LUCA CIFERRI

Auto shows need reboot to fight off digital challenge, de Meo says

Luca Ciferri is Editor of Automotive News Europe.Luca Ciferri is Editor of Automotive News Europe.
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Increasing numbers of automakers are skipping auto shows because the "wow” factor is no longer there in today's digital age, says Luca de Meo, CEO of Volkswagen Group's Seat brand.

In the past people wanted to be present when a new car was unveiled. It was a "seminal" moment show visitors were waiting for and one which they told their friends and relatives about, he said.

In today's digital world almost everything that debuts at an auto show has already been seen online, killing the "wow" factor.

"There is a clear fight between analog and digital," de Meo told me earlier this month at the press unveiling in Seat’s hometown of Barcelona of the Ateca, the brand's first SUV. The compact model will have its public debut in Geneva.

Auto shows remain important to enable automakers to have a direct contact with customers, but they work only when the company has a true debut. "We closely measure what happens in auto shows," de Meo said. "When you unveil something new, the public comes to your stand and you can profile the value."

If there is nothing new on the stand, the public walks past, de Meo said.

De Meo's comments come as automakers consider very carefully whether to participate in auto shows because of the high costs involved. BMW's Mini brand skipped the Detroit auto show in January and will not be in Geneva. Mazda is mulling avoiding the Paris show in October; Ford and Volvo will not be there.

The return on the investment to take part in an auto show is marginal or zero without new product to make an impact -- yet automakers must pay the same to exhibit whether they have world debuts or not, de Meo said.

Automakers and show organizers should try to find way to reduce costs for exhibitors, he said.

You can reach Luca Ciferri at lciferri@crain.com.

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