While auto shows in Detroit, Geneva, Frank-furt, Paris and Tokyo get all of the attention, second-tier shows around the globe have suffered because of a lack of interest among exhibitors.
Slowing sales, economic uncertainty and the high cost of exhibiting are among the reasons.
Consider this year's show in Seoul, South Korea. All of the importers pulled out, and the date was changed twice before the show was canceled.
Other locations are hurting as well. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Peugeot and Toyota will attend the London show in October. This month's show in Barcelona will go ahead without BMW, Chrysler, Toyota, Mitsubishi and Ford's Premier Automotive Group.
There is no lack of international auto shows. They are held in places like Riga, Brno, Bucharest, Cairo, Dubai, Bangkok, Athens, Sydney, Amsterdam and Moscow.
The Seoul show looked bright. In 1995 and 1997, it was glamorous. There was loud music and dancing girls. But all of the good space was dominated by local automakers - Hyundai Motor Co., Daewoo Motor Co. Ltd., Kia Motors Corp. and Ssangyong Motor Co. Importers were present. But they were relegated to smaller halls or the car park outside. And that was a problem.
'When you struggle for sales in countries like Korea where import tariffs are high, you need to take every opportunity you can to get in front of people,' says one General Motors manager. 'The problem is that we were not being given a decent slice of cake, given the cost of exhibiting.'
In 1999, the importers pulled out. They held their own show the next year, attracting 17 foreign manufacturers. But because the Korean industry hit a slump and Daewoo was suffering financial troubles, the Korean Auto Manufacturers Association was left this year with just one exhibitor - Hyundai. Hence the decision to cancel.
Moscow's International Show suffered similarly in 2000 when importers pulled out, blaming poor sales and the high cost of exhibiting. Of 870,000 vehicle sales in Russia during 1999, the importers sold only 40,000. 'We have some 30 brands competing for that tiny portion,' says one marketing chief in Moscow. 'We can spend up to $400,000 to exhibit at the show every year. The numbers just do not stack up.'
The Turin show, a fixture since 1900, is fighting for its future. Ford and Toyota were among the big names that pulled out last year. For an exhibition that once attracted many world debuts, in 2000 there were just two.
Even the design side - Turin's traditional strength - was disappointing. Turin also faces growing competition from the annual Bologna show, which attracts more visitors.
Meanwhile, Barcelona faces competition from the Madrid show, but organizers say 17 automakers plan to exhibit.
BMW has pulled out of a number of shows this year, including Barcelona and London.
'We decided quite early that we had a large number of product launches this year, plus the development of our Web site,' said Chris Willows, corporate communications director at BMW (GB) Ltd. 'It was relatively easy to see where we could save some money.'
To compensate, London show organizer Clarion Events invested $1.5 million on a showcase which displays rival models side by side, allowing visitors to make comparisons. Instead of charging $2 million on an exhibit, Clarion is charging carmakers about $15,000 per car. The real test, though, will be how many automakers are lured back.
E-mail International Editor Chris Wright at [email protected]