There are really only two reasons for automakers to hold auto shows. The first - and most obvious - is to sell cars, to "move metal" in the parlance of the local dealers who are usually huge, and vocal, supporters of such exhibitions. Umpteen thousands of visitors will visit the exhibition, goes the thinking, and, hopefully, a sufficient number of them will be wowed enough by said metal on display to open up their wallets and trade in their old wheels.
The second motive behind the grand displays is to generate publicity beyond the show's walls. But - and here's where it gets complicated - even this seemingly simple objective can be bifurcated. Sometimes the motivation behind all the glitz and glitter is simply a follow-up to the prime directive, ie to get local reporters excited about the new cars so that the new car "sell" extends beyond those who ponied up for the show's entrance fee.
The second part of the publicity equation, however, is that some shows, usually designated as "international", are used by one and all to generate publicity far beyond their locale; they are, almost exclusively, the launching pad for every major automotive introduction by every major automobile manufacturer. Their importance to the automakers goes beyond locals shopping for a new set of wheels. Take the wrappers off a hot, new compact sedan in Detroit in mid-January and you're guaranteed thousands of headlines, from blog to newspaper. But, unveil the very same econobox at the Essen Motor Show and the world pretty much ignores you, mainly because the Essen Motor Show attracts virtually no international journalists.
That, unfortunately, sums up the Sao Paulo International Auto Salon that I attended last week. Now in its 27th year, the show is huge, encompassing 85,000 square meters of the Anehembi Exhibit Hall, housing well over 500 cars from 49 different manufacturers. And, just in case you haven't read any financial news for the last five years, the BRIC nations - Brazil, Russia, India and China - have been all a-boom, with the South American powerhouse the best of the four at avoiding the latest economic turmoil. Auto sales are growing so rapidly that traditional automakers such as Volkswagen and Renault are expanding their manufacturing base here (the French company is expanding its Ayrton Senna complex to build 100,000 more cars) while the Chinese upstarts - JAC for instance - are offshoring to Brazil to beat local tariffs.
Indeed, the Chinese presence at the Sao Paulo auto show is huge, dwarfing their national presence at any mainstream exhibition I've attended. Great Wall, Chery and the aforementioned JAC all had huge booths, as did Changan and Haima (along with smaller participation by Jonway and Landwind). But despite their obvious ambitions, the country's displays are definitely second rate compared with even the cheapest of the established marques. Indeed, if their products lag mainstream brands as much as their show displays, it may be some time before they are competitive.
But like Dubai's exhibition, which, despite its expansion, is still very much a local event, the Brazilian auto show is mostly ignored by the international automotive media. Despite the official programme's contention that Sao Paulo auto show "is the stage for the international press to see the power of the Brazilian automotive market", I seemed to be one of only two English-speaking scribes to be found.
The result is precious few actual new model introductions and even fewer of any consequence outside the local markets. The one possible exception was the saloon version of Ford's 2014 Fiesta, which was revealed for the first time, but the hatch version had been shown at the recent Paris show. Volkswagen showed off a new SUV called the Taigun but it's unlikely to ever be seen globally as it's powered by a measly 1.0L, three-cylinder engine. Ditto for the Nissan Extrem concept, powered by a similarly uninspiring 1.0L.
It's too bad, because the Sao Paulo exhibition has a lot going for it. Like all shows, it reflects the host country's cultural sensibilities: Detroit is all glitz and glamour, Tokyo straightforward and technocratic and the Paris salon, despite the fact that it's just an auto show, has a soupcon of what might be deemed as "class". That means the Anehembi hall is full of friendly, outgoing people eager to help a lost Canuck, even if their English sometimes rendered communication to miming the logos of the car company's exhibit that I wanted directions to.