As the motor industry PR machine moves to the Geneva show I wonder how much longer it will survive in its present form.

It took a few days last month for the news to spread that Ford has pulled the plug on Paris later this year but I believe the significance of its decision is going to last a lot longer. We have had manufacturers pull out of shows before or cut back their presence in the face of economic hard times, but Ford’s decision is more considered and potentially has longer term implications and consequences.

The US giant indicated its decision was based around the Paris show not falling at the right time to meet its new model launch objectives, but the same could be said about any motor show where its exhibiting after Geneva. Geneva and the preceding US events can be used to signpost upcoming models in any year but after March the news becomes history.

In the case of Ford it was one of the first to show its wares at non-motoring international events, most notably technology shows, and these are much cheaper than the traditional trade shows we are familiar with.

Paris is the world’s biggest motor show and over 1.2M attended in 2014, but it costs millions of Euros to exhibit there when you add up all the cost and you have to sell a lot of new cars to justify that outlay. In today’s comb-over economy where true-costs are concealed someone still has to pay and it’s getting much harder to cover them. 

Motor show regulars have said for a few years that the cost-cutting at such events has been evident but marginal. Smaller PR teams jostle with fewer journalists but demands on time are as strong as ever. 

The fact so much information is put out in advance and not held back for “the reveal” has also killed events for a number of publications, so the reason for attending is often based on interviews with senior company people which are time effective because you can go from one to another easily and quickly. The PR machines is very well oiled in more ways than one to facilitate the interviews and bookings are often made weeks before the show doors open. 

Budget cuts mean fewer companies host journalists and the inevitable cost to a publication or freelance can determine whether or not they attend when they know the release about the new model will be on their computer, and more importantly their rivals’ computers, before they have left for the show.

This pressure and workload on journalists is increasing as a consequence of technology so it’s how we handle the information that is becoming more important than the event. If some manufacturers miss out, so what? 

The answer seems to be getting your car company name where it would not otherwise appear so you look at technology shows rather than motor shows and beside fashion or designer catwalks. A bit of lateral thinking can spread the word and brand. 

Personally I cannot see Ford not exhibiting in Germany in 2017 and I don’t think the French Government would stand by and watch their home manufacturers pull out of Paris, this year or in 2018.

What we may see are manufacturers cherry picking the best shows for them in terms of market and impact at particular times, and significantly smaller stands to emphasise models. Volvo and Mazda are also having second thoughts about Paris. 

WGMW founder and most experienced motor show grandee Tony Lewis has long forecast the end of the traditional motor show. It may be taking a bit longer than he thought, but it will be interesting to see if the decision by Ford does apply the brake to them.

Robin Roberts | Chairman WGMW

Robin Roberts
Robin Roberts

Robin is the longest serving chairman of The Western Group. He’s been vice chairman or chairman for over ten years and oversees the annual Western Group PR Driving Day each summer assisted by the group committee and supported by group members.

He contributes to a number of outlets in Wales and the UK, including the Driving Force editorial syndication agency feeding the biggest regional news and feature publishers in Britain.

Robin specialises in the Welsh automotive sector and motor related businesses with interests in Wales and publishes which covers news, features, trade and motor sport in Wales.

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