Matt Prior The short of it is that ex­hibitors will turn up to events if they think they’ll sell cars at them

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Those want­ing to dis­play a ve­hi­cle at the world’s first in­ter­na­tional mo­tor show, the Au­to­mo­bile Club de France’s Ex­po­si­tion In­ter­na­tionale d’au­to­mo­bile of 1898, held on the ter­race of the Jardin des Tui­leries in Paris, first had to drive the car from Paris to Ver­sailles and back in the pres­ence of an ACF of­fi­cial. To “avoid the pre­sen­ta­tion of au­to­mo­biles which would only carry the name, and not the qual­i­ties”.

It’s hard to imag­ine that, last week, as the world’s old­est mo­tor show hit its 120th an­niver­sary, or­gan­is­ers of what is to­day called the Mon­dial de l’auto would have made any­thing like the same de­mands of ex­hibitors. Or any de­mands at all. Please, just come. The door’s open.

The show’s prob­lem isn’t de­clin­ing vis­i­tor num­bers. At least, not yet, though it’ll be in­ter­est­ing to see how many came this year. But in 2016, or­gan­is­ers say a mil­lion vis­i­tors walked through the show’s doors, mak­ing the bi­en­nial ex­hi­bi­tion the most vis­ited mo­tor show in the world.

There is, though, an is­sue with no-shows from man­u­fac­tur­ers. That Ford, Opel, FCA, Volk­swa­gen and oth­ers didn’t think there was enough in it to turn up to Paris sug­gests big mo­tor shows are in a down­ward tra­jec­tory. The Detroit mo­tor show, once a show so im­por­tant that cor­re­spon­dents and ex­ec­u­tives would see in the new year while trav­el­ling to it, has had to move to June in 2020 in search of a new im­pe­tus.

The short of it is that ex­hibitors will turn up to events if they think they’ll sell cars at them. Some­one in Volvo’s UK man­age­ment once told me – prob­a­bly 15 years ago – that coun­try fairs were bet­ter for sell­ing cars than tra­di­tional mo­tor shows, be­cause they gave Volvo the chance to put rel­e­vant metal be­fore the right kind of peo­ple.

And there are more rel­e­vant ex­hi­bi­tions than big, bland, stuffy show halls: the SEMA Show, Good­woods var­i­ous, the Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show, or about a gazil­lion Con­cours des Pan­talons Rouges.

If peo­ple want to stay away from some of those, though – and given the cost and time it takes to get there, I wouldn’t blame them – they don’t even need a real lo­ca­tion to see cars up close, be­cause car mak­ers will gladly elec­tron­i­cally visit their lap. And they can do that with­out the help of tra­di­tional me­dia. They’ve got the money and time to make bet­ter­look­ing videos and pre­sen­ta­tions than ed­i­to­rial broad­cast­ers. And, cru­cially, in do­ing so they can present a po­ten­tial cus­tomer only the in­for­ma­tion they choose.

And so car mak­ers have the op­tion: spend half a mil­lion pounds or more cre­at­ing a show stand and crew­ing it for weeks, pre­sent­ing a car to the (mostly lo­cal) sev­eral hun­dred thou­sand peo­ple who come through the door, who have an in­ter­est in cars, but not ne­c­es­sar­ily that par­tic­u­lar one. Mean­while, an in­de­pen­dent me­dia presents said car (on dis­play, stat­i­cally, be­neath blind­ing lights and sit­ting on lino or tiles or car­pet – a sit­u­a­tion it’ll never be in in real life) how­ever it chooses; al­most cer­tainly men­tioned along­side its ri­vals.

Or man­u­fac­tur­ers spend less money cre­at­ing some­thing slicker, pre­cisely to their choos­ing, to reach the eyes and ears of many mil­lions, tar­get­ing the right peo­ple, who don’t have to so much as get off the sofa.

Less ef­fort; more po­ten­tial re­ward. And they still don’t have to drive to Ver­sailles and back.

Paris hosted the first in­ter­na­tional mo­tor show in 1898

The best way to show­case new cars?

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