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Motorclassica woos premium brands to show their new wares

A load of bull: This year's Motorclassica celebrates 50 years of Lamborghini, with an example of every model since the 400GT on show.

With Mercedes on board, Australia’s Concours d’Elegance looks to other luxury brands


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22 Oct 2013


EMBOLDENED by winning the right to host the Australian premiere of the new-generation Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the director of the Australian International Concours d’Elegance is now working to attract as many as 12 luxury brands to the event with new models of their own over the next two years.

Now in its fourth year, Melbourne’s ‘Motorclassica’ – which also includes a Classic Motor Show – has become a key event on the Australian motor industry calendar, drawing around 16,000 largely affluent and upwardly mobile visitors last year to what is now an internationally recognised event for unique, collectible and historically significant vehicles.

With the Australian International Motor Show (AIMS) cancelled until at least 2015, and its future uncertain as car brands look beyond the traditional show format, Motorclassica event director Paul Mathers has revealed that he will “do what it takes” to build the event into a “targeted alternative” for luxury car brands to premiere and display their new models while celebrating the history of their old ones.

Mercedes-Benz will become the first car-maker to stage the local premiere of a new vehicle at Motorclassica on Thursday night – after four years of lobbying from Mr Mathers to stage such an event – when it tears the covers from its redesigned S-Class flagship, which is due to reach showrooms in December.

Speaking with GoAuto this week in the lead-up to the three-day show starting on Friday, Mr Mathers said luxury brands displaying new vehicles through official channels was always part of the plan for Motorclassica, but he now considers it the perfect time branch out in earnest.

According to Mr Mathers, an interactive and comparatively low-cost event such as Motorclassica – no-frills stands are actively encouraged – and its audience of generally well-heeled and passionate enthusiasts is the ideal platform for premium marques, especially with AIMS off the scene for the time being.

Alongside the new S-Class at this year’s event will be Jaguar, Morgan and Lamborghini’s Melbourne factory distributor, all displaying new models.

“Maybe we’ll have eight (brands) next year, and maybe 12 the year after – we’re quite prepared to do what it takes to build this into a show that they all see value in,” said Mr Mathers, adding that the Mercedes premiere is expected to make other premium brands “start taking notice more”.

“I think in the past they may not have thought deeply about it, but I think that now, the whole Mercedes S-Class launch is creating a bit of a stir and maybe opening a few people’s eyes to what we have to offer.” Other such Concours events around the world, in Villa d’Este, Pebble Beach and Goodwood, all regularly stage premieres of new models, generally those from historic brands with a strong enthusiast base.

“That’s always been part of the event model for Motorclassica, when we first launched we really hoped that this would provide an opportunity for manufacturers to celebrate heritage, but we worked out very very quickly that manufacturers in Australia weren’t all that interested in celebrating heritage, it was more retail focused,” Mr Mathers said.

But, he added, the time may now be ripe for a change in mindset.

“I think manufacturers have been looking for alternatives (to mainstream shows such as AIMS), and all of a sudden here’s a very targeted alternative that will get manufacturers an audience that are fairly affluent, upwardly mobile with a generally high income, and they’re not the traditional kind of ‘mum and dad’ buyers that might have gone to AIMS.

“For a relatively small expenditure at Motorclassica, where we don't want companies to build great big stands, we actually discourage them from that and say, ‘Let the cars do the talking’, it almost becomes a really cost effective and attractive option.

“So, yes, we’re looking to expand that. It will become very important for us moving forward.” Mr Mathers was previously involved in the operational delivery of AIMS, and currently manages a number of other events as well as Motorclassica including the Australian Motorcycle Show and the National 4x4 shows in Brisbane and Melbourne.

Visitor numbers at Motorclassica last year were 15,860, with early signs indicating a 35 per cent increase in 2013. This number is a fraction of AIMS but, Mr Mathers says it has a specific type of visitor: just the type high-end car-makers should be speaking to.

“No other pre-existing event is going to get you the breadth of high disposable income customer exposure that Motorclassica brings,” he said.

“Companies can run their own event, but their own event is only ever going to be for their own customers, the customers they know, whereas we can take them to those people that they don’t know, that might be driving a rival brand.

“I don’t imagine that Ford and Holden are going to get much out of Motorclassica, simply because they are mass-market manufacturers, they need 250,000 people through the doors in order to make an event for them worthwhile.

“But for manufacturers looking at targeted audiences, I think Motorclassica represents a very unique opportunity for great return on investment.” Reflecting the views expressed by Australian car company marketing managers in a recent study, the results of which were released last week, Mr Mathers said motor shows would be better served going after certain niches rather than taking a more wholesale approach, and should complement this with a degree of interactivity.

“These shows that are all encompassing and broad, trying the deliver to everyone, don’t quite deliver exactly what anyone wants, it’s always a compromise,” he said.

“So if Mercedes-Benz and Holden both want to be involved, but want to achieve something very different, it would be hard to satisfy the expectations of those equally important clients.

“Part of our success goes to the segmentation of the market, acknowledging that people are into different things, and creating events for them. A lot of the criticism of AIMS is that it’s a static motor show. Well, at Motorclassica you can stick your head in the window and smell the leather, on an S-Class or a McLaren F1.

“It’s very easy for people to just log onto a website and get info, so shows can no longer just be about info, they’ve got to talk to people’s passions ... and people will keep coming to them.” Mr Mathers also insisted that the struggles undergone by AIMS over the past few years have actually had a negative effect on Motorclassica.

While it has opened the door to new clientele seeking an alternative place to showcase new metal, it has also damaged the perception of the validity of the motor show format in general, and made it harder to ‘sell’ to potential vendors.

“We never wished that upon AIMS,” he said. “But by the same token, what we’ve always sought to do is something very different and to establish very strongly those points of difference, and by going after the manufacturers, if you want to put it that way – that’s how they would put it – we’ve not gone out there and said, ‘You need to choose us or AIMS.’ “It’s quite the contrary, when I’ve talked to companies I’ve said, ‘If you see yourself at AIMS you need to stay there, but if you’re after something more targeted, I’d pitch this as sort of an add-on alternative.’ “With AIMS collapsing into the position it’s in at the moment, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword, it’s provided us with an opportunity to go out there and say we’re the only motor show in Australia right now, but it’s also perhaps put into the minds of some marketing managers out there that maybe expos are the wrong way to go.” As GoAuto has reported, a ‘snap study’ of Australian car industry marketing managers released last week shows the overwhelming majority believe traditional motor shows are no longer viable here.

There are also an increasing number of single-brand events – a la AMG and Subaru this year – as well as a growing trend towards brands showing their wares at lifestyle expos.

“We would argue against that (approach) because there are very specific things you can do at an expo that you can’t do through another marketing channel,” Mr Mathers said.

“With AIMS is gone, this is a great opportunity, with literally all the brands on show (at Motorclassica) – including those that don’t exist anymore – and how fantastic it is for Mercedes-Benz to have a new S-Class juxtaposed with a 1950s model, and a 1960s model, and five cars away you have a McLaren F1 – what great company to be in.

“You’ll definitely get to people for whom cars are an important part of their life – Joe Blow doesn’t buy an S-Class, but someone who connects with automobiles goes and buys that sort of high-end car.

“By creating an event that truly speaks to car lovers there’s no better company for a car-maker to be in, I think.” The S-Class will join more than 500 largely private-owned cars and motorcycles on show at Melbourne’s 133-year old Royal Exhibition Building between October 25 and 27.

Legendary Lamborghini test driver Valentino Balboni will also be signing and speaking at the event.

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