Every March, Geneva plays host to probably the best motor show in the world. Frankfurt might be bigger, but Geneva is almost universally regarded as the highlight of the year for professional showers. This year, I was lucky enough to not just visit the show, but attend the two press days which precede the public opening of the show. So what was it like to go behind the scenes at the world’s most glamorous motor show? Well, read on…
The main press day at the (Tuesday 3 March this year) is wall-to-wall with media types, along with some privileged insiders and their bratty kids who get to see all the cars before the commoners are allowed in on Thursday. They are all falling over one another to catch glimpses of tablecovers being whipped off cars that have (almost always) already been shown on the internet a week ago on various automotive websites.
The battle for media airtime means that there are very few real surprises unveiled at the shows anymore. If a car is important, its release will be handled via high-res images and carefully scripted releases in the lead up to the show, rather than cameraphone shots of the car surrounded by six million cameramen all trying to take close-up photos of tiny details. But there is usually at least one new release that is kept secret until its unveiling at the show, and this year there were two: the Bentley EXP 10 Speed 6 and the Aston Martin DBX.
A Bentley concept had been expected, but no details had been disclosed. The Aston, however, was a bigger surprise, and also the winner of the ‘Most Niches Covered By One Car’ award (which I just made up). It’s a GT! It’s a crossover! It’s an electric vehicle! It’s all wheel drive! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It also looks like the result of a DB9 mating with a Nissan Juke, but Aston seemed pretty proud of it anyway.
Photos vs. reality
One thing that always strikes me about seeing new models is how different they can look in the metal compared to their official photos. The Nissan Sway, for example, looks really good when you see it for real, whereas the photos didn’t look anything special. The exception to this rule is Audi. Their cars look just like they do in photos, which is to say, like an Audi. The new R8 looks like they simply took the old car, sharpened and flattened any curved parts, and then made it 10% faster with better wi-fi (note to self – those facts may need checking back at base).
The 2015 McLaren–Honda F1 car also looks fantastic under lights, with a paint scheme that is quite spectacular. What looks like plain black paint in photos or on TV is actually a very complicated dark grey colour, full of silver specks and sparkles, really highlighting the car’s curves and overall shape. Unfortunately it still just looks like really boring plain black on TV, which is where everyone actually sees it.
By contrast, the 1988 McLaren-Honda on display in the TAG-Heuer hall was a perfect example of a simple livery working perfectly from any angle, the white and dayglo-red Marlboro colour scheme looking bold and brilliant (despite no Marlboro logos on the car, because McLaren seems determined to ignore the fact that they both sponsored the team for many millions of pounds for many years).
Maserati the famous clothing company
Maserati pulled a neat trick to pad out its stand in the absence of any new cars to show. They simply devoted about a third of their floor area to selling clothing and other merchandise instead. Clearly this is the influence of master beancounter , who presumably calculated that a sweet concept car would cost a couple of million Euros and not be saleable, but flog some polo shirts for a couple of weeks and the show pays for itself.
Across the aisle, sister brand Alfa Romeo obviously missed that memo, as they simply rehashed their usual trick of pulling an old car out of the museum and draping beautiful Italian girls over the same cars they showed last year.
The forgotten brands
While the world wide web is spinning with millions of people drooling over news of the latest McLaren, Ferrari and Koenigsegg releases, it’s not all front page coverage for some brands at Geneva. Brands like Lotus struggle to get much exposure, and most of the people standing on the Lotus stand were trying to get a good photo of the new McLaren.
And it seems a downright shame that the hardworking car mutilators at Mansory and Kahn, and wacky inventors at Rinspeed and Sbarro, get almost no coverage in the automotive media, despite literally every magazine and website being right there next to them. The poor guys at Brabus looked balefully on as everybody waltzed straight past their latest carbon fibre-bewinged Mercedes models without so much as a second glance. Maybe they should offer coffee and snacks, which worked wonders for Volkswagen and caused many journos to pretend they were really interested in the latest Polo…
PR people running ragged
Day One of the press program is all about big manufacturer press conferences, which happen across the halls every fifteen minutes or so. A motor show news conference is like a military operation, conducted with perfect efficiency and precision timing. Mr Big Wig steps up on cue, delivers the usual impassioned speech about how the car under the tablecloth will herald a new dawn, blah blah blah, music, lights and smoke, then he’s gone. The photographers start firing, a platoon of Japanese ‘reporters’ descends on the new car to sit inside and explore its every detail (while taking copious notes in books that all appear to have been loaned to them by another manufacturer…), and then the marauding pack of media troops off to the next conference (although not before rifling through the canapés, of course). All that’s left are two blokes with feather dusters and the haunted remains of what used to be the manufacturer’s PR team, totally spent after chasing their favoured journos around to reiterate the Big Wig’s message and offer exclusive/pointless trivia as appropriate.
Themes of the show – pulsing indicators and giant video walls
Two themes seemed to be gathering pace across the industry at Geneva this year. The first is that LED car lights are allowing manufacturers to play with car lighting like never before. Indicators consisting of dozens of LEDs no longer just flash on and off in unison; they sweep or pulse in directions, which sounds cheesy but actually gives a car quite an organic feel. Unfortunately it didn’t really show up on video very well, so I don’t have anything to show you here, but some manufacturers have really grasped the concept and everyone else will follow very quickly. The second is not so much car-related but stand-related. Every stand had GIANT VIDEO WALLS. Everywhere. In fact, the whole back wall of the Opel stand was a giant video wall. Plus they had several huge video screens hanging from the ceiling as well. If you are an epileptic, it’s time to accept that you will never be able to visit a motor show again.
Press Day – the real highlight
Among all of the new releases, one model really stood out at Geneva. It was the limited edition Italdesign Giugiaro… (drum roll)… choc ice. This was, without doubt, the most well-received model launch of the day, and it’s not hard to see why every journo, photographer and blogger wanted in on the action. The Giugiaro choc ice is truly an ice cream like no other. Forget your paper wrapping, this choc ice comes packaged in its own bespoke black box, proudly bearing the Italdesign logo and graphics. Opening the lid, the choc ice practically glides out into your hand, revealing a smooth chocolate coating that is perfectly uniform in colour and depth all around the ice cream itself. This is clearly a premium product, virtually incomparable to the mass-produced choc ices you find in the freezer at Sainsbury’s. Biting through the chocolate layer, one finds that the Giugiaro choc ice has a real depth of quality to match its sensual styling. The ice cream centre is rich and creamy, with real vanilla flavour only adding to the overall experience. Even the stick, so often overlooked as simply the bit to hold on to by most confectioners, is gloriously tactile on the Italdesign choc ice, and suitably reflects the obsession to detail that “Designer of the Century” is renowned for. The great master himself was present on the Italdesign Giugiaro stand, beaming with pride as the press devoured his latest creation. In fact, the only thing letting the occasion down was some poor set design; the convivial atmosphere being somewhat interrupted by a large black concept car rotating on a turntable right in the middle of the Italdesign ice cream parlour. Apparently it drives itself or something, so you would think it would have the decency to move out of the way.
The Geneva Motor Show is an amazing exhibition of all the latest cars from all the greatest manufacturers in the world. To visit during the heavily-restricted press days was a fantastic experience for a humble blogger. For more photos from the 2015 Geneva Motor Show, .