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Has 2020 finally killed the auto show?

Auto shows have been in dire straits around the world for some time now – by no means another COVID-19 rant. However, the 2020 pandemic and associated closures around the world are believed to have driven the final nail into the coffin of what was once an automotive staple.

I remember when news first surfaced that the Sydney Motor Show was done for good. I was really sad – not from a professional point of view, because working in auto shows is brutal as a journalist – but from a passionate point of view. Whether you live in Sydney or Melbourne, that sense of anticipation each year when the time of the auto show passed was palpable.

What would exotic manufacturers remove the covers from? What new luxury car would you see for the first time? What was a group of Holden or Ford engineers working on in secret over the past 12 months? Which manufacturer would choose Australia to make a global reveal?



A monthly subscription to your favorite automotive magazine, or the feature in the weekend newspaper, was as good as it gets before it all came to life on our computers and phones.

Pre-internet, pre-social media, these were all very real questions that could only be answered from the auto show. You’d line up, grab your ticket, and run to your booth of choice first to take a close look at the metal you had no chance of driving, of course – usually because you didn’t even have a license yet. .

It was really exciting. And it was something you have been waiting for all year. Before 2020, however, traditional auto shows were struggling.

Sydney and Melbourne were long gone, the UK had put the kibosh on theirs (after a rough and rebooted past), and Detroit had been moved later in the year, so as not to clash with CES – the Consumer Electronics Show – it was stealing from a large audience.

It wasn’t all bad news, mind you. The SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association), which takes place at the end of October in Las Vegas, has become almost as much about promoting manufacturers as it is about the aftermarket, the aforementioned CES event (also in Vegas) attracts more car manufacturers every year , and the Goodwood Festival of Speed ​​(in England) is now a default motor show for the UK as well.

To be fair, as a bettor, any of these events mentioned above are nicer than a traditional auto show, because of how they mix the aftermarket with the new. SEMA, which is not open to the public, is a monster show that features the best that manufacturers and America’s huge aftermarket can offer. It’s a puzzle, in every sense of the word.



Likewise, Goodwood, which is open to the public, is one of those unique events for anyone who loves cars. The way it comes to life, with everything from classic cars to exotic newcomers in action, is something no indoor auto show can emulate.

The reality, however, is that the days of the traditional auto show seem to be well and truly numbered. The last time Car Tips attended the LA Motor Show, it was a ghost town, moving the Detroit Show is a last ditch attempt to justify its existence, and the New York Motor Show no longer has the impact it once had.

People in the United States have a long-standing reputation for supporting live events, and if the crowds continue to drop there, it’s a tangible sign the rest of the world will need to heed.

In Europe, soaring costs put real pressure on the Geneva Motor Show, while the alternation of the Paris and Frankfurt shows was shaken by the drop in attendance, and the public’s interest in the Frankfurt Motor Show. specifically. As such, it has been deleted, with Munich beating Hamburg and Berlin as a new venue for 2021.

Still, it seems that moving from city to city is a last minute effort. It must be said, however, that Munich is a much prettier city to visit than Frankfurt, so this is a positive point for international visitors.

Much of the blame must be blamed on the various – and seemingly endless – leaks that occur long before the doors to the auto show have even opened. That and the fact that these leaks can be stuck all over the World Wide Web in a matter of minutes.



Before the internet, there was no real way to see anything in a meaningful way until physically arriving at the auto show. Now you can do it from your desk at work, your living room at home or on the train on your way home from work. High-resolution imagery and video bring the new metal to life. And, while it’s not quite the same as seeing it in the flesh, it’s enough to keep people away from the turnstiles.

Whether the auto show survives and in what form is something 2021 will help illuminate, but 2022 will be the real litmus test if travel becomes easier again. All the signs seem to indicate that they won’t survive or that they will look very different.

Manufacturers could control the “leaks” that are starting to occur. It would be one thing. It would be the same for the return of the public with compelling reasons. If this was truly the first time that a series of interesting cars had been unveiled, a motor show would be worth attending in the flesh. As they were in the good old days.

The incredible cost of attending an event – for manufacturers, I mean – makes it easy for them to turn down an event when attendance starts to drop. This is a factor that has undoubtedly contributed to the demise of our local auto shows. Rumors that a booth would cost well over a million dollars to set up partly explain the huge tax on a manufacturer.

I don’t know if you liked the auto shows as much as I did, but I would like to see them as they were again. It was a vital part of the education of the next generation of car-mad young people, who would support the industry for decades to come.

Trent Nikolic

Trent Nikolic has been test driving and writing about cars for almost 20 years. He has been with CarAdvice / Drive since 2014 and was Automotive Editor-in-Chief at NRMA, Overlander 4WD Magazine, Hot4s and Auto Salon Magazine.

Learn more about Trent Nikolic

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