Drive to eliminate 'booth babes' at Geneva Motor Show

Larger brands at the Geneva Motor Show said they will cut back on "booth babes".
Larger brands at the Geneva Motor Show said they will cut back on "booth babes".PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

GENEVA • Carmakers are switching marketing gears to avoid being caught in a sexual harassment jam.

Take the case of South Korean company Ssangyong Motor. A year ago, two blondes in silver mini dresses and stiletto heels were stationed at its display at the Geneva Motor Show.

When the annual event re-opens on Thursday, its "booth babes" will be replaced by male and female models dressed in sportswear to drive interest in its pick-ups and cars.

Ssangyong is not alone in bowing to pressure from the global #MeToo movement against sexual misdeeds.

Larger brands including Toyota and Nissan have also said they will cut back on the coquetry in Geneva, marking a potential sea change for an industry that has long pandered to male customers by using attractive women to sell cars.

"Times have changed," said Ms Sara Jenkins, a spokesman for Nissan, which stopped hiring fashion models last year. "It makes more sense to use product specialists because we're selling cars."

Lexus confirmed that it is dropping models altogether at the Swiss event while Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is said to have cancelled contracts with several female models.

The maker of the Maserati, Jeep and Alfa Romeo nameplates will instead feature men as well as women in less flesh-exposing garb than in previous years.

The transformation by the biggest players shows the ripple effect the #MeToo movement is having on industries far from its Hollywood roots.

In the auto industry, the changing customer base is also signalling for a marketing lane change.

The number of women owning cars in Britain jumped 66 per cent in the decade through 2016, official figures show, almost triple the rise for men.

In Germany, Europe's biggest car market, women buy about a third of all new vehicles and, in France, 37 per cent.

Eliminating women as display props is not new for some carmakers such as Peugeot maker PSA Group.

"Visitors to the Geneva auto show will be welcomed at the PSA booth by male and female hosts, whose mission will be to inform them," said spokesman Pierre-Oliver Salmon.

"PSA Group won't convey a degrading image of anyone, neither of women or men."

Peugeot's rival Renault also said it has banned models for years in Europe, riding on "car explainers" whose appearance did not matter as long as they were tall enough to be noticed, said a spokesman for the company.

Even Pirelli, the Italian tyre maker famed for its sexy calendars, has modified its approach.

Its 2018 stand will have models in black pantsuits during press days, rather than the skimpy dresses of 2016, said a spokesman.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 05, 2018, with the headline 'Drive to eliminate 'booth babes' at Geneva Motor Show'. Subscribe