COPENHAGEN - From the day they started a century ago, auto shows have been an enormous success. In 1998, six million people will visit an international auto show.
This week the industry is in Detroit, which has become one of the top shows in the world since it started 82 years ago. In the autumn, the industry moves to Paris, where international shows began in 1898.
Carmakers use the shows to exhibit their latest creations to the buyers and the competitors. A crowd of reporters hunts for news behind the scenes.
Bruno Sacco, the chief designer for Mercedes-Benz cars, goes to the annual shows in Geneva and Detroit and the shows every second year in Frankfurt, Paris, Tokyo, Turin and Birmingham. Manufacturers often use shows to judge public reaction to new cars and concepts.
Sacco leaves that to others. 'I do not watch people's reactions to different new cars,' he says. What he wants to learn from the shows is, 'How far along are the other manufacturers?'
The international show circuit is expanding.
'Next year we will see some new places,' says Jean Muller, secretary general of OICA, which validates international shows. OICA is the global association of national automaker organizations.
The Cairo auto show will become the first official international auto show in Africa. Also added are Kiev in Ukraine and Tallin in Estonia.
Political change brings some new shows. The former Czechoslovakia now has the Brno auto show in the Czech Republic and the Nitra International auto show in Slovakia.
The OICA list
To get on the OICA list, 'shows must offer a certain standard. We keep an eye on quality. The show has to be approved every year,' Muller says.
Only one show in each country is approved. Thus the Bologna auto show in Italy misses the list because Turin is on it. The Birmingham auto show is the big one in the UK, not the London show.
London auto show supporters think Bologna and London have a chance, thanks to Berlin.
The Berlin auto show was Europe's finest before the war, and there is a move afoot in Germany to bring it back to its former glory. If OICA rules change to accommodate two sanctioned shows in Germany, then London and Bologna might also get sanctioned.
'OICA cannot forbid an international motor show, but we can give it a blessing,' says Muller.
Show promotors come from all areas of the industry. The North American International Auto Show in Detroit is sponsored by Detroit area auto dealers.
The IAA in Frankfurt is sponsored by the German automakers' association, the VDA. The Salon de l'Automobile in Geneva is sponsored by the promotion company Orgexpo and held in the Palexpo exhibition building close to Geneva's airport.
The big auto shows mean money, and not only for carmakers. David Littmann, first vice president and senior economist of Comerica Bank in Detroit, says the 1997 Detroit show had an estimated total economic impact on southeastern Michigan at $251.8 million.
Katherine Blackwell is Ford's director of product launch and marketing. She recently returned to the USA after three years in Europe.
'Geneva is my favorite, because it is far more international without any influence from specific car manufacturers,' says Blackwell. 'You can look over the show ground, and it's just a few minutes' walk from one brand to another if you want to compare. Frankfurt is too big for that.'
Blackwell says the Los Angeles show draws more visitors than Detroit because the city is bigger, 'but Detroit draws more media attention. There is no other place in the world where you have more automotive executives, so that's the place to be for the journalists. Detroit has got far more attention from the international press in the last five years.'
Loic Caperan, Fiat worldwide sales manager, goes against the usual favorites.
'My heart belongs to Bologna even though it is not an international motorshow,' says Caperan. 'Still, it is visited by about one million people. It is the show for young people, and they are at the show for five hours, where the visitors in Paris stay for only two hours.'
Caperan also visits Geneva, Turin, Frankfurt and Paris.
Peter Gerber, manager for corporate identity and shows at General Motors Europe, goes to many shows. His favorite is Geneva, because it is sophisticated and it is easy to see all the exhibits.
'For us the big motor shows are a very important part of the business, but I also visit the small shows, which are not acknowledged by OICA,' says Gerber. 'The costs? Approximately 10 percent of our media costs.'
Paul de Rooij, managing director at Ford Motor Co. Denmark A/S and chairman of the Board at Ford Motor Norway A/S, says Frankfurt is his favorite.
'Here we first see the important new cars, and the show is very innovative. To me, the most money from the car business seems to be invested in Frankfurt.'