The first international motor show I ever attended was the 1997 Tokyo Motor Show (TMS) — yes, more than two decades ago, if you’re fond of math. Let’s just say I caught the auto-show scene right at the start of the digital revolution. There was already Internet at the time — there was also e-mail — but the motoring press still preferred to cover the car show the old-fashioned way (read: with the help of analog cameras and bulky press kits). In fact, the TMS organizers even offered free courier service so international journalists could send dozens of their press materials back home.
At the time, on the first of two press days, the venue was packed to the brim with editors and writers and photographers from all over the world. Because then, these media practitioners were the messengers of exciting news (and glossy images) to car fans around the planet. If a petrolhead in Manila wanted to see the latest metal from the Japanese automakers, he had to buy his favorite car magazine or — if he’s parsimonious — check out the motoring section of the household newspaper. Like I said, there was already Internet at the time. But as the data bandwidth then was pathetically inadequate, Web sites looked basic and their photos appeared borderline grainy by today’s standards.
As the Internet progressed and the kind of media that could be served to audiences improved by leaps and bounds, so did our coverage of the motor shows. Press packs gave way to CDs; CDs gave way to thumb drives; thumb drives gave way to just Web site links. Companies soon realized that they could play a much bigger role in the narrative if they simply provided the articles, the photographs and the videos.
And so the so-called “media sites” grew in prominence. Even non-journalists can now access these sites if they’re crafty and imaginative. Once inside these sites, an amateur blogger has access to a buffet of content that looks more polished than anything the professional news producers can come up with. The weirdest thing about all of this? It’s the fact that a potbellied troll is now able to broadcast a freshly unveiled automobile on social media at exactly the same time as the mainstream media outlets. It is not uncommon these days to see the world’s leading motoring media titles getting “scooped” by small, independent bloggers when it comes to car launches — to think that the former have representatives on the show floor, and the latter just sit lazily at home (while probably also watching porn on one of the browser tabs). I’ve certainly seen this happen to me a couple of times (as a member of the first group, if you must ask).
The question among journalists: Is it still worth personally covering car shows in faraway places when everything is available online anyway?
The question among car brands: Is it still worth spending millions on car shows when more and more people are just happy to browse photos and watch videos online?
Let’s take the once-mighty Detroit Auto Show, for instance. This year, the leading European brands have already signified their intent to skip the event in 2019. Car makers like Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Jaguar, Land Rover, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz, Mini, Porsche, and Volvo have all apparently decided that the leading motor show in the United States is no longer worth participating in. And who can blame them? Their customers no longer make their purchase decision at these events — they do so in front of a laptop or while holding a smartphone. And with such social media platforms as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram now allowing car brands to reach out directly to their target market, the logic behind auto shows is getting harder and harder to defend during budget meetings.
So, is the car show dead?
Not really. I think the smaller, market-specific ones will continue to thrive. The biennial Philippine International Motor Show (PIMS) that’s happening on Oct. 24-28 at World Trade Center is an example. With this year’s edition adopting the theme “Future Mobility,” PIMS aims to show the Filipino motoring public some of the latest automotive technologies on offer today. And because seeing shiny new cars in the metal is still a lot more fun than scrolling through a Web page, I expect throngs of visitors to flock to the venue. After all, our car market is still at the point where people marvel at premium vehicles.
What is clearly in the throes of death is the international motor show, which requires a round-trip plane ticket in order for fans to experience it. The local or domestic car show, on the other hand, still has a lot of good mileage in it. I know I’ll drive 10 kilometers and pay P100 to see sleek wheels. I hope you will, too.