This past Friday, the organizers of the 2020 Geneva International Motor Show could avoid coronavirus no longer. Following a decree by the Swiss government banning public gatherings of more than 1,000 people, they were forced to declareforce majeureand cancel this year’s auto show. Although this new coronavirus ismore dangerous the older you are, it appears it’s most lethal to trade shows—GIMS now lines up alongsideGDC, theBeijing Auto Show, andMobile World Congressas one more trade show taken down by the bug.
With the decision made so late in the process—the media preview days were scheduled for March 3 and 4—work was already well underway at the Palexpo convention center.Swiss publication Radicaltook a wander through the half-assembled booths, their photos providing a poignant look behind the curtain. Even before the Swiss called time on GIMS, attendees were reconsidering their plans. The OEMs were petrified of having teams of high-ranking executives sequestered into quarantine should a case be reported in their hotels (particularly given Geneva’s hotel prices!), and plans to bring journalists to the show were mostly shelved by late last week.
So instead of filling the convention halls with the new Volkswagen Golf or some low-volume electric hypercar bearing a nameplate that fell from popularity a century ago, everyone’s scrambling to move those reveals online. In retrospect, it makes the approach taken by some other OEMS—to do just that but in the week leading up to GIMS—look increasingly wise.
I had been hoping to bring you a proper in-person take on Polestar’s Precept, a four-door battery electric vehicle concept that shows the Volvo spinoff has some original ideas about electric performance cars that don’t just involve auto translating ideas from Germany or California into Swedish. ThePolestar 1 plug-in hybridwas a way to plunk down a marker for the brand before the arrival of this year’s higher volume Polestar 2 BEV, and even the brand’s executives are open about its roots in 2013’s Volvo Concept Coupe.
By contrast, the Precept is all Polestar and points to where the brand wants to go in a more differentiated future. Aerodynamic efficiency is more critical to a BEV because of the way drag saps range, hence the Precept’s integrated wing above the hood, which helps keep the airflow attached to the upper surface of the car at speed. Likewise the side treatments and the blade-like horizontal and vertical surfaces at the rear. On the inside, sustainability is the keyword, with seats knit from recycled PET plastic bottles and carpets made from recycled fishing nets. It also uses flax-based composites for interior panels and setbacks that Polestar says weigh 50-percent less than conventional materials, at the same time using 80-percent less plastic.
Can the auto show survive?
Just a few weeks ago—before coronavirus concern reached criticality—I was already wondering out loudhow long the conventional car show could continue. So many OEMs pulled out of Detroit’s North American International Auto Show that it decided to give up its traditional year-opening January slot for a chance of rebirth in June. (Don’t discount CES’ role in this drastic measure, however.)
2019’s Frankfurt auto show was likely the city’s last—it had alternated year-to-year with Paris, but the organizers have already declared that 2021 won’t see a return to Germany, leaving no big trade show in the home market of several of the industry’s biggest players. The next big car show on the horizon is the New York International Auto Show in early April, and the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association has no plans to cancel yet, saying, “the Javits Center is taking precautionary measures inside the venue to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, and the New York Auto Show will follow its lead to protect exhibitors and attendees.”
Listing image by Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg/Getty Images