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The 2008 Geneva Motor Show Reflections and Wrap-up

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  • SEE ALSO: 2008 Geneva Motor Show Coverage
  • Special to The Auto Channel
    By Marty Bernstein, AIADA Contributing Editor


    Geneva, Switzerland; It wasn’t the first auto show, that was Paris. It’s not the biggest, that’s Chicago. It’s not the most fun, that’s New York. It’s not the most remote, that’s Tokyo. It’s not even the coldest, that’s Detroit.

    Yet, the Geneva Motor Show – this is the 78th annual – is an annual must for the industry’s top executives. When queried, automotive insiders usually rank Geneva the number 1 show on the multi-market-auto-show circuit they travel. 

    What is it about the Geneva Show that has made it so desirable? Is it the neutral location? The French influence? The watches? Maybe it’s something in the air in the Alps that filters down in the early spring. Plus, the Swiss make chocolates, not automobiles, which gives the Geneva show a real international feel. There’s nothing xenophobic or jingoistic at this show. Everyone is wel-come.  

    As the natives of Geneva themselves might say, “Je ne sais pas” - I just don’t know. But I do know how fascinating it is to see how one of the world’s oldest automobile shows is organized, and thought our readers would, too.

    Palexpo – the Venue

    The Palexpo looks much smaller than it is. While not a huge public display space it does consist of seven interconnected exhibit halls with a total of 102,000 sq meters or about 1 million square feet of floor space. The ceilings are so high, one could be persuaded clouds could form, as part of the Alpine atmosphere. When filled with automobiles and displays it does look smaller, but certainly spectacular.

    For a 360°guided video tour of just Halls 1 & 2 click here.

    This is not the vastness of McCormick Place in Chicago, or the cramped, antiquated Cobo Hall in Detroit or the poor location of Javits in New York. It’s at the edge of town, a quick 15 minute cab ride in non-rush traffic, longer in rush. And surface transportation for show attendees is am-ple and free.  Airport access?  It’s right across the street! Clean, neat, somewhat modern, and very, very efficient.  It’s Swiss, remember. 

    Highlights of the Geneva Show
    This is not going to be another rundown of what’s new, improved, updated or changed since the last auto show. It’s not going to be another overview of how small is big, how green is green, but blue may be the new green.

    No, this is about the impression the world’s leading carmakers left in this auto writer’s mind. Not from the endless, mind numbing series of press conferences but after the scrums had departed. When the really interested stopped by to look, visit, and chat.

    Three important messages were being sent to all who were receptive during the Geneva Show:

    1. Luxury and expensive is very big and important.
    2. Newness, no matter how quirky, gets noticed.
    3. Green is not a fad, it is mandatory.


    Luxury Is an International Component
    It was the biggest European car maker, Volkswagen, that was the obvious winner of the luxury presentation and buzz award. Not for the VW brand, but for the luxury brands in its corporate trophy case: Audi, Bentley, Buggati, and Lamborghini. 

    In a move I must refer to as ambush marketing, the VW companies held a special invitation only media conference the night before the show officially opened. Show officials had not provided ‘appropriate time slots’ during the official hours, so VW created their own hours.

    Literally hundreds were given numbered tickets and driven to a special venue for over one hour of news about the brands and companies of the biggest auto maker in Europe. 

    A short speech by Martin Winterkorn, chairman of VW’s supervisory board, preceded a special movie with pounding music, striking editing, great graphics and computer generated effects that could have belonged in the movie Mission Impossible. All the VW brands were revealed with the CEO of each performing individual feats of daring do while driving his brand of vehicle. 

    To view the movie click here.

    Being New and Different Doesn’t Hurt
    The most buzz generated among journalists was Tata and the Nano … and that was before their media presentation. Following the pitch, the raucous roar dimmed somewhat, but the crowds never stopped coming and coming and coming. 
    Tata is still – according to manufacturing experts I know -- a few years away from meeting EU requirements, but the gauntlet has been thrown down. They will be a force to reckon with.

    Green Is The New Gold Standard
    The overwhelming theme of the Geneva show was the vital need to reduce the world’s depend-ence on fossil fuels. A few Swiss I spoke with feel it’s not just an environmental issue anymore. It’s the lack of financial control or fiduciary responsibilities in socio-economic-political situa-tions from a select group of nations.

    As this is being written gold has exceeded $1,000 per ounce and the euro has almost reached $1.57. Oh, and oil is now over $114 which means middle class American’s will soon be paying $4 per gallon, up from $2 something just a couple years ago.
    Green may be the new gold standard, but the problem is which green is more golden? Let’s hope the billions being spent in R&D will develop a practical solution before the economic woes over-take the environmental.

    Why did I call this the Geneva Convention? Not just for an easy play on words but because a convention, according to my dictionary, is a set of agreed, stipulated or generally accepted social norms, values, standards or criteria, often taking the form of a custom or habit. The world’s big-gest and best held their annual convention in Geneva. Many possibilities were presented, but no final accord was reached. Let’s hope it comes soon.