Five Lessons We Can Learn From The Frankfurt Motor Show's Demise

Five Lessons We Can Learn From The Frankfurt Motor Show’s Demise

Five Lessons We Can Learn From The Frankfurt Motor Show's Demise

The Frankfurt Motor Show is (for now) dead and buried. The VDA, the show’s organising body, has announced that the city will not host the show in 2021. Here’s what we can learn from its demise…

Mobility Shows, Not Car Shows

We’re going to be dangerously and controversially honest. Consumers don’t care about zero-emission vehicles and they care even less about ‘mobility solutions’. Don’t believe us? Look at their market share in any significant economy. That’s not to say this will always, or should, remain the case (there are signs it won’t be). But automakers are businesses and they need to make money. But they’re also under immense pressure from governments and supranational bodies to pursue electrification and modern, tech-savvy approaches to getting from ‘A’ to ‘B’.

It’s not surprising, then, that contemporary car shows have very little to show in the way of cars; especially when compared to the not-so-distant past. Instead, you’ll find quirky concepts, promises of a ‘green’ future and increasingly intricate and elaborate infotainment systems. Great. Innovation is wonderful stuff. But these shows were built on cars for people who like cars. Take the emphasis off of cars and, well, they don’t show up. It’s not rocket science.

Dwindling Boots On The Ground

It doesn’t matter if you’re an international car manufacturer with billions in the bank, participating in a car show is expensive. Twenty years ago, it didn’t matter. It’s where you’d get publicity, press interest and, hopefully, sales. It made economic sense. Now, however, it doesn’t; which is why so many major automakers are simply ignoring them. The fact that so few people attend the show anymore is playing a huge role in their decision-making process.

Back at the end of the 19th century, people attended World Fairs if they wanted to learn about the latest developments in technology and science. People would travel to the likes of New York from all over the world to be dazzled and amazed. Nowadays, people watch a YouTube video or conduct a cursory Google search. Only die-hard motorists and motor journalists go to car shows. These people are going to buy, or write about, cars one way or another. So they’re not much use to a manufacturer’s sales or marketing department.

Guarding The Homefront

Let’s talk about Detroit; once a jewel in the world’s motor industry. For years and years international car brands used to attend the North American International Auto Show. Why? Publicity, taking part in the spectacle and not being left out. But then they started to work something out. The media only cared about Ford. Chrysler and GM. The market share of the likes of Audi, Mercedes and BMW remained what it had always been – basically nothing. So why should they spend a fortune on a stand in a market where no one buys their cars and is unlikely to do so simply because they participated?

It doesn’t help that many car shows, including the one in Frankfurt, take place when cars aren’t usually launched; which is namely in spring. Either way, car manufactures are reluctant to spend money away from their core markets.

Marketing Is Getting Experimental

If you worked in marketing in the 80s your job was pretty straight forward. You’d stick an advertorial in a paper or magazine, film a sleek commercial for TV or whack up a few posters on a busy street. That was it. Car shows were a part of this mix. If you wanted information about upcoming cars, whether a journalist or consumer, you went to a car show; where it was a given all the major (and not so major) brands would be. Everyone got what they wanted. This is no longer the case for the aforementioned reasons.

Nowadays, things are much more complicated. If marketing used to be shotgun-like, today it’s built on the precision of a sniper rifle. You don’t just target people who need cars, you target someone who’s bought a grey SUV in the last three years and via a finance deal stretching over the course of four years. What this often means is capturing audiences outside of the industry’s stomping grounds. It’s why cars are advertised at concerts, why manufacturers sponsor charities or carry out PR-stunts like driving from Mongolia to Liverpool. In other words, things have gotten bigger than car shows; in Frankfurt or elsewhere.

People Don’t Like Auto Dealers

Does this sound mean? Tough. It’s true, which is why fewer and fewer people are visiting them. Indeed, studies and surveys have revealed that people find them intimidating, daunting and largely superfluous. Why? Because they’re aware of sales tactics and upselling, they’re also conscious of being misled or revealing a lack of knowledge. Instead, then, they’re doing things online, over the phone or by the way of an app.

Auto dealers shouldn’t be hard on themselves though. This is a general trend throughout the modern economy; it’s the economy of convenience. People want products and services at the click of a button. No fuss, no effort, just instant gratification. The problem is that, for all means and purposes, a car show is just one big gathering of auto dealers; at least from a consumer’s perspective. They face long ques to check out a car’s interior, stifling ‘test drives’ and all the information they’ll receive can be found online. So why bother?

The Bottom Line

Car shows need to demonstrate value, for car manufacturers, journalists and consumers. That’s no small feat. In fact, it may be impossible in the 21st century. The entire landscape is being transformed; has been transformed. Information has never been so readily available, with experts being replaced with search engines. Profitability is also becoming increasingly hard to achieve, at least sustainably. So it’s unsurprising that even major manufacturers are reluctant to spend large sums on stands for the sake of it.

So, with Frankfurt coming to an uneventful end, what does the future hold for car shows? If they want to survive, they need to change. They’re unlikely to ever again become the massive focal points of yesteryear. Instead, perhaps the focus should be on specific, clearly-defined areas. Shows specifically for in-car technology and electric vehicles would probably attract loyal fan bases. And whilst audiences will inevitably be smaller, they’ll be more likely to make a purchase. Combine that with the, at least likely, smaller admission fees for stall holders and you’ve got a win-win situation.

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