Subject to final audit, the total attendance at the British International Motor Show - relocated this year to the ExCeL exhibition centre in London's rejuvenated Docklands area - increased 23% to 420,000 compared to the last event in 2004.

By all accounts it was a smooth transition from the West Midlands to the capital.

Organisers and exhibitors left last month's event, held at the ExCeLlent 65,000-square-metre venue built a few years ago instead of Birmingham's NEC Arena, relieved that the change of venue had been successful, and looking forward to a return in 2008.

Visitor numbers at the NEC, which is located next to Birmingham airport, had halved to little more than 400,000 in recent years after initial success (c.900,000) when the motor show first moved there from the famous Earls Court in west London in 1978.

Industry insiders cite various reasons, but two - cost and the reluctance of residents of the crowded south-east to venture in the direction of Britain's second-largest city - appear to have been key. As a result, some automakers started pulling out and there were few genuine 'world launches' of anything other than new UK-made models at the last few NEC shows.

SMMT spokesperson Nigel Wonnacott told just-auto: "London is a 21st century venue for a 21st century motor show. The halls were compact, neat and well laid out, facilities first class and the ambience was light years ahead of last year.

With which the j-a editorial team agrees whole-heartedly. This inaugural London show had something of a Geneva feel to it - plenty of new models to see, a huge effort by manufacturers to construct crowd-drawing stands - especially BMW and the various Ford brands - all contained in two compact, easy-to-get-around halls. Buying lunch on our own dime, we found quality food and beverage at reasonable cost - by London standards - a critical issue for the public. The NEC shows had attracted a reputation for extortionate pricing for things like parking, food and drink. The only complaint we heard was about the heat - the show's press day coincided with a rare British heat wave - and the halls' cooling system struggled to cope with all the additional heat from show stand lighting.

"There was no doubt that the British motor show was slipping down the international league and in danger of becoming a B-List show, but what London has is the kudos that resonates very strongly in offices of top manufacturers. It is also the right time for the show, between the Geneva and Paris motor shows," Wonnacott added.

The British International Motor Show had previously clashed with the Paris show's September date, and been slightly overshadowed by launches in the French capital. But the SMMT noted that this year's London show featured 12 genuine world-first launches, with nine of these termed as "very significant", including the Vauxhall/Opel Corsa (the first time both Opel and Vauxhall logos have been seen at a British show in two decades), Land Rover Freelander 2, and Mazda MX-5 Roadster Coupe.

These launches attracted large numbers of foreign journalists, whose attendance - or not - is always a good barometer of a show's significance. The Corsa launch would probably have attracted many on its own - the line is one of Europe's most popular models - but the additional draw of the Freelander and MX-5 Roadster Coupe would have sealed it and their stands were crowded with industry writers for each press conference. And the media centre was packed, too, with the English language in the minority in there on press day.

Another key measure is the number of industry heavy-hitters who hit town. London saw GM's president Rick Wagoner, 'product czar' Bob Lutz, Chrysler president Tom LaSorda and global sales chief Joe Eberhardt, a full roster of senior Ford of Europe executives and many more. These guys do not turn out unless they regard a show as significant.

"This was a make or break motor show and visitors clearly enjoyed the show. Although there were a few manufacturers that did not attend, we will be in an even better position by 2008," Wonnacott said.  

Among the absentees for last month's event, which ran between 20 and 30 July, were Audi, Volkswagen, Skoda and Ferrari.

Ford of Britain chairman and managing director Roelant de Waard said:  "The British motor show at ExCeL was excellent for Ford - not surprising as the venue was local to our bases in Dagenham and Essex. Visitors to our stand saw for themselves why Ford is market leader and on track to clock up 30 years as number one car brand this year. We look forward to the show receiving full industry backing in two years' time."

Ford also said it was so busy that its staff struggled to keep up with requests and questions from enthusiastic visitors. The US manufacturer went some way to combating the stifling heat inside and outside the arena with 110,000 complimentary ice lollies, and juice supplies.

A strong final week for the show escalated numbers above 400,000, mirrored by more than 1m visitors to the show's website coverage, which increased 100% from 0.5m in 2004.

Rob Mackenzie, director of show organiser imie said: "In the final week we've had unprecedented weekday attendances. I can't think of any other public show where weekdays have exceeded the weekends - or got remotely near. But last week, day after day we saw crowds grow. It's hugely encouraging for us and for the exhibitors who have shown faith in this magnificent show."

Land Rover spokesman Mark Foster told just-auto: "We were very pleased with the response we had for the Freelander 2, the number of enquiries we received was very healthy indeed and above the number for the NEC. In terms of the level of interest, it was considerably up on last time."

West Bromwich-based Daihatsu UK called the new format a resounding success, and the London Docklands venue a big improvement.  

Operations director Paul Hegarty, said: "We are delighted with the footfall on our stand and sold two Copen sports cars within hours of opening, no doubt thanks to its unique offer and our current GBP2,000 price reduction.  

"We feel the show organisers have got things just right as far as generating the right atmosphere for the public and past experience tells us that Copen always attracts massive attention at such events. Combined with our new Terios SUV having its public airing, we already have good vibes that this event will generate good business for Daihatsu."  

BMW, whose M6 convertible made its world debut in London, pushed the boat out for this year's event, quite literally, with a life-size BMW Oracle America's Cup showboat among its attractions, which also including Formula One cars and a hole-in-one golf competition. The BMW Group Plaza comprised of three outdoor stands measuring 11,000 square metres, located alongside Royal Victoria Dock and separate from the main auditorium.

Spokesman Gavin Ward said: "Initial impressions from the show are favourable, especially from a brand point of view, where it seems to have been very successful. We were happy we did something unique to other dealers, with the BMW Group Plaza."

But the group said it was too early to talk about its presence at future motor shows, however.

Clearly a few reservations, then. But early responses seems positive and suggest that ExCeL's first motor show was substantial enough, both in terms of visitor and exhibitor presence, to warrant a return to the capital next time.

Let's hope so.

Joe Ayling and Graeme Roberts

LONDON SHOW: 'Consumer at the heart of London Show offering' - organisers

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