Good riddance to the Geneva Motor Show

Erin on EV – 11/06/24

The Geneva motor show is dead and buried, and I have my fingers tightly crossed that it spells the demise of every other international motor show.

These embarrassing, outdated, sexist trade shows had their day about 40 years ago but industry executives were too busy gazing at their navels to see that the media coverage was largely driven by press releases emailed to journalist inboxes under embargo rather than any feet on the ground on press day, and that public attendance was falling (from 500,000 to 168,000 at Geneva). 

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Why did anyone ever think that roping off cars on static displays in cavernous, soulless exhibition centres on industrial parks far away from city centres was a good way to engage the public or the media? You don’t drag boats out of the water and mount them on a sticky red carpet in a hall to sell them, or take the latest Victoria Beckham dress off a model on a runway and stick it on a coat hanger on an industrial estate in Munich and expect people to come and fall in love with it. So why do that to a product built to serve the purpose of movement, designed as an expression of motion? It’s always struck me as utterly bizarre, and a total waste of time and money. 

Worse than that, motor shows highlight the misogyny in the industry and appear to endorse it.

Behind these roped-off areas on manufacturer stands, predominantly male, Euro-faceless executives sip espressos with other suited nobodies sporting Audemars Piguet timepieces (they’d never call them watches), while the public and media are shoved out of the way by sour women shipped in from event agencies. Yep, it’s still suited men doing the deals in the back rooms with the soft lighting and thick carpet. It’s still male sales directors, COOs, MDs and CEOs talking to senior male editors of car magazines and newspapers about the Euros so that they’ve bonded in time for the next quarterly results briefing.

There’s zero place in these media roundtables for women from lifestyle titles to ask questions about marketing partnerships, sustainable interiors or retail environments. And meanwhile, outside, manning the entrance to these sacred spaces are slim, manicured women aged 25-35 in tight-fitting black clothes and high heels that seem to come from some Nineties “sexy-business attire” dress code that no one sane ever sanctioned, and they stand for hours at the reception desk, telling people to go away. How depressing. I wonder how many of these women get to choose what they wear, especially on their feet. I wonder how many of them are interested in the automotive industry. I wonder where the power lies at a motor show…

And now that we need to sell electric cars to people, which are proving even tricker to make people fall in love with, the demise of Geneva could well come to be seen as the day the motor industry breathed a collective sigh of relief and turned its attention to gender-neutral retail and media environments that actually do sell cars to consumers.

What beacons of light do we have in 2024 and beyond, which will serve as useful, engaging platforms for EVs?

The most obvious, from a B2C perspective, is the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Cars are everywhere in all their glory: on the move, sprinting up the hill, or on stands in Electric Avenue, open to the fresh air, where the walls shimmer with digital information, and friendly experts welcome parents, children, the nervous and the confident, up onto the plinths to take a closer look, touch and feel the cars, and have all their questions answered. 

Of course, a proper B2C EV experience should also feature test drives, and this is where we have two great events this summer and beyond: EV Live, and She’s Electric. The first takes place outdoors (there’s a theme emerging here) at Blenheim Palace on September 14 and 15, so people can bring their friends or family for the day, have a lovely drive down tree-lined avenues in something with zero tailpipe emissions, and begin to make sense of it all, in an environment that doesn’t patronise or alienate them, because it’s clear that the experts are there for the customers, and not each other. How revolutionary. 

She’s Electric takes place July 27 and 28 in Worcester and Bath and is a day of test drives, Q&As with female experts and amazing sustainable fashion brands to buy from. The location is a lovely hotel, with lunch and cream tea served, rather than a clingfilmed sweaty baguette in Geneva.

Please, Munich, Paris, LA and New York (Beijing/Shanghai show is at the beginning of its journey, but give it time): take note of Geneva’s demise, and pull the plug before the last trickle of industry credibility disappears down the drain.

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