Leading London and South-east dealers could be asked to step into the breach left in the London motor show by major motor manufacturers pulling out.
Organisers were putting a brave face on a string of decisions by major car manufacturers to boycott the show, which alternates with the bigger Birmingham event.
The London show will be downgraded by the decision and put on a par with the Scottish motor show where dealers represent some manufacturers.
Peugeot this week announced it was quitting the event at Earl's Court next October. Explaining Peugeot's decision, market director Rod Philpot said: “Next year will be important for us in the UK with the launch of the 306 replacement in the first half of the year.
“We will concentrate all our efforts into making the launch one of our biggest and most important. The timing of the London show in the second half of next year does not fit our plans.”
Peugeot joins VW, Audi, Skoda, Seat, Mercedes-Benz and BMW in deciding to concentrate on the UK's 'big event' – the biennial Birmingham show which has full international status.
MG Rover earlier in the year announced it would not be at the London motor show in 2001. The group also missed last month's Birmingham show.
The defections will come as a blow to the SMMT which is understood to have negotiated an incentivising deal in which carmakers exhibiting at Earl's Court shared in the profits.
London motor show director Mark Saunders said he planned for those manufacturers not at the show to be represented to ensure “we fully meet the expectation of our visitors”.
Show spokeswoman Holly Keays said it was important to have VW, BMW and Mercedes-Benz represented because they were the brands most visitors wanted to see.
Cars could be sold at the London show – which started as a dealer event in 1937 – so it would make sense to have dealers representing the missing marques, she said. Volkswagen's Bentley marque, Mercedes' Smart brand and BMW's Mini will all be at the show.
The show is being organised in conjunction with the SMMT and its chief executive Christopher Macgowan described it as “an important sales platform for the UK car industry.”