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Europe Report

Pulling in the Punters

Birmingham retools its motor show in an attempt to draw a larger crowd.

Motropolis, a 4,000 seat outdoor arena, will entertain show goers with four action-packed, futuristic stunt-fuelled, adventure shows daily.
Odd isn’t it that the U.K., fourth largest car producing country in Europe, has a motor show that struggles to keep pace with the second division of auto shows, let alone the first division.

First division shows include the two hardy annuals, Detroit and Geneva, and the biennial Paris, Frankfurt and Toyko shows, all of which are a must on any motoring journalist’s calendar. In Europe you can also take your pick from Barcelona, Moscow, Brussels, Bologna — and Birmingham.

The big problem for the Birmingham show is that despite being in the U.K.’s industrial heartland, close to the manufacturing facilities of Jaguar, Land Rover, Peugeot and MG Rover, it has been failing to attract paying customers. Numbers have fallen from 700,000 in 1998 to 485,000 in 2002. That’s a big drop. All sorts of reasons were put forward. Birmingham’s traditional date of October, following the Paris show by only a couple of weeks, meant there were very rarely any headline-grabbing new model reveals.

It was the beginning of winter; dark wet days meant people would rather go to the movies than trek to the National Exhibition Centre, despite the fact that the NEC is well-served by rail and road links. So, in a brave move, or a desperate gamble, the organizers, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, moved the date forward to May — the show’s press days are May 25 and May 26 and the paying public then has until June 6 to visit.

As with the October date, this coincides with school holidays. The theory is that the light evenings (it won’t be getting dark until nearly 10 pm) will make the event far more friendly.

To back up this family theme, the show has been re-branded Motor Show Live! The idea is that there will be plenty to amuse and inform. The show organizers, realizing that they are competing for everyone’s precious leisure time, are pinning their hopes on a number of innovative ideas.

One of them is what is called a Taster Test Drive where the latest models from seven manufacturers will be available to test drive around a specially designed outdoor circuit. The manufacturers taking part are: Daihatsu, Honda, Hyundai, MG Rover, Nissan, Subaru and GM’s U.K. subsidiary Vauxhall.

The winding course has been created to simulate the tight turns and junctions found in built-up areas — but without the traffic jams. Drivers will be accompanied by a co-driver who will give guidance and answer any questions. Visitors in the market for a family car will be able to take up to two additional passengers. Andrew Andersz, PR director for the show, says, “The Taster Test Drive will give visitors an initial introduction to a number of new cars from our exhibitors. We believe that the opportunity to get a feel for the cars while at the show will bring benefit to both potential customers and manufacturers.”

Woodland next to the exhibition hall is being converted into a 4×4 driving course — claimed to be the largest at any motor show in the world. Visitors will experience genuine off-road conditions in vehicles from Honda, Kia, Volkswagen, Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota and Volvo.

The third element is what the organizers have dubbed Motropolis, a 4,000 capacity, purpose-built outdoor arena where four shows a day will be staged. Citroen, Honda, Jaguar, Renault and Saab are supporting what the organizers call “an action-packed, futuristic stuntfuelled adventure.”

Sean Canning, creative director of Motropolis, says: “Motropolis is much more than just another stunt show. It puts the cars in an exciting actionadventure storyline that features heroes and villains and will captivate the audience.”

And, of course, there will be some new cars to see inside. One coup is that French carmaker Renault has chosen Birmingham rather than Paris to unveil the production version of its Modus concept, unveiled at the Geneva show in March.

There might yet be hope for what used to be known as the British International Motor Show — but only if the target of 600,000 paying visitors is reached. And that is a big IF.

This article was provided exclusively to Automotive Industries by Interchange, a U.K.-based automotive business agency and consultancy servicing media and corporate clients. Anthony Lewis is a partner in Interchange and can be contacted via e-mail at