Travelling across continents has its benefits. An unending supply of airline toothbrushes and toothpaste, for one. But it does get a bit much.
I have more miles in my frequent flyer account than money in my bank account. My wife finds my rare presence at home upsetting the smooth running of everyday chores. And a stewardess on a recent flight I took recognised me. That got me feeling nice. She must have me in her memory because of my good looks and charm, I thought. Apparently, she remembers me as the guy who asked for extra chocolates after every meal.
So, when I think the world automotive industry should rethink the idea of the good old motor show, it may seem like I am just trying to wriggle out of one more travel assignment. But really, the last few motor shows have been a bit like Michael Schumacher’s comeback.
Now, the Indian Auto Expo is like the kumbh mela. Instead of naked sadhus by the riverbanks, we have cars in an enclosed ground with mad people dashing through stalls and collecting brochures. With their clothes on, thankfully, so let’s not get that into the equation.
But international motor shows in my time used to be exciting. My first one – Bangkok – was around eight years ago. For the last couple of years, though, auto shows seem like everybody is simply going through the motions. All I see are the same cars with some changes in engine emissions and headlights. And the entire motor show will have one, maybe two, brand new, never-seen-before machines.
Boring people who walk with pink papers tucked under their armpits will say that’s because of the economy. I never understood the economy. But I understand two things.
One, it takes a good two years to develop even a mock-up concept. And it takes a good four to five years to develop an all-new car. So it’s cruel to expect something substantial and exciting every motor show. If you have something new in Detroit, you can’t follow up with something new in Geneva, then the UK, and Germany/France. In between there’s China, Korea, Thailand, Japan and these days, even Russia. All in one year.
So if you try to put out something fresh at each motor show, chances are you are going to end up like the 24-hour news channels. Cows falling from the sky, or an actress walking out of an airport will be breaking news.
Two, the times have changed. And this I realised when I was driving the Koenigsegg Agera. In the passenger seat was Christian Von Koenigsegg. For a guy who makes 900bhp hypercars, he is rather insightful. When we spoke about motorsports, he very matter-of-factly said it’s not really required. “In the olden days, the only way you could spread your company’s name was when you raced, and your team would be written about in newspapers and talked about all over the world. Today, with the Internet, Nurburgring lap times, the Stig’s lap times, people know how fast your cars are without the need to race them.”
Replace “motorsport” with “motor shows” and it all falls into place. Gone are the days when a motor show was the only world platform to showcase your car.
A press release and a few pictures are all you need now.
Sure, you will lament the fact that you can’t beat the sensation of seeing all those new machines in the metal under one roof. But with the Internet, and the idea of controlled ‘leaks’, more than half the world’s already seen your car before the covers come off at a motor show.
If the industry can keep tradition aside, all the world needs is one motor show per year. Alternate between countries and venues, and maybe then, the stars of the show won’t be the babes by the cars, but the cars themselves. My supply of airline dental cleaning kits will diminish. But I think I can live with that.