MotorShow Deathwatch

We’re quickly approaching year end, yet the motor shows keep on coming. There’s certainly no hold-up in the car industry and certainly no shortage of new metal for us to get our teeth into over next few months. It has to be said that for me, Paris in October know how to put on a proper show. What about the London Motorshow? Problem is it wasn’t what I would call, er, memorable. Not that I was schmoozing at every press after show party or swamped with offers from beautiful show-girls. Truth is, no-one showed up. Yep, if you are considering a day out at Excel maybe you’ll want to hold fire. If you’re hoping to see the latest Carlos-Fandango then you’ll be seriously short changed. This year, some of the biggest players weren’t prepared to invest and attend at Excel. And it isn’t the first time that we’ve been kicked into touch and had some of the most influential manufacturers turning down the invitation.

It all started when the British Motorshow was spilt into alternate years: Earls Court and Birmingham. The problem surfaced when the cost for manufacturers to attend both shows spiralled (it’s no secret that for a mid-manufacturer to plan, staff, set up and attend a two week stint they are looking at cool £6million) As Mitsubishi’s Brand Director said recently, “for that amount of money we could open a new showroom”. So, the bean-counters decided that one appearance every other year would be more cost effective. For those still on the Billie Smart Circus tour, dealer sales revealed that more numbers were generated in one location and not the other. What was supposed to be a split venue turned into a fierce tug-of-war.

Fast forward to the recent London Motorshows, and it seems the organisers are again flogging a dead horse. Not only is it held every two years, but we’ve seen manufacturers either not attend or pull out at the last minute. The reason? Too expensive.

This year was my first taste at Excel, and despite trekking around the M25 for two hours just to get there, all in all I wasn’t that impressed. Yes, the halls were relatively packed with shiny cars but due to the lack of attendees there was an embarrassing mist in the air.

So why are we seeing such a decline in interest? A Renault insider told me on the stand of the new Megane this week at Paris that they’ve invested millions of Euros just to be there and of course for a new launch there’s nothing like being on home turf. “Europe is the car-hub-capital, and Paris is one of the major cities for global business”, he tells me. Not a strong case, but I get the message; Lotus used Excel to debut the new Evora. It’s no secret that some manufacturers will delay a launch just for a preferred motorshow. Cases like this seriously dent sales back in the UK. We buy more convertibles than any country in Europe, so why did Lexus debut its new IS Convertible in Paris? Small car sales are at an all time high in the UK, so why is it that Mitsubishi revealed its facelift Colt in Paris yet pulled out of Excel?

Us Brits have a burning desire for the latest trend, and cars are a big part of that. Even if finances are somewhat restricted, we still find a way to have that latest shiny model on our driveway. What other country had one month of the year when having a new car was so important? August became such a feeding frenzy that the DVLA had to find a way to reduce the rush by alternating the number plate registration process. We adore cars and it’s become a serious drug. Even though we don’t have the “August rush” anymore, having that latest number plate prefix is a serious ego boost. Which neatly brings me back to the London Motoshow. Interestingly, 70 per cent of the general public said that they had come to Excel to buy a new car and that it is easier to see a variety of metal under one roof rather than traipse around the dealers on a wet weekend. Fair enough, but of those 70 per cent, 40 per cent were disappointed to find that not every manufacturer attended. Good for us dealers as hopefully they’ll be paying us a visit. Even if a large proportion walked out of Excel with a brochure under their arm and were ready to buy, we would be extremely grateful to the London Motorshow.

Back in its heyday it used to be a great selling tool and something has to be done, and sharpish. We could be witnessing the demise of this national event, and the motor trade will again have to recover somehow.

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