The Frankfurt auto show is doomed. It's hard to come to any other conclusion after the number of visitors to this year's event fell by nearly a third.
Even before the event opened to the public on Sept. 12, the buzz surrounding it suggested things were grim.
The absence of brands including Toyota, Renault, Peugeot, Nissan, Fiat and Ferrari was a serious blow for the organizers, the VDA, Germany's auto industry association. On top of that, thousands of climate activists protested outside the entrance, highlighting the simmering tensions between the German car industry and the country's environmentalists.
Automakers demonstrating their growing commitment to decarbonizing their fleets with new electric models such as the Porsche Taycan, Opel Corsa-e and Volkswagen ID3, failed to excite the public.
This year's show, which ended Sunday, had 560,000 visitors, according to the VDA. This compares with 810,000 when the biennial event was last held in 2017 amid Volkswagen Group's diesel crisis and talk of driving bans in polluted city centers.
Already then there was a discussion about whether the show had right format because visitor numbers had fallen from 931,700 in 2015, the highest attendance in eight years.
Auto shows from Detroit to Paris are suffering declining interested as car companies focus their marketing efforts on livestreamed, standalone product debuts but Frankfurt was also unlucky this year because the global climate strike led by Sweden's young activist Greta Thunberg fell by on the final Friday of the show.
Remarking on the numbers of automakers who skipped the event, the decline in floor space rented and less ambitious stands, former Opel CEO Karl Thomas Neumann tweeted that this year's show was a huge fail and "a sad shadow of what it used to be." He predicted that there will not be a 2021 show.
In future, event managers who pitch an expensive show presence to a marketing boss will have to work hard. The reason is something economists call the "network effect." Large crowds attract more people while dwindling numbers discourage them. Whether it is digital platforms or physical marketplaces, this can be deadly when the trend is against you.
In a statement VDA President Bernhard Mattes said the association was very satisfied with the public interest in the show, saying the event attained "new dimensions" in videos on social media. "In the digital age, what counts is no longer solely the number of square meters covered, but relevance," he said.
Mattes said the association plans to rejuvenate the show’s format by giving it more of a theme park feeling and taking the concept of mobility from the trade fair grounds into the city to engage people in their daily lives.
"Connected to this is the question of the location," Mattes said in the statement.
Mattes, who announced only hours after the show officially started that he would step down from his post at the end of the year, said Frankfurt was still in the running, along with other options.
German media said a decision on the format and location will be made in the spring. Berlin, with its young tech-savvy population of 3.75 million and numerous mobility startups, could be the choice for the next show, the Bild newspaper said.
That's assuming there is a show in two years.