'Car exhibitions are going through the most dramatic period of change in a generation'

With the changing car market, the government's petrol & diesel ban plus the unprecedented Coronavirus, the car exhibition industry is going through a drastic change says Mike Rutherford

This year was always going to be revolutionary for the world’s multi-trillion dollar car and battery-manufacturing businesses. After selling disappointingly few electric vehicles from 2010 to 2019, mainstream auto makers are finally embarking on their first committed, deliverable decade of EV revolution from 2020. Hallelujah! Now, and not before time, there is greater product choice, and more realistic pricing, which is essential if EVs are to become accepted by the motoring masses.

But the first quarter of this year also saw revolt in the corridors of power, where truly revolting political leaders hinted (although this is not yet confirmed) that the only new cars and vans on sale from 2032 are likely to be electric or hydrogen vehicles

And there’s a greater, wholly unexpected revolution in the air due to the Coronavirus pandemic. It has surely revolutionised the way we think about and handle cross-border travel for car people, non-car people, cars, and components (let’s have more local production, please), never mind public transport vehicles on land and sea, or in the skies. 

As if all the above isn’t enough, there’s further radical change in the car exhibition industry, which (World Wars aside) is going through its most dramatic period of change for a century or more. 

Close to home, the London Motor Show planned for May 2020 will instead “return in 2021”, its organisers have quietly told me. Meanwhile, The British Motor Show at the Farnborough Exhibition Centre will definitely go ahead from 20-23 August, its CEO Andy Entwistle assures me.

Further afield, the Bangkok, Zagreb, Beijing and Sao Paulo motor shows are now officially “postponed”, while the Moscow event is “to be confirmed” – which I suspect means it will not be. Meanwhile, the nervous folk behind the already-wobbly Detroit and Paris events, which are supposed to happen soon, seem suspiciously quiet.

Conversely, Mark Schienberg, bullish president of the New York Auto Show, has played a blinder by not following in the footsteps of Geneva, which was, at eye-watering expense, cancelled at the last minute. Instead, he tells me he’s “rescheduled” his exhibition, which was originally planned for April, and pushed it back to late August/early September – very considerately opening immediately after the British Motor Show closes. Now that’s my idea of a special relationship between the US and the UK. 

Not that the New York Show’s understandable switch is ideal for super-busy Carlos Tavares. In recent days, Portugal’s favourite son has been declared The World Car Person of the Year, and will not now travel in April to NYC, where he was set to be officially crowned. 

Instead, the Groupe PSA CEO will have to wait a little longer for his coveted gong. Like the rest of us, he’s having his international travel plans reviewed. But is this necessarily a bad thing? In the interests of reducing the spread of the virus, our carbon footprints, and spending less on costly travelling, shouldn’t more of us – Carlos included – be spending more of our valuable time working from home? It’s the future, I tell you.

Do you agree with Mike? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below...

Chief columnist

Mike was one of the founding fathers of Auto Express in 1988. He's been motoring editor on four tabloid newspapers - London Evening News, The Sun, News of the World & Daily Mirror. He was also a weekly columnist on the Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Sunday Times. 

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