It’s March 13th and the Geneva International Motor Show (GIMS) was supposed to be still going strong. However, the outside forces were stronger than the strongest of auto shows. As with many events nowadays, the ever-spreading coronavirus outbreak was cause for the cancellation of the 90th Geneva Motor Show.

In the announcement, the Chairman of the Foundation Board, Maurice Turrettini, said:

“We regret this situation, but the health of all participants is our and our exhibitors’ top priority. This is a case of force majeure and a tremendous loss for the manufacturers who have invested massively in their presence in Geneva. However, we are convinced that they will understand this decision.”

Indeed, the financial consequences were consequential, however, the show did promise to refund those who’ve purchased the tickets to this year’s event.

Following the announcement, one big question mark was hanging above the whole situation: what of the car showcases and launches?

After all, GIMS is one of the world’s biggest automotive shows where the “most renowned manufacturers in the world unveil their latest release”. And now they’ve lost the opportunity to do so.

Or have they?

We live in the digital age, so you’d be hard-pressed to say there was no opportunity at all for manufacturers to introduce their newest models to the car-loving masses. The show was “moved” from the physical Palexpo location in Switzerland to cyberspace. March 3rd and 4th were reserved for digital press conferences and live presentations. GIMS rounded up over two dozen car manufacturers for the live press day, with Mercedes, BMW, Porsche, and Audi – among others.

In theory, it sounds like a well-thought-out last-minute replacement. In practice, people found it to be lacking compared to the actual motor show experience.

Even though it lacked that feeling of actually being there, it was still better than the alternative – not premiering at all. Certainly, not every exhibitor premiered during the GIMS live press day, opting instead for their own localized car showcases, but GIMS live press day aggregated the vast majority of the digital premieres in one place.

Example of a localized event/car showcase

The carmakers that did showcase during the GIMS press day, however, leaned into a more empathetic, understanding tone of message when addressing the GIMS cancellation.

In fact, during its digital world premiere, BMW chairman of the Board of Management, Oliver Zipse, briefly touched upon the subject of the coronavirus and the impact it had thus far.

“This is the time of the year we usually meet in Geneva, and it is unfortunate that this year we’re unable to do so. However, safety is always our highest priority and we fully understand and respect the decision taken by the Federal Council of Switzerland. We would like to express our utmost empathy to all those directly and indirectly affected across the world. In these truly challenging times, we all hope that the virus will soon be contained and we can all return to our everyday lives.”

Coronavirus is not at the heart of this motor show, though, however disruptive its effects were. In fact, a lot of talk was geared towards electrification and digital transformation. Panels Electric Vehicles: Key to a More Sustainable Future? and Digital Transformation in the Automotive World would have seen automotive industry experts discuss accelerating the electric vehicle revolution and new digital developments in the driving experience, respectively.

And while there were no panels to be had, those two topics did not go unaddressed. 

When asked about electrification during the live premiere, the Mercedes CEO said:

“We have made a very clear decision at Mercedes. We’re going CO2 neutral. Our greater ambition, that we call ambition 2039, is that over the next two decades the whole fleet is going CO2 neutral. It’s a full offensive on electrification among all our vehicles.” 

Not to be overlooked, Audi representative, Hildegard Wortmann, Sales & Marketing Board Member, emphasized the importance of sustainability, even when it comes to eco-friendly seat upholstery:

“Sustainability is really important for us at Audi, we have of course the electrification. The TFSI has already a mild hybrid in there, and we offer the new A3 as a plug-in hybrid with even two different power levels. But sustainability is not just a question of the electrification. We’re also applying sustainability in the interior concept. So, the A3 for the first time has the upholstery made out of the recycled PET bottles, which is a great concept.”

The BMW chairman Oliver Zipse and VW COO Ralf Brandstätter also announced that the future of their respective car companies is sustainability:

“At the BMW Group, we believe in the power of choice and electromobility is an important part of that. And that is why we’re launching many new electrified vehicles over the next few years.

