The Paris Motor Show*, officially known as Mondial de l’Automobile, is shrinking.
Incredibly, it is shrinking – and has continued to do so the past decade – while attendance is growing.
This counter-intuitive disconnect is happening because an increasing number of automakers are skipping the 2016 show, for a variety of reasons; chief among them a widening belief among many that auto shows, per se, don’t deliver adequate bang for the corporate bucks. (Auto show displays can be expensive propositions; Audi reputedly spent over $11 million for one particularly over-the-top temporary construct a couple of years back.)
But try telling that to the general public, which continues to buy ever-pricier tickets for the show in eye-popping numbers.
This is not a new phenomenon: I opined about this subject the last time the show was held in 2014.
Organizers of this year’s Paris show, open to the public October 1-16, tout it as the world’s best-attended show, with record attendance of more than 1.25 million in 2014. That was a fractional increase over 1.23 million two years earlier (the show is held every two years).
In 2014, among those automakers who had displays at the 2012 Paris show, McLaren, Chrysler, Chevrolet, Dodge, Exagon, Hemera, Tata, Saab/Spyker and Weismann did not return. Most of those, like Chrysler/Dodge, Tata and Chevrolet, were retreating from the European market. Others, like Saab and Weisman, went out of business. Exagon and Hemera seem to have vanished.
This year the missing include key players, like Ford. A mainstay at this show almost since its inception 118 years ago, Ford now thinks it can better reach prospective European buyers by hosting one-on-one clinics; indeed, Ford is conducting customer ride-and-drives across France even while the show is going on.
Volkswagen Group is trying to save some money by leaving two of its brands, Bentley and Lamborghini, at home. Group Night, VW’s lavish pre-show party, was also cancelled. Some belt-tightening was to be expected, however, after the financial catastrophe around its still-unfolding emissions-cheating scandal.
British carmakers had, until recent years, looked upon Paris as the next best show to display at, after the demise of its own British Motor Show a few years back. But Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin and McLaren join Bentley on the sidelines this year.
With its Chinese ownership, Volvo had been the closest thing to a representative of that country’s burgeoning auto industry at Paris. But Volvo is also among the missing this year.
Organizers are quick add that there will still be many hundreds of new cars on display; dozens of world premieres for new production cars, design concepts and prototypes are scheduled for the press preview September 29-30.
Although exact figures are hard to come by, the amount of square footage taken up by exhibit space for the show seems to have dropped from a high of 1.7 million to less than half of that this time. Exhibits will be limited to five of Paris Expo’s eight halls (one hall contains exhibits of famous movie cars this year).
Despite all this, organizers say pre-show ticket sales are again on a record pace. It would seem, then, even as journalists like me whine about how the show is shrinking faster than the Arctic ice cap, show-goers seem more than content to pay more for less.
September 21, 2016
(*For another take on the 2016 Paris Motor Show, check out my New York Times preview.)