The Frankfurt Motor Show – or as it is properly called, the IAA Internationale Automobil Ausstellung – is the biggest motor show held in Europe every other year (uneven years), the Paris Motor Show being held alternately in the even years.
As is expected, motor shows have the purpose of attracting visitors who are interested in cars and will probably buy at regular intervals, but these events are also important to get the attention of the press. The motoring and trade press will traditionally attend the first one or two pre-public days of the show during which time the manufacturers will unveil their new models for the press . These pre-public days are used by the manufacturers to distribute press releases relevant to their new model announcements and to hold press conferences for the visiting media.
Because of the regular change in models following the advancing technology in vehicle design and production, it is important that each new model harvests a sales boom which should last as long as possible until of course the next model is introduced. The launch of new models usually coincides with a motor show and the annual Geneva motor show for instance will attract visitors and press from all over the world, and many manufacturers and designers choose to introduce their new products and designs there every March.
However, the years following the Second World War until today have shown significant shifts in both the motor industry and the associated press. In the decades before the Internet, the printed press was dominant through a multitude of communication channels. Expert journalists and authors formed a well-defined community, often organised in clubs, and with the advances in printing technology, illustrations became more important. Motor vehicles were the grateful subject for artistic drawings and paintings, but more recently they have increasingly attracted the attention of the professional photographer. Motorsport still offers spectacular views of sports and racing cars, while beautifully styled new cars for sale and exclusive automobiles for customers with deep pockets also demand a good picture. In particular, since digital photography and video took over at the beginning of this century, the number of photographers and video cameramen is often approaching or even exceeding the number of the writing press.
The pictures I took of the Hockenheim test day during the Frankfurt Motor Show of 1981 illustrate the relationship between the motor industry and the writing press in those days. The members of the press selected for this test opportunity were considered knowledgeable and responsible. All the engineering chiefs of the German motor industry were present to answer intelligent questions from the audience of specialised press. Remember that 1981 was a bad year for the motor industry with an economic crisis biting into the world’s vehicle sales. The early eighties marked a watershed in both vehicle and production engineering, with more computer and robotic applications, so the Technology Forum at the Hockenheim press day in 1981 offered substantial discussions pointing towards a better future.
In the years that followed however, some irresponsible journalists overestimated their own driving skill and some expensive new cars were wrecked which put an end to the Hockenheim test day. Compared with the first couple of decades after WW2, the proliferation of brands in the motor industry, each with a wide product range, combined with an upsurge in the press now consisting of the printed media, TV, radio, online publications, newsletters, blogs and social media, make many professional journalists long for the atmosphere of that classic era.