A motor show – or auto show – brings together in the one place all the various local and imported makes and models of cars that are on sale in that one country.
Held in many nations since the birth of the automobile, motor shows started out as a way for car dealers to showcase all of the cars available within their competing showrooms so they could be compared by buyers and car enthusiasts at the same time under one roof.
But, over the years, car-makers became progressively more involved because they possessed the financial resources to create more spectacular displays than the dealers could manage.
The biggest motor shows these days are often held in countries or regions that also have the biggest car industries, so the world’s car-makers display their national pride and vie with each other for the best bragging rights over the cars they make.
So it is not unusual for car-makers to spend tens of millions of dollars a year displaying their latest designs at motor shows around the world.
Many car-makers see motor shows as an important element of their media investments, on a par with buying exposure online or on television. But others are starting to question the value of the huge budgets involved and sometimes do not attend shows in years where they have fewer new products to unveil.
Car-makers often use motor shows to try out their design ideas on the public by building concept cars that feature the various ideas their designers and engineers have been casting around behind closed doors within their styling studios and engineering laboratories.
Car-makers frequently document the reactions of show visitors to their ideas and report back to the designers and company management whether the concepts, or some elements of the concepts, are well received or not.
For example, the very strong and positive public reaction to the Holden Monaro at the Sydney International Motor Show in 2001 gave Holden the confidence to put that car into production. It was a hit in Australia and also went on sale in the United States as a Pontiac.
So, motor shows perform a vital role in monitoring and influencing public taste by exposing to potential buyers a new styling or engineering direction and getting them used to a particular trend in form, or function or shape.
Conversely, car-makers can also use motor shows to get a reading on where consumer tastes are heading or if they are pushing public taste in a certain direction too far or too quickly.
Many car-makers, especially the more prestigious brands, use motor shows as a focus for getting together with their customers by inviting their faithful buyers to social events on their stands either directly or through their dealers. Events include cocktail parties and fashion shows as well as performances by high profile musicians who are often sponsored by the car-maker concerned.
So there is much more to a motor show than just presenting vehicles.
Going to the trouble and expense of providing a lavish stand sends a message of confidence, strength and financial health – not just amongst a car company’s own employees, dealers and sales staff but also within in the country where the motor show itself is held.
Equally important, motor shows also allow car company executives and personnel at the highest level of the industry to mingle and network with colleagues from rival companies at an independent venue or indeed, to spy on and gain intelligence on each other’s product ideas as well.
Corporations commonly use a motor show arena to announce important happenings in front of their fellow industry participants and the auto media.
A firm may reveal plans to build a new vehicle assembly plant in another country, plans to move into a new area of the market or reveal a new engine technology. Others use motor shows as a platform to question governmental or bureaucratic policy that may directly or indirectly impact them.
Past or classic cars can also form a significant part of an automobile exhibition and often all three varieties – production cars, concept cars and classic vehicles – are displayed within the same auto expo.
Motor shows are a good venue for automotive industry suppliers of many levels to display their wares as well; either in conjunction with or independently of the manufacturers they supply.
Automotive consumer websites, model cars, automotive publications, and government-sponsored safety demonstrations are also often part of an expo.
Hundreds of motor shows are held each year worldwide with smaller regional or town events far outnumbering the handful of world-famous shows that often have the word ‘international’ within their title to signify it as the premier show event of the host car manufacturing nation.
Many shows, like the Frankfurt motor show, Paris motor show, Tokyo motor show, Geneva motor show and Beijing motor show, are held once every two years, often alternating with another city.
In Australia the Melbourne International Motor Show (MIMS) was one of the world’s longest running auto expositions until it switched to a biennial event shared with Sydney as the Australian International Motor Show (AIMS).
Many of the international motor or auto shows are operated under the auspices of the ‘Organisation Internationale des Constructeurs d'Automobiles’ – acting as a fair and independent body that gives global recognition to the event.