Adieu, London motor show. The 2010 event is being canned – and CAR's got the early exclusive again

Adieu, London motor show. The 2010 event is being canned – and CAR's got the early exclusive again

British Motor Show 2010 is axed

By Nigel Wonnacott

Motor Shows

19 March 2009 00:01

More than a century after the first exhibition at Crystal Palace, doors have closed on Britain’s creaking motor show. An announcement at mid-day on Thursday 19 March confirmed the decision to cancel the 2010 event, revealed last night by CAR Online.

It comes after a summit of car company chiefs at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) last week, the body which has owned the show since 1903. 

Organisers claim the event could return when the economy picks up, but that’s unlikely. The SMMT recently closed its exhibitions department and industry sources say now is a good time to bury an event that has been in terminal decline for years.

A potted history to the British motor show

In its heyday in 1978, an impressive 908,194 car fans attended the show held at Birmingham’s NEC. But in recent years the Brit show struggled to draw half a million visitors, despite moves to boost attendance including a return to London in 2006.

Features like stunt shows and rock concerts, aimed at families rather than just pure petrolheads, received a lukewarm reception from car makers struggling to justify stand costs. Some car fans complained that the British show had become more theme park than new metal.

In 2008, stay-away brands left noticeable gaps in London ExCeL’s floor plan. Among the Germans, only Mercedes joined the party, while Volvo, Aston Martin and Fiat added to the growing list of no-shows. Organisers used full-length curtains to hide empty hall space and filled gaps on the floors with extra seats and plant pots.

Struggling motor shows: a global problem

Britain’s motor show may have succumbed to the inevitable, but major international shows are beginning to feel the pinch too. Members of the so-called big five international events are struggling with full manufacturer attendance.

Porsche, Ferrari, Land Rover, Rolls-Royce and Nissan were among absentees at the 2009 Detroit auto show. Reports in January suggested that organisers of the Tokyo show considered cancelling the event following decisions by Ford, GM, Chrysler and Volvo not to participate.

British Motor Show attendance 1990 – 2008

1990    NEC     452,704
1992    NEC    656,702
1994    NEC    701,046
1996    NEC    623,279
1998    NEC    709,422
2000    NEC    569,131
2002    NEC    448,419
2004    NEC    461,000 (unaudited)
2006    ExCeL London        415,000
2008    ExCeL London        472,300

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