London Motor Show 2017 report

DTW’s roving reporter packs his bindle and heads for the bright lights of the London Motor Show.

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At one time, the British International Motor Show was petrolhead nirvana. From humble beginnings in the early 1900s, it became the UK motor industry’s biggest event, an opportunity to polish its chrome work to a high shine and have it smudged to oblivion by the greasy fingers of an eager public. Held yearly from 1948 at London’s Earl’s Court, the show found huge popularity in the postwar period as car ownership took off. 1978 saw the event move to the heartland of the motor industry, Birmingham, and a change to a bi-annual format. That year over 900,000 car fans descended on the cavernous halls and ample parking of the National Exhibition Centre to slam doors, ogle the promotional dolly birds and load up with loot. It was not to last.

An “international” motor show is something of a misnomer, as such events always reflect the fortunes (or otherwise) of the host domestic motor industry. During the 1990s, at a time when its Frankfurt equivalent was growing in prominence, support for the British International Motor Show was softening. Tickets sales trended downwards, prompting international manufacturers to scale back their commitment to the event in an unvirtuous circle. By the 1998 Birmingham show, simultaneous debuts from the Jaguar S-Type and Rover 75 could not mask the underlying stress of the UK car industry and its biggest show. (Indeed, BMW boss Bernd Pischetsrieder’s Rover 75 launch speech at the show was blunt about their British outpost’s prospects, damning both car and company before sales began.)

The British International Motor Show staggered into the new millennium, returning to London in 2006 and 2008. But the mass market car makers that drove the event had largely departed these shores. With no local pride at stake, penny pinching international manufacturers reacted to the global crash by pulling out of the British show en mass. The axe finally fell in 2010.

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The UK remains a huge market of car enthusiasts, so it was with some goodwill that a new event launched in 2016: the London Motor Show. Hopes of an event reprising the podiatrist-troubling scale of Earl’s Court or the NEC have been swiftly dispelled, the Battersea Park venue offering but a single large hall augmented by a secondary marquee, with more vehicles dotted around outdoors. Support from the big manufacturers is conspicuously absent, the void filled by niche manufacturers, car dealerships, tuners, vehicle hire firms and livery services.

Irrespective, there is much to see. The cars on show reflect local tastes: a smattering of supercars, 4x4s and classics stand cheek by jowl with humdrum congestion charge dodging hybrids and EVs. Something for Knightsbridge one-percenters, their domestic staff and Foxtons estate agents alike.

Here are some highlights.

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Did I say highlights? I meant lowlights. This Kahn-ified Landrover features leather lined bucket seats, a leather wrapped dashboard and bolt on wheel arch extensions, and is offered by The Chelsea Tractor Company (honestly, that’s their name). The onlooker’s face says it all.

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Something to cleanse the palette: a lightweight E-Type. That’s a million quid, right there. Worth the money? I’ll leave that open to discussion.

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A gratuitous over the shoulder shot of an Aston Martin Vanquish. Also on display was a DB11; I have to say I’m still not completely sold on the more “technical” look of that car.

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More Kahn butchery. Under the body of this “Vengeance” is an Aston DB9, one of the prettiest cars ever made. Honestly, this type of thing should be made a capital offence.

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Morgan is one of the few brands with a proper presence at the show. This Selfridges Edition EV3 oozes fun.

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David Brown Automotive are showing two cars. I was prepared to dislike their reinvented Mini but the quality is exquisite.

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The David Brown Speedback GT is a quite different kettle of fish: a Jaguar XK rebodied to look like an Aston Martin DB5. Again I was prepared to hate it but came away impressed.

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Something rather more mundane: the new Insignia. Garnering little interest amongst the more exotic cars (the two people in the picture are Vauxhall stand keepers), I found it very convincing inside and out.

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Vauxhall too boring for you? All right, here’s a Lamborghini. Happy now?

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A Rolls Royce Ghost with a purple and black interior. Money, taste, etcetera. This car has paint blacker than the jokes in an unpublished Frankie Boyle Guardian column.

