With the annual Geneva car show cancelled for the first time since the Second World War era, carmakers are going virtual in a bid to wow the hordes who would otherwise descend on the Swiss city to get a closer look at the latest models.
BMW will live stream the debut of its i4 battery-car concept, while Mercedes-Benz’s E-Class sedan and Audi’s A3 Sportback and all-electric E-Tron S will also be touted in digital displays.
Even as manufacturers have been pulling back from car shows in recent years, the gatherings still attract media, suppliers, and aficionados eager to run their hands over the latest upholstery trend or settle in behind the wheels of new vehicles.
Audi parent Volkswagen used last year’s Frankfurt event to unveil its ID.3 electric car and to spread the message that the world’s largest car manufacturer was moving on after the diesel-cheating crisis and honing its image as a leader in the transition to battery-powered cars.
The Geneva showcase, which was scheduled to start this week, was called off due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus in Europe. Carmakers were forced into contingency planning, with online events emerging as a way to salvage part of their marketing efforts.
Scrapping the show will cost a few million euro, according to PSA chief executive Carlos Tavares, adding that the company’s Citroen brand amplified its DS9 launch on social media.
BMW was aiming to make a big splash for its i4, a car meant to help reassert the German company’s momentum in electric vehicles. The group is sticking to the same programme, albeit with a “digital press conference” by chief executive Oliver Zipse, who will speak from BMW’s Munich headquarters.
Even before its cancellation, the Geneva show — a luxury-car expo typically dominated by glitzy rides from the likes of Ferrari, Porsche, and Mercedes’s unit — was in danger of being overshadowed by industry woes.
The virus outbreak, which has depressed car sales in China and disrupted supplier lines, adds to the challenges. Trade wars, tariffs, and an economic slowdown sent sales into a tailspin last year in China, the world’s largest car market and a key country for exports for the big German manufacturers.
At home, European carmakers are saddled with tough emissions rules that have forced them to speed up the expensive roll-out of new electric vehicles. Then there’s the lingering tension with the US over trade policy that could bring additional tariffs.
“The state of the global economy and the situation of the auto industry are marked by high risks,” said Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, a researcher at the University of St Gallen in Switzerland. He was speaking before the car show was called off.
Analysts have started to factor in the impact from the latest shock. RBC Capital Markets expects European car production to drop as much as 4% this year.