Two motor shows on either side of the Pacific this month, both supporting my view that this form of exhibition is an anachronism with less and less relevance to the modern world.
Before 24-hour broadcast media, if you wanted to see the latest machinery, your local motor show was about your only chance. Now you can sit in the comfort of your own home and, through the internet, these cars will come to you. And if you want to see them for real, you can go to Goodwood in the summer and see and hear them in action, not parked like statues on a stand, which is why Britain will never have a conventional motor show again – a passing I will barely miss let alone mourn. If Goodwood were to export the idea and exploit its brand at similar locations around the planet, it could change the way the world looks at new cars.
Besides, the real excitement of a motor show used to be the certainty that someone would throw the wraps off some amazing new machine no one even knew existed. Today that never happens: the way media exploitation has evolved over the past 20 years means everything is now trailed months in advance. In Tokyo Porsche went through the pantomime of leaving its new 991 under a sheet until its official unveiling, despite the fact that the official pictures were released months earlier, this was the third motor show for the car, its press launch had already taken place and many of us had already driven and written about it.
Both Tokyo and Los Angeles are now seen as small shows. LA has long been predicted to overtake Detroit as the premier US show; California in November is more attractive than Michigan in January. But this year’s show was even thinner than last, as the big guns held back product for Motor City. By contrast the once huge Tokyo show has failed to face the challenge from the expanding Chinese market. Ford, Ferrari, GM , Kia, Lamborghini, Bentley, Fiat, Alfa, Rolls-Royce and Aston Martin are just some of the names that didn’t even bother to turn up.
While the massive European shows in Frankfurt, Paris and Geneva are assured because of their importance for industry networking and corporate willy-waving, those now on the edge face the choice of changing the way they do business, or risk becoming an irrelevance.