At the moment when, at last, electric cars with sufficient driving range to be the sole household car become reality and when the most relevant world premieres of a motor show are moved by batteries we also found other signs of the new era we are entering. Instead of billionaire investments in square meters on the show floors of the world´s most important car exhibitions on the side lines of Geneva 2018 several brands were discussing if it would not make more sense to organize their own "home" fairs to show media the new projects and latest technology developments with no distraction from rival manufacturers coming from the surroundings. Something that is not new for apple and Tesla, just to name a few...

In the last 113 years which separate the first Geneva Motor Show (in 1905) and the March 2018 edition not many conceptual changes exist between the two events: cars on display at each brand´s stand, executives announcements in the midst of some product world premieres, members of the press covering the event for the general public and then many private visitors in the following days. And that regardless of the fact that the cars from yesteryears have little more in common than the four wheels with those that are exhibited today...

In not so distant times, in Detroit, countless cattle heads escorted a new Jeep to the entrance of the show, famous pop starts would perform in front of a newly unveiled car and many new vehicles would surprise the audience in its very first appearance in front of the agitated media flashes. But in the last decade, at least, you can use just one hand to count the number of cars that are actually premiered on site at the car show and in some cases the brand even decided to show the media a new product on the eve of the fair, in a near-by location, but then refrained from taking it under the watt bathing at the auto show itself the following day (as it was the case with Mercedes-Benz last year in Detroit... a show that the company will most likely skip in January 2019. An unprecedented absence which will undoubtedly affect the US motor capital annual car exhibition.

The cumulative effect of the inflation of the square meter prices of the world´s most important auto shows and of the burst of new promotional channels of the modern times is shifting mentalities. Brands are rethinking their marketing investments and we have started to notice that relevant companies simply skipped the shows unless they had no important news to spread or, in some cases, where the territory was not exactly "friendly". At the IAA in Frankfurt, some six months ago, more than 10 well-established brands missed the show and I know that Volkswagen will not be, for the first time, at the Paris auto show this coming Fall. Here in Geneva the situation was a little different, being the most "neutral" car exhibition of the year, with a more equidistant appeal to all brands (Opel pulled out for budget priority issues, Infiniti, Cadillac and Chevrolet are brands with residual or no presence in Europe). But be it 2 to 5 million tag price for a small to medium stand or the 50 million that the Audi Agora megalomaniac pavilion in Frankfurt cost, there is a growing trend for car manufacturers to doubt if this is the best investment to promote their cars. And even when the answer to that question is yes, there seems to be more rational criteria applied (for instance, Volvo and Nissan only show up in one show per continent per year, other brands started to opt out when they have no world première to showcase, etc).

Today we see that many new cars have their baptism in totally different stages as a way to avoid sharing the audience´s attention with rival brands/products. And a new kind of motor show may be on the pipeline: home ground events organized by consortiums to publicize the various novelties of their several brands with the media representatives, while focusing marketing activities on audiences that clearly differ from the motoring journalist.

Otherwise Geneva 2018 was a breath of fresh air in several aspects and one of them was the fact that no parallel discussion panels were organized to discuss future Mobility/Connectivity: hurrah for that because after Los Angeles 2017, CES 2018 and Detroit 2018 I have to admit that it was becoming somewhat boring. On the other hand, this Swiss stage is still a favourite for sports cars world premieres: aside from the Ferrari 488 Pista, the McLaren Senna and other no less impressive specimens signed by small independent manufacturers or car studios as is normal here in Geneva (some of which with electric propulsion) we even witnessed the birth of two new brands, Polestar from Volvo and Cupra from SEAT, fuelling the passion for driving and for emotions behind the wheel, as they will be around for longer than some are anticipating, regardless of its combustion or electric motion. Electric, yes, the great common denominator of the industry these days, gained solid ground with the commercial launch of the Jaguar i-Pace nothing less than the first battery-powered car with a close to 500 km driving range to reach the market produced by an "old school industry" company (i.e., without a Tesla logo...).

Increasingly polarizing is the way diesel engine technology is seen today, following the VW scandal and the sales drop of almost 20% in Europe in 2017. The Japanese will end diesel engine sales (Toyota, Honda, Subaru) and Volvo has also said it will not develop a new generation of oil burners, but German manufacturers believe that "diesel is the solution, not the problem", as stated by the VW Group CEO, Herbert Diess , who illustrated his words with statistics ("90 cities with pollution levels above what is understood as "quality air" in 2014, which have decreased to 70 in 2017 and are likely to shrink to 20 by 2020) that show that the air quality in German cities has been improving for several years. The same cities that are now authorized to ban diesel engines circulating in their streets whenever they want (up to Euro4, or engines prior to 2006). Mercedes-Benz thinks the same and even went against the tide by showing a new plug-in hybrid diesel engine, a species that was thought to be extinct after the timid and ephemeral experience from the PSA Group at the beginning of this decade.

The final two themes that made most of the industry talks at this year´s show were very political. On the one hand, the purchase of almost 10% of Daimler shares by Li Shifu (CEO of the Chinese Geely) raises several questions about how peaceful the coexistence might be between someone who has a seat in the Volvo administration (owned by Geely) and an important power in Mercedes-Benz two companies that in addition to direct competitors in passenger cars are equally serious rivals in the trucks business (Geely owns part of AB Volvo and Daimler has a strong heavy vehicle line-up). And I don´t even have to mention the increasing ties between Mercedes-Benz and BAIC, the Chinese auto manufacturer which is Geely public enemy... The most prominent Western Executives involved have been put in an awkward position but already declared that they have no interest in sharing their core technology with competing manufacturers, but neither of them should be hostile to the Chinese tycoon with dominant positions in their companies´ shareholders structure.

And, finally, President Trump's tweet threatening the European Union that he will increase taxes on European cars sold in the United States as a retaliation to the negative EU reaction

to the new tariffs he proposed on imported steel (25%) and aluminium (10%). The most powerful ruler in the world says that the US only imposes a 2.5% tax on imported European cars, while the EU applies a 10% tariff on US vehicles and that this lack of balance is not tolerable. But, of course, he "forgets" that in the case of commercial vehicles or pick-ups the US charges 25% to EU products and that in the case of some clothing brands the tax even reaches 40%. Come what may, and as from the brain of the North American President you may always expect the unexpected, several Europe and Korean car manufacturers are already re-evaluating their production projects in North American territory (in the case of PSA this may even jeopardize Peugeot planned return to the US market) which, of course, generate employment and wealth for the world´s number 1 economy.

Joaquim Oliveira

Joaquim Oliveira

European Car of the Year Jury Member

May 1, 2018 Columns › Joaquim Oliveira photo: Joaquim Oliviera

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