Welcoming a new contributor to DTW; Editor/Director of Transport Museum, Lukas von Rantzau, who opens his account with an acerbic two-part overview of ‘virtual Geneva’.
When the Geneva International Motor Show (GIMS) was cancelled only four days before its scheduled opening, some predicted this to be yet another nail in the coffin of the Motor Show per se. While visitors and exhibitors have been equally disappointed by the most recent iterations of the once glamourous celebrations of the automotive industry, the neutral ground of Geneva remained something of a last stronghold for a dying concept. Founded on Swiss neutrality, blessed with the presence of the largest variety of car manufacturers, it was supposed to be the one go-to-show in Europe this year. Alas, it was not to be at all.
More so than the Force Majeure cited in this year’s cancellation statement however, the limitless broadcasting possibilities of the internet have chipped away at the Motor Show’s raison d’être. Meeting at an agreed date and place, gathering all journalists in the same venue and holding world premieres back to back was a pragmatic way to announce new models before the dawn of the internet. But this orthodoxy is proving increasingly hollow. Tesla (and Apple) have never launched a new car (or phone) at a third-party industry gathering. They perform their own shows. And are rewarded with much more attention than any Motor Show could ever dream of these days.
As old habits die hard, the automotive industry has clung to the time-honoured format. This year however, the long list of Geneva exhibitors was forced to leave their comfort zone. Each one had exactly one weekend to prepare their own interpretation of an iPhone launch, to then become part of the “GIMS Virtual Press Day” playlist. While none have truly excelled at this task, some have fared a bit better than others.
Travelling to Bavaria can feel like a trip into the past. When the rest of Germany had long repainted their police cars blue, in Bavaria they were still green for at least another decade. The video snippets we are presented with at the beginning of BMW’s Virtual Press Conference feel similarly out of fashion. A blond, enthusiastic presenter takes us into what supposedly is the BMW design studio, but looks like a Telenovela set from the 1990s. There she is greeted by her equally blond colleague. The long-haired exterior designer could well have modelled for Greetings from Bavaria postcards, conveying the comfortably reassuring message to the rest of the world, that all pre-conceived stereotypes about se Germans have been true all along.
Following this five-minute-long intro, CEO Oliver Zipse, takes the stage of BMW’s concrete-themed press centre. An audience wearing suits and suspiciously neither taking notes, nor filming the event with their smartphones applauds politely to various, largely forgettable announcements. Finally, the i4 Concept is teased in a more expensively produced video clip and quietly driven into the spotlight. Adrian van Hooydonk speaks a couple of words, dwarfing his boss both in stature and eloquence.
In short, first class entertainment for the sufficiently cynical observer.
Maybe the Stuttgart behemoth has always been aesthetically confused to some extent. Entangled into a web of Swabian conservatism, mainstream mediocracy and Sensual Purity (some might say the latter two are synonymous) Mercedes’ Geneva press video is a chore to watch in its entirety. The studio we are greeted in is dominated by a huge couch, potentially taken straight from the long defunct German TV-Show ‘Wetten dass…?’, famous not least for a questionable taste of furniture and wardrobe.
Mercedes’s host, an extroverted American, speaks refreshingly native and fluent English and leads through the show very professionally. Unfortunately, she may be most remembered either for what might have been the cruellest butchering of the word Stuttgart to ever come from an official Mercedes-Benz press release or her choice of eyewear that would have made Wilma Flintstone proud. A rather uninspired Ola Källenius patiently replies to her questions, while the implied spontaneity of the conversation is entirely eroded by the mentioned facts and figures popping up on the two large screens mounted behind the couch the moment they are voiced.
The two are soon joined by more of the Mercedes C-level suite and exchange more, mostly unmemorable information. The intermittent launch videos are notable for a questionable choice of background music that fits to the rest of the setting in as far as it is equally eclectic.
If the choice really is the ‘best or nothing‘, nothing should have been given more serious consideration.
Refreshingly, Skoda managed to turn the liability of the cancelled Geneva show into a public relations asset. Skoda’s (German) CEO Bernhard Maier injects a dose of something that’s been missing so far: showmanship. He tells the story of how the trucks were literally turned around en route to Geneva. He explains that he is now standing on the sacred Czech factory floor where Skoda quality control is performed under the bright lights we can spot in the background. True or not, it’s memorable. Refreshingly Mr. Maier seems to enjoy the interaction with the camera.
Unfortunately, his presentation is let down by the anti-climactic unveiling of an exceedingly dull non-Combi Skoda Octavia RS Plug-In-Hybrid that is hardly going to raise many eyebrows, one way or another.
Simply clever? Actually … yes!
Finally, it seems, a car company has learned a lesson or two from Apple. A bright white studio background, a reasonably well composed and equally well-lit picture leaves little room for criticism. When Tom Gardner, SVP of Honda Europe, begins to speak, for a moment one could almost mistake him for Sir Jonathan Ive. Floating on a cloud of British eloquence, he runs circles around his German colleagues.
Yet, after not much more than two of the reasonably brief nine minutes, the mind begins to wander, as none of the presented information is particularly interesting. Are Honda’s products just too boring? If Apple manages to turn the asymmetrically designed cooling fans of a MacBook Pro into a talking point, there should also be something noteworthy about a car as dull as the current Honda Jazz.
Honda is on to something. But only half way there.
After the live broadcast had ended, the company lost no time to dub the German original with a quick English translation. The result is of course dissatisfying for both German and non-German speakers alike. The presenters are stripped of originality and character of which at least some appears to have been present.
All possible excitement about the new ID4 was literally camouflaged by both the cars dazzle paint and the exceedingly generic information shared with us by Ralf Brandstätter, VW’s COO. He doesn’t seem too excited about e-mobility. But his eyes brighten up significantly once the presentation shifts to the new Golf VIII GTI. If the old guards of the petrol engine really have so little passion for electric vehicles, no wonder the resulting products are so uninspired.
Heidedesign can take many shapes and forms.
In part 2: Bentley, McLaren, Porsche, Aston Martin & DS, followed by a brief conclusion.