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It is amazing how quickly the tide has turned against motor shows worldwide. Initially it was the reluctance of a few global manufacturers to support these events, which have been staged globally for almost a century, but the number of non-participating motor manufacturers has grown quickly. Nowadays most major shows have been downgraded to being only showcases for the car and truck makers in their home countries.

Now a new phenomenon has hit the motor show business. The first show to suffer a new challenge was the recent Frankfurt Motor Show, the largest motor show in the world. This time the event was disrupted by a weekend of disruption by environmental protests.

Bernhard Mattes, outgoing chief of the German VDA lobby group which organises the show, would not commit to a return to Frankfurt in two years’ time, where the show was first held in 1951. Thousands of protestors – including Greenpeace, who will have a South African, Kumi Naidoo, as its new global leader from November – virtually brought Frankfurt to a standstill as they arrived at the show for the first public day. Earlier the protesters tried to disrupt the opening ceremony, attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. 

The protesters want a “climate change revolution” from the transport industry and a ban on petrol-guzzling SUVs! The protesting group, called “Sand in the Gearbox”, said that electric vehicles are far less environmentally friendly than the motor industry will have the public believe. 

They also complained that all the eco-friendly tech was coming from China and the United States and that German makers were lagging behind. This was just as the German companies were unveiling a host of innovative electric cars and the German Economic Institute was getting ready to announce that the car industry had filed about half the patents in Germany in the past year, with the bulk linked to electrification and digitisation.

Chief show organiser Mattes, a former head of Ford in Germany, announced his resignation from the post at the end of the opening ceremony without giving a reason. Earlier he had hinted that the current format where brands promoted their new models may become obsolete with local politicians saying the show should, in future, focus solely on eco-friendly transport and possibly move around various cities in Germany.

According to Automotive News, the number of exhibitors at the show fell by 20% this year compared to 2017. Among the brands that skipped Frankfurt were Toyota, Peugeot, Citroen, Nissan, Kia, Volvo, Ferrari and all the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles brands.

Some of the companies that were present had cut their usual display area significantly. BMW, which used to have its own hall, cut its space by two thirds and Daimler had 30% less space for its Mercedes-Benz and Smart brands.

Interestingly, only two of the three of the major launches – Porsche Taycan, Volkswagen ID.3 and Land Rover Defender – featured electric models.

The number of visitors to the 2019 show plunged 30% below the 2017 figure for this biennial event. This year there were 560 000 visitors compared to 810 000 in 2017 and 931 700 in 2015.

Former Opel CEO Karl Thomas Neumann is reported to have said that the show will not survive past this year. He tweeted that this year’s (Frankfurt) show was simply a “mere shadow” of what it had been in the past. He predicted there will not be a show in 2021, the next scheduled date for the event, which takes place every two years, alternating with Automechanika Frankfurt.

Another of the world’s largest motor shows, the North American International Motor Show, which has traditionally been held in Detroit in January, has now switched its date to June in 2020 so that it can have outdoor displays and driving activities.  It seems people don’t want to go to static displays of vehicles anymore.

It has also been announced recently that Italy’s premier motor show will now move from Milan to the famous Monza racetrack to provide opportunities for ride-and-drive in the latest models.

The good news for South Africa is that we have been ahead of the game with our SA Festival of Motoring (FOM) at Kyalami, replacing the Johannesburg Motor Show for the past four years and being organised by Messe Frankfurt South Africa with the support of NAAMSA members. The new format is very interactive, with test drives and hot laps as well as a very active off-road component and national championship races.

The latest FOM was another big success with more than 64 000 people in attendance over the four days which is a very positive indicator as to its acceptance when one considers that tickets weren’t cheap and the overall SA economy is in a downward spiral, with business confidence at its lowest point for more than 20 years.

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