Analysis: Is Geneva’s cancellation the end of the motor show?

The Geneva motor show, traditionally one of the car industry’s biggest annual events, will not take place next year – and will be sold by organisers in a bid to secure its long-term future. The decision casts fresh doubts over the long-term viability of all motor shows.

This year’s event was scrapped days before the doors were due to open in March as the coronavirus pandemic began to spread rapidly throughout Europe, leaving the Foundation of the Geneva International Motor Show (FGIMS) facing a major financial shortfall. It also upset many manufacturers, which had already paid for their stands and were in the final stages of assembling them.

FGIMS said the decision to axe next year’s event was taken after most exhibitors said they probably wouldn’t take part and would prefer that the show’s return be delayed until 2022.

“The automotive sector is currently going through a difficult phase, and exhibitors need time to recover from the effects of the pandemic,” the organisers added.

They said they were uncertain whether an event on the scale of Geneva, which traditionally attracts more than 600,000 visitors, could take place while the pandemic continues.

The FGIMS had been in talks with the state of Geneva over a 16.8 million Swiss franc (£14.1m) loan to bolster the event but, with the loan being contingent on an event running in 2021, it has now been declined. Instead, FGIMS intends to sell the motor show to Palexpo SA, the exhibition centre in which it is held, in a bid to secure its future. Palexpo is considering some form of car show for next year as a temporary replacement.

How Covid-19 has accelerated the decline of shows

Lockdowns and subsequent social distancing rules have led to the cancellation of virtually all large-scale events. As well as Geneva, the Paris, New York and Detroit shows that were due to be held this year have all been axed, while Beijing – originally scheduled for April – has been delayed until October. The Goodwood Festival of Speed, which effectively serves as the UK’s motor show, has also been canned.

While many of those decisions have been driven by restrictions and measures to tackle Covid-19, the financial impact of the pandemic has also played a key part, with badly hit car firms unwilling to commit large sums to creating show stands.

With travel restrictions in place, several firms are launching cars through online events, which still offer a substantial reach but at a greatly reduced cost. Such events can also be scheduled to maximise publicity, as opposed to competing with other manufacturers at a show.



Matt Prior – Pagani Zonda (1999)

It’s 1999 and only my second Geneva motor show. As a junior in a pre-digital era, I’ve been told to collect press kits; I’ve even got a trolley to carry them. It’s largely a trudge, but there’s rare cool metal to see, too. In a corner, there’s a new supercar. I’ve read that many such cars are no-hopers: poorly engineered and unlikely to take on the establishment. But even my novice eye can tell that this one, engine cover open, looks different. There’s real integrity and it’s beautifully finished. As well it might be; it’s the Pagani Zonda.