made a statement at the 2019 PAPS show, displaying the likes of Stinger, Niro, and Sportage with Russian model girls standing right next to them.

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Coming back to Geneva, the show organizers are now reportedly busy trying to entice Chinese companies to attend and since some automakers from China are desperate to establish themselves in the European market, they might be happy to fill the void left by the likes of BMW, Audi, Mercedes and VW.

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Huge crowd attending the 2023 Auto Expo in New Delhi India

But in the case of PAPS, even the Chinese companies operating in Pakistan including Changan, Chery, Haval, BAIC, DFSK, and MG didn’t consider it worth investing in their presence at the 2023 edition. While auto shows may seem to be dying in European markets and Pakistan for varied reasons, there are key markets such as China, India, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia where such shows still hold great significance.

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