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Talking about paint, this BMW 7 Series is a deeply lustrous shade of Stockbroker Blue. Who says BMW paint is rubbish? (Me, usually.)

IMG_5506The biggest buzz at the show surrounds  this Tesla Model X. Build quality is surprisingly good, the flat floor making it incredibly spacious, and the gull-sorry falcon wing doors are a lot of fun.

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Spot the difference. One Giulia is a 2.0, the other is a 2.9 producing 500bhp. That they look so similar inside and out is a masterstroke by Alfa Romeo, I think. The interior is miles ahead of an XE.

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There is more of course, including American imports and a host of classics. For £15 the London Motor Show offers fair value and I very much enjoyed the two hours it took to circulate round the exhibition.

And yet I cannot help but compare with what used to be; those old British International Motor Shows that filled multiple halls with gleaming metal and the thousands upon thousands of people who came to look, touch and smell hundreds of cars.

The London Motor Show is a tasty morsel served to a British public hungry for more. Whilst the conditions that fostered the huge SMMT supported shows of the past are gone, I have no doubt that demand exists for a show of far grander scope and ambition. Here’s hoping.

The London Motor Show is on until Sunday the 7th of May at Battersea Park. The DTW correspondent paid for his own ticket, travel costs and M&S sandwiches.

Author: chrisward1978

Professional pixel pugilist and word wrangler. Unprofessional pub snug raconteur.

21 thoughts on “London Motor Show 2017 report”

    1. Afraid not, nor any of the classics. The American imports were a couple of F150 Raptors, some Challengers (including a Hellcat), a Suburban and a Yukon Denali. There were a lot of tuned Mustangs too.

    2. I wouldn’t be so dismissive of the Challenger: they’re a big wad of performance for the money and coherently styled. The trucks were all ritzy and naff.

  1. The Alpine A110 was there, which suggests that Renault have serious intentions for it in the UK market.

    The Ghoul MG XS got its UK premiere too.

    Which reminds me that the last London show I went to was at ExCel in 2008, when the MG TF was relaunched by Nanjing MG. That was a seriously damp squib, and matters at so-called MG haven’t improved much since.

    1. The XS uses a similar concept for the grille as BMW uses on the 3 – the chrome between the lamp and the mesh. It gives the impression the chrome frame is behind the bonnet edge and bumper edge.
      Gestalt Theory would explain that as an example of continuation. The C-pillar is uninterrupted.

    2. I was there for the launch of the MG. The pre-rag whip off chat was poor: the chief stylist looked like he would rather have been anywhere else. Unfortunately my elbows weren’t sharp enough to get a decent video of the unveiling.

    3. I managed to get a couple of crap photos of the Alpine. It looks convincing in the metal, although £60k is hopeful. There was one of everything on the Porsche stand. They might as well have brought a steam roller.

  2. At Geneva they were talking about €55K for the A110, so they must have ambitions to take the trousers off the British. it’s a delightful thing, but the sector is still price-sensitive.

    Was it Tony Williams-Kenny who would rather have been anywhere else than the so-called MG stand at the XS launch? He should watch Gert Hildebrand in action – not that it seems to be doing Qoros any good.

    I only hope Ghoul Borgward’s people are looking at the way so-called MG go about things and learning how not to do it.

  3. I went to this waste of money in 2016 and said never again. It is worse than what a local church would whip up for a small town fete. The biggest magnet they had in 2016 was the unveiling of the new TVR, which to this day has never seen the light of day.

    The Alpine: ha I see an even bigger flop in the making than the Toyota/Subaru flop that is the BRZ and whatever Toyota calls their invisible car. It is not Boxster sexy, it is too tall, it’s a Renault, has a FOUR cylinder micro-engine and they want near £60,000 for it?! Ha-ha-ha. Good luck convincing people to part money for what is to most an unknown brand. Seen how many micro engined 4Cs Alfa have sold? And they are a known sporty brand.

    Was kind of BMW to put a 750i badge on the number plate for us to know what it is, since the 5 is an exact clone nose on.

