Why are There Still Car Shows?

Shanghai Auto Show

The marketing “world” today is significantly different than that of 40 years ago, but motors shows today are remarkably similar to those of the 1960’s. As the Shanghai Motor Show of a few days ago came to a close, it occurred to me that car shows in general seem to have lost much of their original purpose, or at the very least have not adapted to the new technologies available today, namely the internet.

Firstly, given the ease with which the cars are frequently discovered before they even make it to the show, the main purpose of showing off vehicles which the public has never seen before doesn’t seem to make sense. Take the new BMW X4 – virtually no one was surprised at the design, because it was available on the internet long before the show. Secondly, the argument that the purpose of the shows is to get as much exposure as possible for new vehicles also seems to fail, because the companies could just as easily provide images of the cars (which is what the vast majority of people see anyway, given that most people are not able to attend these shows) via the internet.

Perhaps one could make the argument that the sense of festivity associated with these shows creates publicity that would otherwise not exist, but given the high costs associated with auto shows, that argument doesn’t quite seem to hold water. It seems to me that the PR departments associated with these shows will find ways to show off their vehicles significantly more cheaply via the internet. Unless there is a big piece of the puzzle that I am missing, it seems likely that motor shows will at the very least be scaled down significantly.

1 comment to Why are There Still Car Shows?

  • I think that’s an empirical question. How many people visit? – I think the big January show in Detroit attracts over 100,000. People like to kick tires, and an auto show beats schlepping from dealership to dealership, or may be a prelude to that.

    Then there’s the advantage of having lots of journalists in the same place at the same time, you can get more people to your product announcement than if you did it independently. They’re all filing stories, lots of newspapers and other outlets highlight the shows and carry reviews.

    Are shows crucial to car nuts? No. Yet … webcams of the Detroit and other shows mean attendance is understated. Hoopla helps, and is expensive to generate on your own. So as an economist, let’s call this a positive externality.

    That said, some auto shows have fallen by the wayside. If nothing else, journalists such as those at Automotive News can attend only so many events, and when the Society of Automotive Engineers conflicts with an auto show, well, something may have to give.

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