Who killed the Geneva motor show?

Who killed the Geneva motor show?



In the wake of today’s bombshell news from the event organisers, it’s a question worth exploring...

Who killed the Geneva motor show? That might not rival ‘who killed JR?' for a place in the pop culture lexicon, but in the wake of today’s bombshell news from the event organisers, it’s a question that is worth exploring for anyone interested in the automotive industry.

First, we can all agree the show really is dead this time, right? The press release only refers to a decision “not to organise the next edition” of the show, but it’s clear this isn’t just a one-year pause (even if the ‘spin-off’ show in Qatar survives).

The board of the organising committee is aiming to dissolve the foundation that organises the event, due to the “recognition that market conditions in Europe are not conducive to the success of future editions”.

And so ends the rich history of the world’s oldest motor show, an event first held in 1905 and long the most important single event of the European car industry calendar.

While its struggles in recent years – this year’s shell of an event was the first since 2019 – might cloud its legacy, it’s important to remember just how important Geneva was for so long.

Thanks to its ‘neutral’ status and date early in the year, Geneva was for decades warmly embraced by the whole industry and used for the launch of countless significant cars.

For journalists, it was an unmissable event, a chance to speak to all the leading power brokers in one place. And for millions of car enthusiasts, it was a chance to see the latest metal up close in a quick hit. But no longer.

At a time when motor shows in Europe and the US are struggling but those in China are thriving, it’s important to try to understand the root issues. So, what did kill the Geneva motor show?

Well, the first suspect is, predictably, Covid. The February 2020 Geneva show was looking strong until organisers decided to cancel it at the last possible minute as the virus spread into Europe.

Covid also scuppered the 2021 edition, and with that momentum lost, Geneva's organisers couldn’t find the funding to stage the event again in 2022 or 2023. And by the time this year’s event was held, it felt like the industry had worked out how to cope without it.

But the organisers can’t just blame the pandemic: many in the industry are still angered by the way in which the 2020 event was cancelled abruptly at the last possible minute – with many of the stands already built – and with no refunds dished out.

Some of the car firms were so enraged that they wouldn’t return their support in subsequent years.

In hindsight, Geneva's organisers were dealt a tough hand by the way that Covid spread - albeit one they surely could have dealt with better. But their attitude was undoubtedly a factor, even if current CEO Sandro Mesquita did much to try and win back over the industry with a new approach in recent years.

And the Geneva organisers clearly believe the industry should have supported the show more. Alexandre de Senarclens, the president of the organising committee, pointedly cited the “competition” from the Paris and Munich motor shows, “which are favoured by their domestic industry.”

While Renault and a handful of Chinese brands exhibited in neutral Switzerland this year, the bulk of the European industry sat back. In fact, Fiat even released a whole bunch of Panda concepts the night before the show in what clearly seemed a ‘show spoiler’.

Then again, that Fiat release hinted at another truth learned in the four years Geneva didn’t run: in an era when they can target consumers directly with social media and video, manufacturers don’t really need motor shows any more.

In fact, some are just holding their own: Toyota, Polestar and Kia have all staged events that allow journalists to get motor show-style access in a bespoke format.

The Geneva release also blames the industry uncertainty and wider financial challenges. That’s undoubtedly true, given the ongoing push to electrification and all the financial challenges post-pandemic have upended the car world no end.

But that could also be seen as an opportunity: car firms are pushing out vast amounts of new models with all manner of powertrains; surely enough to save some back for a press day in Geneva?

So what did kill the Geneva show? Aloof organisers, obstinate manufacturers, a global financial slowdown, the fallout from a pandemic, or just plain apathy? In truth, it’s likely a little of all those things. And, really, no matter how hard the organisers tried this year, it felt like this was the inevitable outcome.

The sad truth is that everyone loses: the European industry has lost a marquee event that benefitted car firms, the media and the public. And motor shows now feel even more like an endangered species.

But they’re not dead yet: the weird Doha-based 'Geneva' show apparently survives (although how much value will it now derive by taking the name of a defunct show?), while Paris and Munich are still scheduled for 2024 and 2025 - although both have had their challenges.

That’s why it’s important to consider why the Geneva motor show was killed - and how we can stop it happening to other motor shows.

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