x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Cars are the stars, but this show has many performers

On attending a car show that can end up being a media circus or a theatrical performance.

Hopefully, these breakdancers won't be the new salesemen in the Volkswagen dealership. Gabriela Maj / Bloomberg
Hopefully, these breakdancers won't be the new salesemen in the Volkswagen dealership. Gabriela Maj / Bloomberg

Attending a press day at a motor show certainly sounds alluring, doesn't it?

You get the chance to see the cars before the public does, you get to listen to the chief executives and designers of the multitude of car brands exhibiting waxing lyrical about their visions for the future. You could even approach them yourself and quiz them on how viable electric cars really are. And then there's the free flash drives that are handed out like candy; stylish and containing all manner of car information. They really are a treat.

However, as great as this all sounds, it doesn't prepare you for the fact that, on press day at a motor show, it's more of a circus than a show - a media circus, in fact.

This was true of the 2011 Dubai International Motor Show last week. When you've got more than 150 car brands exhibiting on more than 60,000 square metres of floor space, there's bound to be competition to capture the interest of the throngs of motoring journalists and photographers assembled from around the Middle East and beyond. It's especially pertinent when you consider that each only has a window of about 10 minutes to impress before the circus moves on to the next car maker.

And then there's the little matter of what's going on down the E11. Gaining that all-important good media coverage becomes even more taxing when the show you're exhibiting at is competing for motoring column inches with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which happens to be taking place on the same weekend. So it's interesting to see what the car makers get up to in order to stand out at the forefront of people's minds when the show comes to a close.

OK so you might think that, if the car is so good, let it do the talking, but few manufacturers let the car do the work by itself. And like every circus, there are performers. The Dubai show was no different.

Take Mercedes-Benz, for instance. They opted for the tried and true method of the "booth professionals", those glamorous, statuesque models that stand beside the cars for hours. Bearing in mind that, being the first show of the event at 8:30 in the morning, the boys at Benz correctly thought against the booming music and over-the-top theatrics.

The place was awash with gold, shimmering dresses and flowing blonde locks as the company's AMG division unveiled its new ML63 SUV for the Middle East market and an SLS Roadster.

Rolls-Royce, too, had some glamorous ladies beside its cars, but the distinguished marque is far too British and reserved to do much more than that. It did, however, unveil the diamond-encrusted Spirit of Ecstasy that celebrates 100 years of using the flying lady as its emblem. It can be yours for a mere $250,000 (Dh918,000) - car not included.

It was BMW who first upped the stakes. After another chief executive recited the buzz words of "growth" and "profit", the car maker wheeled out none other than the captain of World Cup-winning Italy, Fabio Cannavaro, who now works as a brand ambassador for Al Ahli Football Club in Dubai. Cannavaro obviously knows the role well as he was doing a similar turn for both BMW and sister company Mini at the show, slicing open a Mini cake as he beamed for eager photographers.

Not to be outdone, Audi wheeled out an impressive array of cars and drummed up support for its brand with a performance from "Dubai's best band" (according to the presenter), Juliana Down. If the journalists were still waking up after an early start, the band's raucous on-stage show certainly blew away the cobwebs.

After presenting its cars, Audi's moment in the spotlight was over and the masses rushed toward the Volkswagen stand, where smoke was billowing from behind the new, pumped-up Scirocco R as four breakdancers did their thing on stage to the sound of some funky beats. Amid the whirlwind of presentations , it was easy to understand how the dancer who was spinning on his head felt.

Shelby Supercars and Lamborghini brought some sort of normality back to proceedings with more sedate showings before the circus animals - errr, I mean the media - went feral as word spread that Red Bull Racing Formula One driver Mark Webber had taken some time out of his grand prix preparation to plug Renault's new "shockingly affordable" Duster SUV.

The mind of F1's outspoken one must have been on Sunday's race; he did the typical sports star speech of telling the audience how great it was to be there before going on to tell them how great it was to be there.

Ferrari, McLaren, Bentley, Jaguar and Land Rover toned things down a tad with the men in suits again trying their best to pretend the global downturn is a figment of our imagination. However, in launching its hotly anticipated Veloster sports car, Hyundai obviously pulled no punches - albeit in a soft, subtle manner. An informative PowerPoint presentation was followed by a very sophisticated unveiling, as two demure ladies revealed the car while a beautiful violinist played her instrument with grace.

But there are no prizes for guessing which brand was the ring master at this particular circus. Celebrating its centenary this month and announcing its new version of the Trailblazer SUV to the world from here in the UAE, Chevrolet was always going to roll out the big guns.

Its stand dominated the main hall at the Dubai convention centre, with its stage set inside the giant bow-tie of its logo. From within another large Chevy badge, an introductory video portrayed the brand as a wholesome, all-American range of vehicles that is part of the fabric of US society. Then chief execs and vice presidents from across the company's global empire were driven on stage in the new Malibu, a concept SUV and the aforementioned Trailblazer to deliver rousing speeches reinforcing the messages that the Middle East is central in Chevy's thoughts and that their vehicles are indeed the biggest and the baddest in town.

Eventually, the day came to a close and the media circus packed up and headed out of town, no doubt wondering whether they had just witnessed a car show, theatrical performance or a well-oiled marketing machine. Or perhaps all three.