Oliver Zipse, BMW chairman

“Climate change is happening and it’s time to do something about it. Volkswagen was the first car maker to commit to Paris climate goals. What this means for us is that our products and production processes must be carbon neutral by 2050. … This year alone we’re going to launch eight all electrified cars.”

Ralf Brandstätter, VW COO

Not too long ago, we wrote a piece on the Super Bowl and the rise of advertising geared towards electric vehicles. It seems that now, more than ever, the future is electric. Not only are car makers investing more money in the production of electric vehicles, but also in their promotion. Carmakers are talking a big game, hopefully they’ll be walking that talk, too.

For now, let’s take a look into how big of a GIMS online coverage pie went to electric vehicles (EV). 

Geneva Motor Show and electric vehicles competitive online analysis

*For reference: the query #gimsswiss+EV reflects all mentions of electric vehicles in the context of GIMS, and the query #gimsswiss reflects all mentions of GIMS in general (in a time period of Feb 10th – March 10th).

If we take a look at the share of voice pie chart, we see that EV’s share in the total number of mentions is 16% or 4 921 mentions.

Share of voice chart

The most common sources for both queries were Twitter and Web, respectively, by the number of mentions. It makes sense as a lot of media outlets were keeping track of car unveilings and updating their GIMS car master lists. Even after GIMS was canceled, the media took to broadcasting the coronavirus related reasons for cancellation as well as reviewing the subsequent digital premieres. Twitter was the most popular source as people often take to Twitter to comment on events taking place.

Number of mentions per channel

When looking at how the number of mentions behaved over time, the number of EV mentions remained relatively constant, while an obvious rise of GIMS mentions was visible on February 28th.

Mentions over time chart

It’s worth mentioning that February 28th was the day that GIMS officially announced the show was canceled.

Perhaps particularly interesting for electric vehicles, though, is to look at the following chart:

Most common keywords by source chart

These are the most popular cars on the two most popular sources for this query – Web and Twitter. These cars had the most mentions on these two source types. You may notice some cars’ names are broken down into two keywords, e.g. Hyundai’s Prophecy and Volvo’s Polestar Precept. However, looking at this chart you can notice that those two were also the most popular EVs amongst the online audience. Aside from Hyundai and Polestar, people often mentioned Kia Sorento, Volkswagen, and Lexus, too.

Aside from the electrification, though, a notable GIMS theme was digital transformation. Many carmakers, like Audi and Mercedes, talked about this topic during their live presentation and what it means for their respective companies.

Here’s what the Audi and Mercedes representatives, respectively, had to say exactly:

“If you look into connectivity, you know this is important for our customers, the A3 comes all connected, seamlessly connected. And, we are also using Car-to-X communications, so you can connect your car and send or receive state from the environment. Which, for example, is important if you’re looking for a parking space.”

Audi representative

“(Digitalisation) is really a digital revolution that is going on in the auto industry. I would say that the car is the ultimate smartphone on wheels. So, you have hardware architecture and you have software architecture. What we’re introducing in all our models, is the latest and greatest – what we call MB UX. So, our infotainment domain of that software architectures. All bells and whistles, over the air downloadable new features for the customers. … Intuitive and aesthetically beautiful.”

Mercedes representative

Overcoming the hurdle

In the wake of growing concerns surrounding the coronavirus, one can’t argue that canceling this year’s GIMS, but also all the other events with big gatherings wasn’t a good idea.

However disappointed people might have felt about not physically being there for the unveilings, GIMS embraced the digital culture by moving the auto show to digital space. Thus, proving that what once might have felt impossible is, in fact, possible.

Turns out constricting the biggest motor show to 10-15 minute live press conference and presentation per carmaker is nothing too out of the ordinary.

Maybe it even opened the floor for questioning the future of motor shows: will they start to go digital?

Whatever the future holds, though, one thing is for certain. Electrification and digitalization are on the rise, and sustainability has become the buzz word amongst the carmakers.

The electric vehicle’s future is now, and I, for one, am here for it.

If you can’t get enough of GIMS, check out our online analysis of the show’s mentions! From the most popular cars online to sentiment surrounding the show – we’ve got it all covered.


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