15 shades of GIMS (Part 1)

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’.

All images (c) GIMS

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.

BMW

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.

Mercedes-Benz

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.

Skoda

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!

Honda

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.

Volkswagen

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.

Author: Lukas von Rantzau

Founder & editor of www.TRANSPORTMUSEUM.net, an online-only museum for aesthetic, strategic & historic reflections on how to move people & things from A to B.

12 thoughts on “15 shades of GIMS (Part 1)”

  1. Good morning, Lukas. Welcome to the DTW fold and congratulations on a very entertaining first contribution. Your “best or nothing” summary of the Mercedes-Benz event made me laugh! Looking forward to part two.

  2. At the very least, Bernhard Meier proves that it’s not the German accent that’s to be blamed for the woefulness of most Teutonic brands’ virtual presentations. In BMW’s case, I do wonder who decided to hire a German native speaker host, and why. Her heavy accent unnecessarily provides plenty of reason for ridicule, which is put into even sharper relief by Mercedes’ choice to go for an American presenter.

    As Lukas astutely pointed out, the dilettante flair of most videos is half amusing, half shocking. Nobody would require businessmen to be entertaining speakers, but the low-rent sets and odd structure (breakfast tv/obviously staged look ‘behind the scenes’) are inexcusable given the kind of money and (alleged) professionalism involved.

    1. Very well put, Mr Butt.

      I fear the alleged professionalism (that I will also continue to expect), does not extend to product presentations (yet). Both, Mr Källenius & Mr Zipse may well exceed each other in negotiating the last cent out of every screw their companies purchase from a supplier. But they apparently have not made it a priority to develop a compelling and coherent vision of how their companies and their products shall be perceived. A huge void, that they I don’t think they will be able to afford for long.

      More along these lines in Part 2, coming soon.

    2. Like Lukas (Graf? or possibly Herzog?), I took in the Tuesday press conferences by way of GIMS’s online portal.

      On the sofa in front of the big television (Panasonic, not Ghoul NordMende), it’s far less effort than in real life at Palexpo, but the magic’s not there. It may already have died with Sergio Marchionne – Carlos Ghosn and Dr. Z were also must-watch performers who we’re unlikely to see again.

      The virtual media day’s scheduling mirrored real life perfectly. Once the big boys’ presentations are complete everything goes to hell.

      An Alfa Romeo slot was posted up but never materialised. Porsche had Mark Webber as moderator (In the modern German media sense, rather that that of Calvinist hierarchy), but delivered the live presentation without the sound switched on. The promised sub-titled Volkswagen afternoon showing (I’m presuming in English, but if I was in charge I’d have gone for Sorbian, Lithuanian or Geordie, just out of badness) dropped out of the schedule. Morgan slipped back two hours, then moved forward again. Aiways’ show was just bizarre: two cars on a platform. No sound. Clearly live, as people walked back and forward silently taking pictures. After about 10 minutes Samuel Fu walks on and gives a textbook performance – modest, informative, matter-of-fact. Possibly more on this story later.

      I assumed that Volkswagen’s German-language presentation was a sly swipe at the Francophone Genevois, who were in thoroughly bad odour with everybody. Opening with their Moderatorin standing at the waterside with the iconic Heizkraftwerk Nord/Süd in the background was a powerful signal that they had figuratively and physically turned their backs on Geneva.

      As Lukas implies, Germans struggle with the sort of chummy casualness which comes naturally to the English and North Americans. There was a feeling of everyone being ‘du’ when they would rather be relating as ‘Sie’.

      I’m very much looking forward to part two, and certainly don’t wish to steal any of our noble new friend’s fire, so shall save further comments for another day.

    3. Robertas, unlike you, I actually only began watching and reviewing the videos the evening after they had already happened, and was hence spared the rather embarrassing, but somehow unsurprising technical glitches and drama you mention.

      I did not review all the presentations, even though there was clearly plenty more to see and say. It was like a high definition mirror of the automotive industry put straight onto your screen. Something slow-motion-car-crashy about it too. Very hard to look away.

      Anyhow, part 2 is coming soon and there is plenty more room for your perspective and insights, that I would be curious to hear more about too. (I agree, Samual Fu’s performance stood out for the professionalism and clarity of message that most others were lacking.)

  3. Mr. Brandstätter was probably worrying about the disastrous consequences the ID .3 will have on VW’s future. VW has enough experience in offering products customers don’t want nor buy.

    1. Dave the ID 3 success remains to be played out, I seem to remember negativity towards the original beetle and we all know how that went.
      It’s obvious with virtually every car manufacturer” gearing up” or already selling ev’s , the ever expanding charging infrastructure , the environmental issues, like it or not we seem to have reached a turning point with potential buyers becoming educated on the benefits of these cars and more buying into this daily.

    2. I think you’re probably right, DGatewood. Not wishing to be anybody’s ‘crash-test dummy’, I’m a committed late-adopter of new technology. I don’t know when we’ll finally decide it’s time to buy an EV, but I think it’s highly unlikely to buy another ICE vehicle. We’ll just hang on to the two we’ve already got indefinitely

    3. DGatewood, I very much agree with your observation, I also think the tipping point is approaching. It was all the more staggering to see how little passion Mr. Brandstätter seems to have for the EV product line. Desirable products don’t grow on trees, and VW engineers won’t develop one half heartedly. (I think VW’s first EV success will be the ID.Buzz, which arguably they should have released a long time ago.)

  4. All is far from well with the world and I’m in a particularly despondent mood.

    I read what Daniel says and wonder if the best days of EVs are already here. Long before the 14 or so years into the future when we are finally legislated out of our IC vehicles, the effortlessly super-fast EVs will be outlawed as irresponsible and a menace to the new absolutist world of constantly controlled, monitored and taxed “mobility solutions”.

    Enjoy what we have while you can – things can only get worse.

    1. Sorry but I don’t share that view, we are always evolving and having switched to an electric several years ago can’t understand the fear of moving toward this tech. Our lives are dominated by electricity so it seems logical that should power our personal transport instead of the nasty polluting source in use today.
      Yes there will be some sacrifices or adjustments for certain owners but nothing new here, I recall a number of
      years ago one could leave London complete a work day in NY and return in time for tea, no more!

      Ive been a car enthusiast from an early age, owned virtually every engine configuration and numerous makes.
      Ive had no regrets moving to an Ev it’s called evolving.

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