Swiss authorities have indirectly canceled the 2020 edition of the Geneva International Motor Show by banning all public and private gatherings attended by over 1,000 people. The decision is a response to the deadly, highly contagious coronavirus that traces its roots to China and is quickly spreading across Europe.
Maurice Turrettini, the show's president, explained the circumstances that led to the cancellation are out of his team's control, and ignoring the government's orders would be illegal. The ban announced by Switzerland's Federal Council on February 28 will be enforced until March 15, but postponing the event is not an option.
"We can't postpone such a big show for weeks or month. There's so much organization involved. It's not possible to organize it again in 2020," he stated, adding the next edition will open to the public on March 4, 2021.
Speaking during a press conference held shortly after the announcement, the organizers explained they briefly looked into scheduling only the press days but couldn't because they would have inevitably drawn over 1,000 people. Letting automakers introduce their new models in the Palexpo center and live-streaming the press conferences wasn't an option for the same reason; it takes more than 1,000 men and women just to keep the Palexpo convention center running. "There is no plan b possible in the current context," Turrettini affirmed.
Olivier Rhis, the show's director, noted the financial consequences will be "huge for everyone," but he didn't provide a specific figure, or reveal who will bear the burden. The show-goers who purchased their tickets will be able to claim a refund. While most of the cars that were supposed to bask under the brights lights weren't expected to arrive in Geneva until this weekend, the stands are about 95% assembled and will need to be taken apart by March 7. There was even supposed to be a 1,500-foot-long indoor race track in one of the halls.
The last-minute decision turns the entire automotive industry on its head. Cars unveiled online ahead of their scheduled debut at the show, like the eighth-generation Volkswagen Golf GTI, might not be seen in public for months. And, many models that haven't been introduced yet won't break cover during the first week of March as originally planned. Automakers will individually decide when, where, and how to introduce their next cars.
That's not to say next week will be eerily quiet. Although some automakers have already asked us not to publish information about their formerly Geneva-bound cars, those who shared pictures and press releases under embargo weeks ago can't backpedal because magazines have already sent their next issue to print. Check back for more on this developing story, and tune in for a fragmented, digital version of the show starting on March 2.