Motor Show Schedules Turn Topsy-Turvy, Launches Go Digital

Debora Carley

Stung by coronavirus woes, auto industry event schedules have been hugely disrupted. In a bid to contain the pandemic spread, social distancing has been advised, which has resulted in the cancelation and postponement of various high-profile events. The latest one to be nixed is the Geneva Motor Show 2021. The auto […]

Stung by coronavirus woes, auto industry event schedules have been hugely disrupted. In a bid to contain the pandemic spread, social distancing has been advised, which has resulted in the cancelation and postponement of various high-profile events. The latest one to be nixed is the Geneva Motor Show 2021. The auto industry is going through a rough patch and exhibitors need more time to recover from the pandemic’s consequences.

Coronavirus Rampage Puts Brakes on Auto Shows

Various big-ticket auto shows have been axed this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic that is endangering lives and adversely impacting the global economy. The noteworthy auto show in Beijing, which was scheduled to begin on Apr 21, was the first to get canceled in view of the virus outbreak. The 2020 Geneva Motor Show, which was supposed to be held in March, was canceled after the Swiss government banned gathering of more than 1,000 people to prevent further spread of the virus. Notably, the expo was last canceled during World War II and its aftermath.

New York Auto Show, one of the biggest events in the auto industry’s annual event calendar, was initially rescheduled to late August. However, its organizers decided in May to scrap the show for 2020. As of now, the show is likely to take place in April 2021. The Detroit show, officially known as the North American International Auto Show, was canceled in March and is now expected to be held in June 2021.

As the majority of exhibitors are unwilling to participate in the event even next year, the 2021 Geneva Motor Show has also been called off lately. In fact, the show is now up for sale. The Foundation of the Geneva International Motor Show intends to sell the rights of the show to Palexpo SA, the exhibition center that hosts the event.

The move puts the spotlight on other motor shows planned for 2021 in major cities. Automakers that spend heavily on elaborate car launches at auto shows are now rethinking their strategies as to how and when to launch their products, given cancellation of motor shows. Certainly, the event cancellations have created a backlog of auto debuts. However, if you are wondering that the auto companies have tapped brakes or even scaled down on their plans to launch models, you may be wrong. As the saying goes ‘the show must go on’, automakers are aggressively switching from in-person reveals to online events.

Automakers Take Digital Route for Launches

Many auto giants including Volkswagen VWAGY, BMW AG BAMXF and Daimler AG DDAIF have launched models on an online basis after the 2020 Geneva Motor Show got scrapped in February. In early March, BMW held a digital press conference to unveil the i4 electric concept car. Volkswagen’s Porsche’s new flagship 911 series and Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz’s new E-Class models were launched in a similar fashion. Volkswagen’s Audi also unveiled the new A3 Sportback online amid cancellation of the 2020 Geneva show. Recently, BMW released an official teaser of the 2021 M3 series via its official YouTube channel. While BMW currently carries a Zacks Rank #4 (Sell), Volkswagen and Daimler carry a Rank #3 (Hold).

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On Jun 15, Toyota TM Philippines unveiled all-new Wigo digitally via Facebook and YouTube. This marked the first time that the Japan-based auto giant carried out a fully-digital launch of a vehicle in Philippines.

Ford F, which has an amazing line-up of upcoming models, is embracing the online route for product launches. Around 10 days back, the U.S. auto biggie digitally unveiled traditional and hybrid versions of the 2021 F-150 pickup, scheduled to arrive at the dealerships this fall. A couple of days back, Ford announced plans to collaborate with Disney to launch Bronco 4×4 SUVs across media networks on Jul 13, marking the first ever, prime-time product reveal through the latter’s broadcast, cable, internet and online platforms including ABC, ESPN, National Geographic and Hulu. Ford had originally intended to showcase the all-new Bronco at the Detroit Show.

The Bentley Bentayga luxury SUV, Nissan NSANY Rogue crossover and Kia K5 sedan, among various other highly-anticipated models, will be revealed online. General Motor’s GM all-electric Cadillac Lyric will be unveiled during a virtual event on Aug 6. The online launch of Nissan’s electric crossover called Ariya is likely to be live streamed this month. More and more launches are expected to take place online amid ‘the new normal’.

Final Thoughts

Even prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, some automakers had been trying to connect with buyers through online advertising and social media campaigns in an effort to scale down their presence at auto shows. And now, with the virus eruption, various automakers have taken to holding online launches to avoid big gatherings.

Digital launches are indeed putting forth a number of questions. Can the coronavirus pandemic completely write-off global motor shows? If the digital unveilings turn out to be successful for carmakers, what would the future hold for annual motor show events? Considering the high costs and logistical efforts associated with auto expos, will there be a fundamental shift toward virtual launch platforms? Only time will tell.

While online launches have become the new trend amid the pandemic, they don’t necessarily herald the end of motor shows. Motor shows still remain an exciting platform for engaging effectively with both the media and customers. Precisely, being present at the motor shows with like-minded car enthusiasts and exchanging opinions with others, while seeing the cars in person and inspecting their interiors up-close are a more satisfying overall experience for many. This is something that virtual reality robs the car fanatics of.

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