Motoring shows started in the West gaining ground in the East

The Opel Adams S model on display at the booth of the German carmaker at the Geneva Motor Show in March and a Lotus Group International Eterne (above) on display at the Paris Motor Show in 2010. -- PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
The Opel Adams S model on display at the booth of the German carmaker at the Geneva Motor Show in March and a Lotus Group International Eterne (above) on display at the Paris Motor Show in 2010. -- PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Motor shows in China, such as Auto China 2014 Beijing International Automotive Exhibition, are pulling ahead of older events in the region, such as the Tokyo Motor Show (above). -- PHOTO: EPA
Motor shows in China, such as Auto China 2014 Beijing International Automotive Exhibition, are pulling ahead of older events in the region, such as the Tokyo Motor Show (above). -- PHOTO: EPA
Motor shows in China, such as Auto China 2014 Beijing International Automotive Exhibition (above), are pulling ahead of older events in the region, such as the Tokyo Motor Show. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Motor shows in China, such as Auto China 2014 Beijing International Automotive Exhibition (above), are pulling ahead of older events in the region, such as the Tokyo Motor Show. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
A BMW Vision Future Luxury concept car (above) at its world premiere at Auto China 2014 in Beijing last month. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A BMW Vision Future Luxury concept car (above) at its world premiere at Auto China 2014 in Beijing last month. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
The Opel Adams S model (above) on display at the booth of the German carmaker at the Geneva Motor Show in March and a Lotus Group International Eterne on display at the Paris Motor Show in 2010. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
The Opel Adams S model (above) on display at the booth of the German carmaker at the Geneva Motor Show in March and a Lotus Group International Eterne on display at the Paris Motor Show in 2010. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Motor shows, which started in the West over a century ago, are gaining ground in the East

The motor show is nearly as old as the car itself. The earliest ones were Paris, Berlin (precursor to Frankfurt) and Detroit, held in the late 1890s.

These soon became regular events, followed by others in the Continent and North America.

But after a century-long dominance by the West, shows in the East are beginning to have an equal share of the international limelight.

In 2009, Porsche picked the Shanghai Motor Show to unveil the Panamera, its first four-door saloon.

In 2012, Lamborghini showed off its Urus SUV concept at the Beijing Motor Show.

And last month, BMW chose Beijing to let the world know it is mulling over a "9-series" ultra-limo. It named the concept Vision Future Luxury - suitably long and fanciful for the Chinese audience.

According to Xinhua news agency, the Beijing show, which ended on Tuesday, drew a record of 2,000-plus companies from 14 countries. In all, 1,134 vehicles were displayed, of which 118 were debuts.

It attracted 852,000 visitors - more than the world's biggest motor show in Frankfurt, which had a record of 825,000 visitors last year.

Apparently, despite the power and reach of the Internet, which allows a carmaker to show off new products to hundreds of millions inexpensively, the relevance and attraction of a motor show remains.

Car enthusiast Leslie Chia, who has visited a number of international shows over the last five years or so, says nothing beats seeing new cars up close.

Says the 49-year-old businessman: "Online doesn't tell you the whole story about a car. A car is a very emotive thing.

"I'll never buy a car on the Internet, for instance."

Mr Benjamin Tan, another petrolhead, has not been to an international show but counts visiting the Frankfurt Motor Show as a bucket list item.

"If given the opportunity, I'd like to go with other motoring enthusiasts, which will make the visit even more enjoyable," says the 42-year-old civil servant.

Car manufacturers pay an inordinate amount of attention to motor shows, both established and emerging ones.

Toyota Motor Asia-Pacific general manager Vince Socco says: "Planning for motor shows is a full-time function for carmakers.

"The production of concept cars, global premieres of production models and development of new technology are lined up against motor show dates and then decisions are made on what to display, where, when and why.

"Clearly, one of the goals is to make sure that we can continue to present something new at almost every show."

Mr Socco, who describes motor shows as "a celebration of man's love affair with automobiles", says key shows include Frankfurt, Detroit and Tokyo.

But he adds that newly emerging shows such as those in Beijing, Shanghai and New Delhi "reflect the globalisation of the auto industry and the explosion of sales in emerging markets".

While Beijing and Shanghai reign as blue-ribbon event locations in China, others are gaining prominence among automotive companies.

McLaren Automotive Asia spokesman Maximiliane Polz reveals that the British sports-car maker is looking to at least two other locations.

"As we keep expanding our retailer network and to further expose the brand in other key territories in China, we are also planning to be present at the Chengdu and Guangzhou motor shows this year," she says.

In deciding which product to display at which show, manufacturers usually want to maximise the impact on the show's domestic audience.

BMW Asia spokesman Sethipong Anutarasoti says "what's most relevant" remains the key consideration.

He explains: "For example, the BMW Concept Future Luxury was unveiled in Beijing because Asia, especially China, is into luxury super saloon concepts.

"Similarly, the 2-series Active Tourer is the type of car much loved in Europe, while sports-utility models are prioritised for North America."

Of course, seminal products are reserved for the German shows. For instance, BMW i brand was introduced in Frankfurt in 2011.

Porsche Asia-Pacific general manager Henrik Dreier concurs.

"How Porsche decides when it comes to motor show participation depends on the market relevance for the respective model and the general timing of its market launch," he says.

That, he adds, usually leaves "only one or two options" among A-list shows such as Frankfurt, Paris, Shanghai, Beijing, Geneva, Los Angeles and Tokyo.

Mr Socco of Toyota says "the strategic importance of that model or concept to a certain market, in terms of sales potential or consumer preference, is also taken into account" when the company decides which show to go to.

It is clear then that an A-list motor show is still the choice venue for product debuts. No company has yet launched an all-new model outside this circuit.

So, for motoring journalists covering such shows, the task can be daunting.

In the case of the just-concluded Beijing show, they had to zero in on the 118 debuts among 1,134 vehicles displayed.

Dr Andre Lam, 56, a regular contributor to Life! and motoring magazine Torque, has been to several of such shows.

He confesses: "I can't say I like any. In general, the shows have become too mega-sized, too crowded, with poor control of passes issued for press day."

He rates Frankfurt as the worst show to cover.

"It is far too big, with too many unveilings," he says, adding that "you need clones in three places" to cover it well.

But on the plus side, Dr Lam, who is a dentist, says exhibitors "have moved from print press kits to digital press kits" - which takes a huge load off journalists on the beat. A hardcopy press kit can weigh up to 3kg, compared to mere grams for a memory stick.

Torque editor David Ting, 41, describes Beijing and Shanghai as "giant Sim Lim Squares", referring to the mall in Singapore.

He adds: "They're laid out quite haphazardly and are not easy to navigate."

Torque associate editor Daryl Lee, 33, notes, however, that Chinese shows have begun to pull ahead of the Tokyo show - traditionally the No. 1 show in Asia.

"The Tokyo event has lost plenty of its lustre... and has been supplanted by the Chinese shows," he says.

A regular motor show visitor who declined to be named notes that one attraction of the Chinese shows are "the babes", especially in the earlier years, "before the Chinese government started clamping down on skimpy outfits".

According to the Chinese media, the government issued warnings to show organisers after a "near nude" model at the Chengdu show in 2012 "created mayhem".

The Beijing show organisers were also issued warnings that year.

Clearly, cars remain the main draw, as evident in Beijing's record visitor numbers this year, when show girls were more modestly dressed than before.

For that same reason, industry watchers reckon that the show will go on - for many decades to come.

christan@sph.com.sg

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