Crowds unlikley to raise roof at Paris car show as internet takes wheel

In 2014, no fewer than 1.25 million people filled the Paris Motor Show floor to ogle the latest from Bugatti, BMW, Maserati and Mercedes-Benz during the first week in October. The biennial show was the industry’s most populated event that year.

If those people return, they may be disappointed.

While there will be an array of eye-popping concept vehicles on show this year such as Renualt’s stunning Trezor, fewer marques than ever in modern times will devote the time and considerable expense to attend this weekend’s Parisian debuts. To them, in an era when social media and live video feeds disseminate new-car images and information instantaneously worldwide, it just is not worth it. And for ultra-luxury brands, their best buyers never really frequented car shows anyway.

“At the moment we are revising our strategy at international motor shows, considering the positioning of our brand and the market in which we operate,” said Stefano Domenicali, the chief executive of Lamborghini. “We are choosing thoroughly how to present ourselves to clients, media, and enthusiasts, including the choice of the right locations [where] we want to be.”

Stephanie Brinley, an senior automotive analyst for IHS Markit research firm, said it is a question of fluctuating priorities and timing. The strategy started during the recession when some car makers missed shows to save money and face, if they did not have much to unveil, because the market was in turmoil. Since then, the internet and social media have created fundamental changes in the way people consume news and content related to their hobbies, which means that the once-temporary trend has continued.

“Automakers are beginning to weigh presence at auto shows differently,” Ms Brinley said. “If they do not have big news, they may choose not to spend the effort to hold a press conference simply to be there. If they have big news that they think might be overshadowed by someone bigger, sometimes doing something at a different time may get more media attention.”

That does not mean that there will be nothing to see in Paris next week; the consensus this year is that the most hype will surround green energy sources, especially those that will allow consumers to keep their habit of buying 4x4s.

“Crossovers and vehicle electrification are again expected to be key reveals at the event,” said Ian Fletcher, the principal analyst for IHS Markit. “The key trends are being determined by a combination of consumer demand in terms of the number of crossovers being revealed and legislative emissions factors, through a focus on electrification.”

To wit: BMW will show its X2 concept 4×4 that is expected to go into full production late next year.

Mercedes will an EV concept the car maker calls “a concrete vision of a totally new generation of vehicles with battery-electric drive”. Daimler’s Smart brand will reveal the electric drive variants of its ForTwo and ForFour models.

German counterparts Porsche will come with a Panamera hybrid variant, while Audi will have an A5 Sportback, S5 Sportback, the high-performance RS variant of the TT, and a Q5 4×4 to introduce.

Tesla, too, will capitalise on the need for green speed, showing P100D editions of its Model X and Model S for European markets. Lexus will show the UX 4×4 concept, which is expected to have 3D driving and hologram components that would be novel for the Toyota-owned brand.

As one of the few high-end brands to show, Ferrari is sure to hog a lot of the spotlight with its new LaFerrari Aperta and GTC4 Lusso slated for the stand.

But such big luxury brands as Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin, Maserati, Cadillac, McLaren,Fisker, Genesis, Lamborghini and Bugatti are skipping the show altogether. That is in addition to mass brands such as Ford, Mazda and Volvo, among others, that will not attend. Instead, they are doing small consumer and VIP press events in intimate, exclusive and exotic locales.

“For Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, it’s all about engaging our clients on their terms and locations,” said Fintan Knight, the global director of sales and marketing for Rolls-Royce. “We are increasingly engaging our clients and prospective clients in exclusive encounters in places where they live and play, like Porto Cervo, Ibiza and Pebble Beach. While at times global motor shows and the pageantry that surrounds them may be the proper venue, the 2016 Paris Motor Show is not in our plans.”

Those new methods utilise social media and internet channels to achieve the same effect that car shows used to provide for big debuts. Plus, car makers unveil their models months before the public event at parties such as those at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

It begs the question of whether car shows, which require millions of dollars and months to plan, are even worth attending at all, ever.

Most insiders say it is not quite to that level yet. But things do seem to be heading that direction.

“Auto shows will remain relevant, they are just no longer the only choice and may not always be the best choice, depending on what the automaker is looking to communicate,” Ms Brinley said. “I believe we will increasingly see car makers come in and out, be there in years when it makes sense and sit out other years.”

Mr Domenicali agrees.

“The world is continuously changing,” he said. “Lamborghini as a visionary brand of luxury supersports cars, operating internationally in a niche market, intends to anticipate these changes.”

Even if that means skipping a car show every now and then.

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