Blog: Dave LeggettNot a great week for Britain's auto industry

Dave Leggett | 20 March 2009

I guess the news that the 2010 London Motor Show has been cancelled due to lack of interest on the part of potential exhibitors shouldn't be too much of a surprise. The London Show had got itself a small bridgehead in the international auto industry's schedule, but the economic crisis has made it untenable. In the hard times manufacturers will retrench to marketing spend that they absolutely have to do. As far as Europe's major shows go, that's Geneva and the Paris/Frankfurt shows that alternate in the autumn.

Sad to say, but the whole idea of a British show has been called into question again, and that's a shame. London could have grown as something a little bit different, a more relaxed consumer-orientated affair. And the summer slot - not clashing with anything - looked good, I thought.

What's next? I note that some brave voices are talking about the event merely being 'postponed' with the possibility of it returning when economic conditions improve. I can't quite see it.

The event was struggling before the economic crisis took hold. There was a basic credibility problem stemming from the simple fact that the UK auto industry is now a very diverse animal with ownership held by overseas based corporations. What is the point of a UK show? There is an answer to that but it's not an immediately obvious one in the way that there is for other shows and especially those on the A-list that have a natural constituency in terms of manufacturer participation.

To be fair, the organisers at the SMMT were doing a very good job in slowly building on London's strengths – like the size of the UK car market and ensuring good visitor footfall and media coverage. It was a start, but it was always going to be a long haul to convince the naysayers. Now that good work undertaken for the last two London shows, I fear, may account for nought. It will be a very big ask in two or three years' time to resuscitate the event, as currently constituted, after it has been cancelled.

But is there a place for something show-like in a market the size of Britain's and bearing in mind the international manufacturing presence here? Yes, I reckon there is. The challenge for the SMMT is to come up with a format that makes sense and that manufacturers can easily sign up for. Maybe it should be something smaller that can be rolled out on a regional basis across the country. But perhaps looking at what might work 'from the bottom up' rather than 'top down' is the way to go, leaving the baggage of the big centralised national show behind once and for all. Sad, though. I thought the London Show was a decent effort to build on and no British motor show in the calendar leaves a gap that will leave a sense of unease in the minds of many, like me, who grew up with them.

And there was more slightly depressing news with the latest UK auto production figures. But they are not actually surprising. Manufacturers have stopped making cars and are winding down excess stocks. There are still fields full of the things and the stock adjustment has got some way to go yet.

UK: February car output plunges 59%

UK: 2010 British motor show canned


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