The Shanghai government has pulled the plug on its important motor show, the biggest in Asia outside the biennial Tokyo event, due to growing concern about the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in China, Automotive News reported.

The trade newspaper said the decision, arrived at in a flurry of meetings overnight Tuesday, April 22, between the Shanghai Communist Party secretary, the city's mayor and motor industry executives, takes effect on Thursday at 5 pm and effectively cuts the number of public days to two from a scheduled five because Sunday, Monday and Tuesday were for press and industry executives only.

Automotive News said organisers had hoped to draw some 450,000 show-goers to the event, which was scheduled to run until Sunday, April 27. Most of the world's principal automakers had exhibits and product introductions at this year's show, although few executives from parent companies attended, the report noted.

The paper said that, despite growing evidence last week that the pneumonia-like SARS was becoming a serious health issue and that few motor industry executives planned to attend, show organisers steadfastly refused to consider cancelling the show. Organisers had "no choice" but to proceed because of the huge investment involved, Wang Xia, secretary general of CCPIT, one of the organisers, told Automotive News. Postponement also was not an option because "it requires 20 days preparation to set up the displays, (and) all the contracts were signed a year ago," he reportedly added.

Automotive News said that attitude began changing on Monday when the central government sacked two senior Party officials -- the mayor of Beijing and the health minister - for trying to hide the severity of the outbreak by underreporting the number of SARS cases.

The move to close the motor show gathered momentum on Tuesday as scheduled public gatherings in other cities were cancelled and after Beijing decided to shut schools and universities until at least May 7, the paper added.

Despite the cancellation, "The show was still a good opportunity," one Audi China executive told Automotive News. "It was a success, maybe a little smaller than expected."