Permission to be left feeling a little underwhelmed by the opening day of the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show? Or, to provide a suitable subtext, motor shows aren’t what they used to be.
If you’re as old as me, you’ll remember a time when an international motor show was the highlight of the motoring calendar: a first chance to see the freshest metal and the most outlandish concept cars.
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There was a frisson of excitement at the sight of a suited and booted William Woollard introducing Top Gear from the floor in Geneva, Paris or Frankfurt, before handing over to Chris Goffey, Sue Baker or a denim-enriched Clarkson for a run-through of the new cars on display.
Better still, a ‘home’ motor show would warrant an hour-long special on BBC2, presented by Noel Tidybeard, often accompanied by a presenter not commonly associated with the motoring scene. In 1989, Janet Ellis did her best to sound enthralled by the prospect of the Rover 200, but you knew she’d have preferred to be back in the Blue Peter garden, tending to her hardy perennials.
Motor shows were glamorous affairs, and a broadcast ‘live’ from a press day was like peering behind the curtain of a world off-limits to the great unwashed. Back then, if your name wasn’t down, you weren’t coming in. No industry ‘spies’ or influencers back then.
And the thrill of a motor show wasn’t the preserve of television. The motoring weeklies would run a bumper special edition, while the monthlies would fill the front half of the mag with the big hitters and latest concepts.
Today, the majority of new cars ‘unveiled’ at a motor show have been teased more times than Ken Dodd’s tickling stick, while others are revealed in full at a separate event. It takes a brave carmaker not to adopt a Dita Von Teese stance ahead of an international motor show.
You can understand the temptation to go full frontal with the latest metal: both the Porsche 911 GT3 Touring Package and BMW X7 were ‘leaked’ before the opening press day. In the case of the latter, the leak did more harm than good: folk are still recovering from giving their eyes a dose of bleach.
But the rewards are there if the carmaker decides to blend old-school PR with new-age digital media. Take the Honda Urban EV Concept, which was treated to such a low-key build-up, it’s little wonder it didn’t turn up on a deck chair, snoozing beneath Tuesday’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Did this have a negative impact on the amount of coverage devoted to Honda’s Back to the Future electric car? Did it heck. Somebody with their finger on the social media pulse might tell me otherwise, but anecdotal evidence would suggest that the Urban EV generated as much buzz as the Project One.
And what does the Mercedes-AMG hypercar have in common with the retro-inspired Honda, aside from their crystal ball ability to provide a tantalising glimpse of an electrified future? Neither car was revealed in full before arriving in Frankfurt.
A motor show’s cause isn’t helped when some high profile names send their apologies. Volvo, Alfa Romeo, Peugeot, Mitsubishi, Aston Martin, Nissan, Fiat, Peugeot, Jeep and Mitsubishi: just some of the names conspicuous by their absence.
And with the likes of Audi and Ford holding their own self-congratulatory summits, the writing could be on the wall for the traditional motor show. Why fight for space when you can take control of the list of attendees and, to some degree, the output?
A few days earlier, in a canny PR move, TVR piggybacked the Goodwood Revival to launch the Griffith, saving money while avoiding the risk of being lost in the Frankfurt noise. That said, the press shots were the worst since MG Motor pointed an Instamatic camera at the MG6.
Goodwood has become a second home for carmakers, with the Festival of Speed a prime example of a motor show for a new generation. For all the bright lights, polished floors and soft furnishings, a motor show is still a collection of cars in a soulless exhibition hall. Even the insistence of using smiling models smacks of a concept lost in time.
OK, I admit, I’m the one who is lost in time, yearning for a return to the days of Motorfair, Janet Ellis describing fluid couplings, and Jezza’s majestic Afro. I like my motor shows filled with names like Citroen ZX, Ford Escort, Peugeot 405 and Renault 19.
Don’t mind me, I’ll be spending the rest of my days trawling old videos of Top Gear on YouTube, muttering things about the good old days while chewing on Werther’s Originals. #oldgit