Was it just me or was the seventh edition of the Philippine International Motor Show held from October 24 to 28 a bit underwhelming? Was I just jaded or did the biennial automotive event have a generally soporific effect? Was I just under the weather on opening day or was the main exhibition hall a little too dull?
If I were to rate the show in just one word, I’d say it was tired (dead tired if you want two).
I missed the ribbon-cutting ceremony, but I expected to walk into a heart-thumping gathering of the biggest car companies in the market. This, after all, was organized by the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines, Inc. (CAMPI), the largest industry organization whose members include Toyota, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Honda, Mazda, Isuzu, and Suzuki, among others. The most popular Japanese brands in the country, in other words.
And so I don’t think I was being naive by looking forward to a grand celebration of automobiles. Add to this the fact that PIMS is held just once every other year, and you have no choice but to forgive me for assuming the World Trade Center would throb with palpable excitement.
I was wrong.
The moment I walked past the security personnel manning the entrance, I immediately sensed a lack of electricity in the air. Never mind the obvious shortage of visitors relative to the previous editions (or indeed relative to the Manila International Auto Show, or MIAS). When walking around a car show, I actually prefer a sparse crowd to a jam-packed room. From a visitor’s perspective, I like the feeling of spaciousness versus that of suffocation. If MIAS were SM City, PIMS would be Estancia. And my kind of mall is the latter, not the former.
So when I give this year’s PIMS a less-than-satisfactory grade, I’m not referring to the attendance (although a few industry executives did admit to me that PIMS 2018 was truly unexceptional on the basis of turnout alone). When I say the show felt (and looked) tired, I mean exactly that. It seemed like a chore on the part of the car brands. It struck me as an every-other-year obligation among the CAMPI distributors — something that had to be done as opposed to something they wanted to do.
During lunch, I heard more than one person note that the mood was kind of down, and that perhaps it was because industry sales were down. But see, this is exactly why the automakers needed to put on a show — to throw a party so euphoric that people would never even suspect there was something wrong with the market. Save for a couple of brands — the very ones that are performing particularly well sales-wise this year — the average booth vibe was tepid.
Sure, there were some concept cars and a handful of modestly modified vehicles, but the whole place appeared to be nothing more than an assembly of dealers at a regular selling event. The show’s most popular car — the new Suzuki Jimny — provided some amusement. The Nissan Navara Warrior X was a conversation piece. Pocholo Ramirez’s Mazda Miata probably appealed to the sentimental. Beyond them and the curious-looking concept cars from Toyota and Mitsubishi, there was nothing much to see, really. Even the area for aftermarket parts and affiliate products looked thin. I’m not sure if the visitors walked away feeling like they got their money’s worth.
I think I know why MIAS trumps PIMS in terms of fun factor and entertainment value every single time. MIAS is organized by car-loving businessmen who will move heaven and earth to satisfy their customers (so these customers will come back year after year). PIMS, on the other hand, is organized by an industry association that is simply tasked to stage it because it has to. And it shows.
Unsolicited, humble advice? For the eighth edition in 2020, hand over the logistics and the promotion to individuals who understand what car fans want to see in a motor show. Maybe the electricity will come back.