Budget-Minded Car Companies Ditch Auto Shows

The new motto for the world's automakers seems to be, "Think globally and act locally," when it comes to shelling out money for international auto shows.

The emphasis is on the "act locally" part, as the international auto shows are getting to be more national in scope.

Next month's Tokyo Motor Show is the latest sign of the times. Automotive News reported that major importers have all bailed out of the Tokyo show, leaving it almost exclusively as a showcase for Japanese manufacturers.

Nearly a year ago, some import brands skipped the Detroit auto show in January 2009, starting an austerity trend, as automakers cut their expenses. Some who stayed away from Detroit spent their money on the Los Angeles auto show in November 2008 instead. Even hometown Chrysler had a bare-bones display, and most automakers at the show at least dialed back elaborate displays.

But truly global auto shows give consumers more variety. They also encourage a lot of cross-pollenization among the car companies. Except for auto shows, car company employees don't get out of their corporate silos and check out what the competition is doing as often as they should. They have a hard enough time keeping track of what their own company is doing.

Chinese automakers were conspicuous by their absence from last month's Frankfurt auto show, according to a webinar hosted by the Society of Automotive Analysts.

All this reverses a trend that started back in the 1980s, as then-parochial auto shows worked hard to persuade out-of-town automakers to invest in the big venues like Detroit, Los Angeles, Frankfurt, Paris, Geneva, Tokyo, Chicago and New York.

There's even a sort of Olympic Committee for auto shows, the Organisation Internationale des Constructeurs d'Automobiles, or OICA for short, that's in charge of deciding which auto shows are entitled to call themselves "International."

The proper name of the Detroit auto show, for instance, is the North American International Auto Show. The New York auto show organizers labored mightily for years, to get the OICA stamp of approval to call itself the New York International Auto Show.

It would be a shame to go back to mutually exclusive auto shows. The Detroit show, for instance, used to be hostile territory for Japanese imports.

Here's hoping that the austerity trend is just that, and whenever auto sales start to recover, the global auto shows will go back to being more global in nature. They can still leave off some of the bells and whistles.

Graphic: 2009 Tokyo Motor Show