Dead man walking - Why Geneva must learn to run again
You would not tell at first sight, with thousands of journalists, photographers and cameramen crawling in and around nicely filled booths, but looks are deceiving. If brands like Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo, Opel and Mini decline their Genevan invitation, it can only mean that GIMS as we know it is clinically dead.
Like the IAA in Frankfurt and the Mondial de l’Automobile in Paris, the Geneva International Motor Show (GIMS) is an institute that struggles to justify its raison d’être. For car manufacturers there are less expensive – and arguably more exclusive and effective – ways of presenting new vehicles.
Will old-school motor shows survive? Will it still be worth the effort to travel all the way to Geneva next year if there are even more manufacturers that reply negatively to the motor show’s RSVP? To be on the safe side, we would recommend booking your tickets for this year’s edition now and immerse yourself one more time in the automotive glamour before it’s too late.
The 2019 Geneva motor show is worth your visit because you still get a taste of what is cooking in the OEMs’ kitchens as they transform from carmakers to mobility providers. The new strategic relations that are being forged make for lively discussions amongst the different stakeholders – from leasing companies and fleet owners to suppliers and media. That alone was reason enough for Fleet Europe not to miss out on GIMS this year.
Three phenomena make the 2019 GIMS different from the previous editions. First, the ‘lesser gods’ – brands that usually have a smaller booth, like Mazda and Subaru – now have room to display all their cars and then some, taking up the space that would otherwise be left empty by the no-showers.
Secondly, there is a flagrant lack of visionary mobility concepts. No VTOL (Vertical Take-off and Landing) prototypes like the one presented by Airbus and Italdesign two years ago, no self-driving shuttles appearing on stage; it is all very down-to-earth this year. Have we reached the point in the innovation curve where after the initial buzz, things slow down before they really take off?
Thirdly, OEMs are reconsidering how they treat each other and how to communicate in a world that evolves towards MaaS (mobility as a service). Central in this evolution will be the autonomous, electric and connected cars.
As a case in point, arch rivals BMW and Mercedes suddenly seem BFFs with their booths literally flowing over in one another and a giant display highlighting the new-found friendship between the two. It is somehow alienating to see images of classic BMWs being projected on the videowall behind the big Mercedes booth, showing that both brands respect each other’s heritage and jointly look at the future.
Stuttgart and München will be working together on mobility services and autonomous driving, to be precise. Not because they really like each other, but out of necessity – they must scale up and take a joint R&D approach to spread the costs and accelerate the roll-out. That’s the only way to beat the non-automotive competition (Waymo, Uber, Didi, Lyft, and so on) and direct rivals. Recently Ford and VW also announced an industrial partnership, one that stretches far beyond self-driving technology.
Talking about VW: the German brand said in Geneva it would be sharing its modular electric platform with whomever wants to use it, with the goal of scaling up production and driving down costs. That could help out FCA, which has a lot of catching up to do. Still, rumour has it the Italian group is in talks with PSA, which launched the electric Peugeot 208 in Geneva (see below).
The Geneva Motor Show needs to reinvent itself. Fortunately, the organisers are fully aware of that. They are looking at ways to safeguard GIMS’ position as a must-attend yearly event.
There are several areas in which GIMS can bring added value in the future. One is experientiality – letting the public live an extraordinary experience they cannot find anywhere else. Think along the lines of tests with autonomous or VTOL vehicles, a seamless MaaS experience in the city of Geneva, and so on.
Another one is cross-disciplinarity. Geneva could become the platform where experts in different disciplines – from AI to cloud computing and biometrics – meet to exchange, debate and show which synergies can be leveraged. A bit like CES in Las Vegas and the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, really.