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Is the Geneva show the best of a dying breed?

Growing absentee list will ring alarm bells for Europe's most important show.

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Geneva is by no means the largest motor show in the world but many, particularly those at the sharp end of the automotive industry, consider it the best.

This writer, who has been religiously making the early March trek to Switzerland since the mid-1990s, concurs. For starters, Geneva is such a convenient show as it’s held at the PalExpo, right next to the international airport. You turn left out of the arrivals lounge and after a stroll of less than ten minutes you are in the show halls.

Switzerland is renowned for being expensive, but you don’t have to worry about accommodation because the show is compact enough to arrive around 10am, check out all the new hardware and the wild concepts (Geneva is full of wild concepts) in the three important halls, and be back in the terminal for your flight home that same evening.

It may be compact but that doesn’t diminish Geneva’s standing. On press day in the halls, you will hear accents from Far East to the Far West – the automotive industry considers it the most important European show, and it’s held every year in contrast to the other members of the ‘big three’, Paris and Frankfurt, which alternate – Paris in even years, Frankfurt in odd.

Geneva show 2019 The Car Expert
The brands at Geneva still spend a lot of money on their stands. Photo: Andrew Charman

So despite having to keep their stands compact, every automotive manufacturer considers it vital to be at Geneva – or at least they did…

Everyone in the industry knows that the value of motor shows started to be seriously questioned some time ago. The UK is not only one of the biggest car sales markets in Europe, but it’s almost a decade since the industry decided it wasn’t worth exhibiting in the UK and killed off the British International Motor Show.

Some pretty big automotive brands have also started dropping out of the Paris and Frankfurt events in recent years. But not Geneva, surely?

Except now it’s yes Geneva. At the press day for this year’s show getting pictures of the new cars was still a frustrating exercise, one’s view constantly blocked by spies from rival manufacturers photographing individual LEDs in headlamp clusters and blokes posing their wives and kids in front of the supercars (on a media day…).

Geneva show 2019 The Car Expert
There was a lot of room to move at this year’s Geneva. Photo: Andrew Charman

But walking between the stands was a much easier process – the walkways appeared wider, because they were. And if one fancied refreshment and didn’t fancy the scrums around those manufacturers giving out free food and drink to the media (and the astonishing number of hangers-on that always get into a Geneva press day) there were a host of new bars and cafeterias on offer in the main hall.

They were well thought-out these cafeterias – one even had a Formula One Williams hanging on the wall, but then you realised you were eating where previously you had viewed the latest Fords.

Ford was one of the first to stop going to motor shows. But the list of absentees at Geneva 2019 is a long one – Vauxhall-Opel isn’t there, despite the fact that its new sister brands Peugeot and Citroën are. Volvo is missing, though again its sub-brand Polestar has a stand. And while Kia is there, sister brand Hyundai isn’t.

Perhaps most ironically, missing for the first time is Jaguar Land Rover. JLR management had to get their air tickets to Switzerland though, as the Jaguar I-Pace, unveiled at the 2018 show, won the European Car of the Year title that is traditionally presented in Geneva on the eve of the show.

Geneva 2019 The Car Expert
Nice wall decoration at this useful refuelling spot – but Jaguar Land Rover used to be here… Photo: Andrew Charman

Don’t get me wrong, the big badges still in the Geneva halls vastly outnumber those missing, and their stands are possibly just a little more impressive than before (perhaps a little larger, again filling space?). The bizarre concepts are still present in all their numbers, and could fill an impressive show on their own.

As the host of stories we’ve brought you over the past week demonstrates, there is still a whole lot to see at Geneva, and if you see it all your feet will be reminding you for at least the next couple of days.

But the fact remains, exhibiting at a motor show costs a manufacturer hundreds of thousands, and you can bet the manufacturers who were there will be questioning whether spending that money has given them enough of an advantage over those that stayed home.

Geneva is great – but for how much longer will it be great?

Geneva show 2019 The Car Expert
Geneva will likely face growing challenges to get the manufacturers to keep coming. Photo: Andrew Charman

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Andrew Charman
Andrew Charman
Andrew is a road test editor for The Car Expert. He is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers, and has been testing and writing about new cars for more than 20 years. Today he is well known to senior personnel at the major car manufacturers and attends many new model launches each year.