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500,000 visitors expected London motor show - Macgowan

With two weeks to go before the start of the British International Motor Show the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has compiled a Q&A with chief executive Christopher Macgowan.

How are plans for the Motor Show shaping up?

We are very pleased with progress. For the first time since 1998 - we have significant world debuts at the British show. This helps bring global CEOs to the UK which in turn boosts the show's profile in the media and industry.

But as well as the cars, the plans for all the exciting features - like Dock Rock Concerts, Taster Test Drives and the motoring theatre - are taking shape. These should be a huge draw for family visitors.

The UK has lost manufacturing and famous car brands to overseas groups. Does it merit a show?

The UK is Europe's second largest new car market; we also host more volume carmakers than any other country in Europe; in design and manufacturer of sports cars we're second to none and Britain is the home of motor sport worldwide. Britain has a premier league motor industry and we merit a premier league motor show. I'm confident that is what London is about to deliver.

The British Motor Show has declined in popularity over the past decade or so. Why is this? And how will the new show reverse the decline?

Part of the problem has been location. Birmingham is a fabulous city and the West Midlands is home to manufacturing. The trouble is decisions about where to launch a brand new car are made in places like Dearborn, Munich and Tokyo. Sadly Birmingham doesn't carry the kudos of a Paris or Geneva. But London does. That's why we've secured so many world launches - and that's one of the main drivers of crowds to the show.

London is congested and seemingly not a pro-car city. Why move the show there?

You can't get more anti-car than Geneva and yet they host one of the most important global motor shows anywhere in the world. London may not have a pro-car mayor but he has publicly supported the show and there are hundreds of thousands of motoring fans in the capital. Plus, we have a fabulous new venue in ExCeL, docklands. London is the most cosmopolitan city in the world, absolutely right for Britain's most cosmopolitan car industry.

What does Ken Livingstone think about a car show in London?

He has publicly supported the move to London. We know cars are not his greatest passion but he clearly knows what's good for London when it comes to motor show - Britain's biggest consumer exhibition.

How has the new show been received by the car industry?

On the whole - extremely well. Sceptical executives wouldn't take the decision to launch cars like the new GM Vauxhall Corsa or the Land Rover Freelander if they weren't confident in the show. The few to have taken the decision not to come are going to miss a great party.

What does the industry think of running concerts alongside a motor show?

It is a clever initiative to broaden the appeal of the show, particularly to audiences who can't attend during the day. Entry to a concert gains entry to the show from 4pm. That's two great shows in one ticket.

#AM_ART_SPLIT# What support has there been from the industry in general?

Great support from the industry, as evidenced by the new car launches. But perhaps more important is support from outside the car sector. The Prime Minister, for example, is hosting a reception for global CEOs on July 18. Visit London and TfL are right behind the show. We also have a hugely important headline sponsor in Lloyds TSB Insurance, as well as others like the Financial Times supporting International Business Day on July 19.

How many visitors are you expecting? How many do you need to make the show viable?

Up to half a million are expected in London. But volume is not necessarily a make or break factor; quality is as important to many exhibitors. More than one factor makes a successful show and things like world debuts are a key driver.

How many car brands are exhibiting?

There are 60 brands exhibiting at the show.

Is this a serious opportunity for them to generate sales?

Yes. Of course we want visitors to have a great time - and are confident they will. But from an exhibitor's point of view, the show is there for them to do business. Many visitors are in the market for a new car. The most switched-on car makers will have experienced staff on hand to talk through their models, record leads and encourage the dealer network to follow-up.

Of course we have a taster test drive too, where many models can be taken through their paces at the event.

How many world premieres will take place?

Thirteen, including the Vauxhall Corsa, BMW M6 Convertible, Land Rover Freelander, Honda Civic 3 door and Seat Leon Cupra.

What will visitors be able to see other than mainstream cars on stands? How interactive will the show be?

Motor sport fans will be spoilt for choice; we know of at least three Formula 1 cars as well as a brace of BTCC cars and other motor sport features; concept cars will be evident in abundance - including technologies to deliver more sustainable motoring - and of course there's the SuperCar Paddock. This will house some of the most glamorous and expensive metal in the world.

It is the most interactive show we've ever had in the UK with an off-road course called Adventure Land, a test drive track and motoring theatre. In a nutshell, there will be masses of things to do as well as great cars to see.

What will make automotive trade professionals want to come? Is there a real business benefit to attending?

International Business Day has been completely overhauled this year. Sponsored by the FT, the day will feature plenary sessions relevant to the many different sectors of the industry. It will also feature a keynote speech on the challenges of sustainable motoring delivered by Ford's most senior executive in Europe - Lewis Booth. July 19 is going to be a must-attend day for those of us lucky enough to work in this diverse industry.

How will the show reflect the motor industry's need to meet the challenge of climate change?

The industry is working hard to deliver more sustainable motoring and has invested millions of pounds developing new models. This will be evident in many cars on show, some already on the market others in concept form. Just one example is Saab. The Swedish car maker has been at the forefront in the development of biofuel cars. In London, they will be showing a concept to deliver the world's first fossil fuel free hybrid - the 9-3 Convertible BioPower, which combines pure ethanol and electric power on demand.

We also know that two brand new all-electric city cars will be launched at the show.

You're calling it the British International show. What makes it international?

It is one of the half a dozen official 'major international motor shows' around the globe, as designated by OICA, the official international motor show body. Our impressive world debut tally should ensure that Britain stays in that exclusive club.

Where do you see the show fitting with the major European shows in Geneva, Frankfurt and Paris?

It's right back up there in the premier league. And its new July slot fits perfectly between Geneva in March and Paris in September.

How will you personally judge whether the show is a success?

SMMT is a member organisation. If our members are happy with the outcome, I'll be happy.

  • The British International Motor Show is open to the public from Thursday July 20 to Sunday, July 30; for further details, visit www.britishmotorshow.co.uk.
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