I am convinced the woman sitting directly behind me on the plane has The Only Way is Essex series-linked on her Sky box. From the moment we sit down she is talking, loudly, ostensibly to the person sitting next to her but effectively to everyone for three rows either side. She constantly name drops various supercars she has ridden in, not driven of course, while adding repeatedly how “very very excited” she is.
Clearly Essex woman has not been to the Geneva Motor Show before, whereas for a moment I consider ruefully that my visits are now well into the twenties. You will struggle to find anyone on this crack-of-dawn departure from Gatwick who is not connected in some way with the motor industry – myself and fellow journos, some recognised and greeted with a knowing smile, interspersed amongst manufacturer execs, PRs and the litany of hangers-on that always manage to get into Geneva’s press day.
It does amuse me that the one airport that allows me to make the most effective use of my limited time at the show is the one I used to live half a mile from, and which I now live 230 miles from. But the trip south on the previous afternoon and the overnighter at the in-laws is time well spent – I really enjoy Geneva and am just glad to be here, having had to cancel my trip to last year’s show at the last minute when I discovered just before setting off from home that my passport had disappeared, never to be seen again.
Small show, large importance
Why do I love Geneva? A combination of its importance and its practicality. For the global auto industry the show ranks above just about all others and the new metal on display runs into three figures. But all of this is squeezed into a compact exhibition centre that one can easily traverse several times in a single day, especially as said centre is a mere 10-minute walk from the terminal of Geneva airport.
So I enjoy my day of door-stepping all the new stuff, even though this year as the representative of a news website I’m rushing around with more urgency than usual to picture the relevant metal and feed the shots back to the office for our coverage on The Car Expert.
Even while ensuring I capture the important if ordinary mainstream metal I can find time to gaze at the good stuff. The new McLaren is simply gorgeous – I no longer lust after McLarens in vain hope, having finally got to drive one last year (story here), but oh I want to drive this 720S. The Kia Stinger – in the metal it is every bit as good as the pictures we first saw from Detroit in January. I finally get to see the Alpine, and it’s one cute little sports car, and while Land Rover stuff doesn’t normally float my boat I admit the new Range Rover Velar looks impressive.
Not what you see…
For a freelance like me Geneva is also about that horrible word ‘networking’ – it’s a chance to remind some manufacturers that you are still around and working. And it’s always good to catch up on the latest industry gossip, which on this occasion is dominated by the announcement just a day earlier that Vauxhall-Opel is to be taken over by PSA Group, parent of Peugeot-Citroën (or if you read the BBC business twitter feed, Peugot Citron. I kid you not…). I just about get away with asking PSA’s UK head of PR whether he’s been to Vauxhall at Luton yet to measure up for curtains, while wherever I go at the show PSA boss Carlos Tavares seems to be there already, popping up at every press conference, including the Citroën one I’m dragged into.
I normally avoid such press conferences like the plague. They usually involve a huge scrum of media scrabbling to hear an industry boss say nothing new which in any case one can download from the press website within minutes, then quaffing the offered champagne coz one feels duty-bound to while trying to photograph the newly unveiled car whilst everyone else is trying to – far better to come back later, when the scrum has moved on to the next conference.
Photographing the cars does expose the darker side of Geneva, however, basically the sheer breadth of people who are allowed in on press day. A volley of complaints a few years ago has at least resulted in fewer children wandering the halls amongst the media horde, but an ever-present are the Far-Eastern spies.
Spies? Basically it seems that manufacturers, particularly those from Japan, China or Korea, send a legion of staff to press day, armed with clipboards and compact cameras. They then proceed to touch, operate, caress and photograph every bit of each new model, from boot catches to door trim panels, making copious notes to no doubt take back to the team designing their own rival contender, and totally frustrating the ‘normal’ photographers who just want them to get out of the bloody way so we can photograph the whole car!
This year, however, your correspondent noticed a new pest in the halls, and it comes from our own ranks – or at least those who consider themselves among us but who probably aren’t really…
I’m on the phone…
These are the ‘Vloggers’ – video bloggers, who arrive at the show with the aim of producing coverage just like they’ve seen on the TV, and more importantly to try to convince people, mainly themselves, just how vital a part of this circus they really are.
Their weapons are the video function of a smartphone and a microphone on a lead, like one sees commuters using when having animated conversations on London stations without that tiring aspect of actually holding the phone to one’s ear.
Armed with this combination, they proceed to march across the Geneva halls, staring and talking loudly into the phone screen that is held in front of their faces and therefore not caring who they knock out of the way in the process, and then panning across to focus on bits of cars before striding purposefully onto the next one.
They then take these films home and slap them onto the worldwide web, because anyone with a laptop or even a tablet can have their own website these days, and settle back in contentment, thinking because they have done this they really are the same as those guys on Top Gear and oh so important. In reality, they are a menace, and just one more of the less agreeable aspects of covering the Geneva Motor Show.
Thankfully, however, the good bits of Geneva still very much outweigh the bad bits, and I’ll be back again next year…