Weekly Brief: Geneva Snoozes on Connectivity At Its Peril

This year’s Geneva International Motor Show is heavy on cars but light on connectivity.

By “light” I mean that you could walk from one side of the exhibition floor to the other and back again – heck, you could take time to poke your head into every vehicle along the way – and you would be hard pressed to find anything related to connected cars. There may be lots of metal here but presentations about software, autonomous technology, alternative forms of mobility, smart cities, 5G connectivity, infotainment, apps and emerging forms of digital services are all sorely missing. Indeed, strolling around the Geneva Motor Show, you could be fooled into thinking that the mobile revolution never came along and that automakers are still kings of their own universe. As if.

The odd part about this presentation is that it doesn’t sell well. People want to talk about connectivity these days. They want to hear about it. They want to buy it. That’s why the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona are such dynamic shows these days, flooded with media and members of the general public alike (for a video recap of CES see here). Meanwhile traditional car shows that attempt to stay in their lanes and focus on cars end up falling flat. That was the case at last year’s Paris Motor Show, where a dozen big name brands took a hard pass. It was the case at this year’s North American International Auto Show, where hardly anyone debuted anything new. Crowds were down; buzz was non-existent. Show organizers admitted that next year, possibly out of desperation to escape the shadow of the Consumer Electronics Show, they’ll push the show later in the calendar to summer as if that might help.

The Geneva Motor Show isn’t quite so glum this year thanks to the quality of the cars themselves. There are some amazing vehicles on display here in Switzerland that will no doubt make some Russian oligarchs very happy. Vehicles like the Bugatti La Voiture Noire, which sells for a modest €11 ($12.3M). Other supercars on display include the stunning Pininfarina Battista, whose all electric engine claims to be able to propel the vehicle from 0-to-62mph in under two seconds and an Aston Martin Vanquish Vision Concept, a mid-engine hypercar fashioned out of a beautiful blue aluminum.

In addition to supercars, many automakers showed up this year with the electric vehicles they plan to bring to market in the next 12 to 24 months. Volvo took the wraps off its new Polestar 2, which is being hyped as a Tesla Model 3 competitor. Alfa Romeo debuted its entrance into the EV market, a crossover called the Tonale. Honda showed off its new electric city car called the E Prototype. For a voyage through the EVs in Geneva, check out this video from the exhibition floor with our editor, Paul Myles.

While electric vehicles and supercars appeal to a certain segment of car enthusiasts, what they don’t do is ignite a larger conversation around cars and their place in the world today. Maybe that’s just the new reality for car shows. In a world where carmakers can easily schedule individual press events and generate buzz for their cars, and where there are other tech and electronics shows to compete with, maybe car shows are destined to be marginalized for the last few die-hard car fans among us. Yet, if they want to be something more, they better learn to put connectivity front and center on the agenda.

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