Opinion: Show don’t tell

I’m in Japan as you read this, getting ready to visit this week’s Tokyo Motor Show. It’s mainly a car show but this is where Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki also like to show off their newest motorcycles, and their newest two-wheeled technology.

Things always get a bit weird in Tokyo, with robots and autonomous bikes. Last time I was at the show, which is held every two years, a guy rode out on a Honda that used gyroscopes to maintain its balance at a standstill. Yamaha showed off its Motobot, which is a robot that’s smart enough to ride a motorcycle. And over in another hall, Toyota offered test rides of its three-wheeled, leaning i-Road (though we’d already ridden it for CMG in France).

Auto shows are in trouble, though, and there are rumblings that they’re no longer wanted or needed in this age of easy social media. The huge North American International Auto Show in Detroit is no longer so huge, and a number of carmakers were absent from the floor last January; it’s being refocused for next year as a summer show, to (hopefully) appeal to more visitors. At last month’s Frankfurt Auto Show, which is the fall show for Europe and held on alternate years with Paris, there were 560,000 visitors during its 10-day opening, compared to 810,000 in 2017. That was itself a big drop from 931,000 in 2015.

At last month’s Frankfurt auto show, Jaguar Land Rover spent millions to launch its new Defender SUV. That red pillar is a ramp that lowered into place for the Defender to drive down to the stage for an impressive entrance. Was it all worth it?

These shows are very, very expensive for an automaker to attend. It’s not unusual for a major car company to spend $50 million to be there, what with renting the hall, providing the stage and staffing the exhibit. In Toronto, costs are much less at the Canadian International AutoShow but can still easily run to a million bucks for a medium-sized car maker; both Mercedes-Benz and Volvo have announced they won’t be at the next CIAS in February.

This is not so much because of the saved expense but because they feel they just don’t need to be there. At next month’s Los Angeles auto show, Ford will have a flashy launch for its next Latest and Greatest on the Sunday night in LA and Nissan is doing the same thing on the Tuesday evening, though the show actually has its press day on Wednesday of that week.  Neither auto maker wants to be lost in the noise of the show’s opening days, and both want to control access and distribution through their own channels.

What’s this got to do with motorcycles? It’s because bike makers are doing the same thing. The big European show this year is EICMA in Milan, held in early November, but Ducati has already sent out invitations to attend the live stream of its new product launch on Oct. 23. It doesn’t want other makers to outshine its news at the show, and now that it has its own website, its own social media channels, and doubtless no shortage of fawning “influencers” ready to share and retweet its announcement, EICMA’s just not as relevant as it used to be.

They’re not nearly as flashy, but Canadian motorcycle shows still appeal to everyone with an interest in two wheels.

Maybe this is all good news for motorcycles, because the message can get out even to people who don’t think they care much about bikes, and who would certainly never attend a bike show. It’s probably not going to stop riders in Canada from driving through the snow each winter to look at a slew of shiny new bikes at any of our regional shows. But for those of us who do like to get up close and personal with a wide range of motorcycles at the show, and who like to meet there in person with friends and like-minded buddies, it doesn’t bode so well for the next decade.

Let’s hope there are lots of great machines at the Tokyo show – we’ll be telling you all about them here. And let’s hope there are just as many at the show in a couple of years’ time.

One thought on “Opinion: Show don’t tell”

  1. Your spot on.
    The new model bike show is something I look forward to every year.
    Call up a few mates, head out for a bite then spend the afternoon looking , touching and chatting about this years editions.
    Can’t do that on Instagram.
    Long live the bike show!

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