Are motor shows threatened by their virtual counterparts?
The big motor shows of the past have been suffering lately, and the corona pandemic may sound the death knell for them. These shows’ virtual counterparts are popping up everywhere, surfing on the new habits of the corona-struck, confined consumer.
To be clear, the pandemic has just been accelerating an already engaged movement of waning interest for big motor shows. The most obvious example has been the once so prestigious IAA in Frankfurt, which has seen its last edition in 2019.
Detroit has also been struggling for a long time now (and has been moved to June), the Dutch RAI is already dead for quite a while, even top events like the Geneva Motor Show are fighting for relevance and survival.
Until last year, the Brussels Motor Show was partially immune to these considerations. In fact, it made its strongest point of one of its most important criticisms, that it was only a ‘vendor fair’ and not a real motor show.
The Brussels Motor Show has a special place in the heart of many car-loving Belgians. There seems to be a special knob in the head of many Belgians turned on when January arrives. The first month of the year places ‘cars’ (or vehicles in general) in the middle of attention in Belgium. Surely, the Brussels Motor Show being held every year at that same period has played a big role.
For many importers, the Brussels Motor Show has consequently been a must. It represents a huge investment, but it also leads to 30 or even 40% of the annual turnover being initiated in the Brussels expo halls. Until now.
The corona pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated things. Big shows like Geneva and Paris threw in the towel, the Belgian importer federation Febiac, organizer of the Brussels show, has for a long time been hoping that a new year would bring new hope. In vain.
The sign was given last autumn by the Hyundai importer, stating that “whatever happened”, it would not be present at the 2001 show, using the investments saved to think about other kinds of promotional events and promise that part of that money would directly benefit the customer.
Once the decision had been taken to postpone the 99th Brussels Motor Show to 2022, it was clear that the car-loving consumer could expect a panoply of other ways to try and attract his attention.
One of the most common alternatives is to try to bring the motor show to the customer at his home. The pandemic has accelerated consumer habits of buying online, and for the first time, this has also been true for more expensive goods like cars.
Almost everyone has been working hard to deliver a real motor show experience on the screen, and some of the premium brands have really spent a lot to realize this. The most striking example is Porsche (imported by D’Ieteren) that uses a highly sophisticated camera to display all the goodies to attend the iconic brand.
The innovating thing is that the virtually visiting customer can actually manipulate the camera him/herself and outside as inside the chosen vehicle. It’s a project that has cost Porsche import almost 70% of the investment that would have been made for a live show, but they think it will be worth it.
Where is Febiac?
Many faithful contributors to the show regret that importer federation Febiac hasn’t proposed a virtual alternative itself. “We’ve done everything to make the real motor show go on, and when this finally collapsed, there was too little time to go for something else,” we hear as an unofficial comment.
Meanwhile, it’s the small importers who will suffer the most. Those who can’t afford huge virtual shows on their websites are now exempted from the showroom traffic that a live motor show would have given them.
And the future?
In the end, only the ‘leads’ will count. The success of the investment in a motor show has always been counted in the number of leads (by interested consumers) delivered at the dealers just before, during, and a while after the motor show.
Every importer is waiting for this result with anxiety following the virtual motor show and all accompanying local events that will take place in the course of January.
This result is not only pending like a Damocles’ sword above the heads of some importers. It’s also causing great disquiet at Febiac. Presumed that the results are good to very good, more than one importer will ask himself if it’s still necessary to be present at the next live motor show.
Consumer patterns are changing rapidly; perhaps the importer habits will have to follow suit quickly. Febiac is facing the not too easy task to reinvent itself and its primary source of income, the Brussels Motor Show. We hope to relive it next year, but we fear that ‘business as usual’ won’t be the case anymore.
And he press?
Even the press is following suit. We already informed you recently about the country’s largest newspaper website (hln.be) to organize a permanent test center (HLNDrive) of the most important models on the Belgian market, now the most important specialized car editor is following suit.
Produpress (publishing well-known car magazines like AutoGids, AutoWereld, and Moniteur Automobile), renowned for its meticulous coverage of the Motor Show, has just launched a virtual showroom on its websites. Others will follow.