    If you’ve ever been to the motor shows in Geneva or Frankfurt or the now defunct but free Canary Wharf London motor show, you’ll know that to spend £20 to go to this farce is worse than having just put a flame to two decent tenners and posting a video of that to YouTube.

    1. It’s very tempting to ask why one of the world’s top twenty economies or even Londonland can’t manage a decently presented exhibition of products. It might be that it isn’t necessary and the cars sell themselves. It’s the heterogenous nature of the show that Chris hints at which makes me think it is a less than meticulously co-ordinated show.

    2. I thought the Alpine convincing. Yes it only has a four pot, but so now does the Boxster. Crucially it also copies the Boxster’s trump card of being reasonably habitable inside; the Alfa 4C does not manage that trick. Whether any of these things is enough to find the A110 a sustainable market, who knows.

  4. I didn’t want to be brutal about the London Motor Show; the organisers did very well to organise what they had with no industry support. Also, as I said in the article, £15 was reasonable entry for what was offered. But yes, it is a pale shadow of what once was, and the grand name does little to dispel that notion.

    It is notable that as the British International Motorshow dwindled to nought, events such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed have only grown in strength. A couple of years ago I attended Top Gear Live, which combined an arena show starring three dishevelled old men with a large exhibition of cars both old and new. Perhaps it was the memories triggered by the shared NEC venue, but I did think at the time that the TGLive format offered a vision of how the SMMT events could have evolved. Thin manufacturer support would be more than mitigated by the presence of various owners clubs, plus a sit down show of some sort to rest those weary feet. Wouldn’t Frankfurt and Geneva seem desperately dull in comparison? Manufacturers would think twice before ignoring a captive audience of that nature.

  5. The 2008 ExCel show was heavily linked with brand TG, which was in its absolute pomp at the time.

    Even Frankfurt in 2015 wasn’t immune. The IAA has a strong carnival sideshow element, which is absent from deadly serious, industry-centred, and above all neutral, Geneva.

    There’s no neutrality at Frankfurt. It’s Deutschland über alles. Audi had a huge, but temporary building purpose-constructed for the show, BMW had their aerial roadway and a sizeable banked theatre on their stand, and Daimler eschewed a conventional stand in favour of a massive auditorium with a stage presentation on a “Das Beste Oder Nichts” theme.

    Some would say their industry’s achievements deserve a show of national pride, for me it had a chilling aura of the Nuremburg Rallies.

    I’d expect a bit more humility this year. The 2015 IAA had scarcely opened when VAG’s shame was revealed. During the day, it was stage-managed hubris, in the evening hopping between the news channels on the hotel TV as the media staked out Wolfsburg awaiting word of Winterkorn’s Untergang.

    1. Robertas if you’ve been to Frankfurt more than once you will know that your statement “and Daimler eschewed a conventional stand in favour of a massive auditorium with a stage presentation” is not quite true I’m afraid. Mercedes is in the Festhalle every single year and never have a conventional stand. Furthermore the huge temporary stand in front of it, is sometimes Audi and sometimes BMW – they alter that area as well. I’ve never been to the Mercedes Halle that the show there doesn’t bowl you over. They move and alter even the massive escalators to suit each year’s design. It’s spectacular. Frankfurt is by some margin the best show to go to.

  6. My co-attendees and I did have a thought about visiting Frankfurt, but I might give it a miss if it involves too much waving of the weiner. Craving a varied menu of flavours, perhaps Geneva might be the way to go?

    1. Frankfurt is only every two years. Geneva is annually. Frankfurt is WAY better and you can spend two days there easy. Geneva I usually do in about 4 to 5 hours – but that is because I don’t go see every car I’ve already seen. Geneva also has a 2m (or so) height restriction on all stands that doesn’t have an exterior wall. So they are WAY less dramatic than what you get in Frankfurt.

      Geneva itself is also a very boring concrete city. I go to the excellent hamam in the harbour – and swim naked in the 4 degree lake water! But that is it as far as fun goes.

      I’d recommend Frankfurt many, many, many times over Geneva.

    2. I can recommend some good restaurants in Frankfurt. It’s not a pretty city, but pleasingly vibrant.

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