Announced in 2014, the Festival took over the Royal Melbourne Showgrounds for four days earlier this year, promising a family-friendly interactive “experience” that organisers believed would attract more than 100,000 people.
But, with only five major auto brands locked in and a relatively small-scale advertising campaign, “the motor show that moves” pulled a crowd of just 25,000 visitors.
The relatively tiny turnout reflected the general drop in audience sizes for Australia’s big-budget motor shows in Melbourne and Sydney.
Now, just as the big traditional show format was killed off in 2013, the Australian Motoring Festival experiment has also ended.
Speaking with CarAdvice today, VACC marketing and communications manager David Dowsey said that while the joint venture had always expected the show to take time to find its feet, the plan was predicated on this year’s inaugural event doing better.
“We committed ourselves to doing it, we did think there'd be more interest,” Dowsey said.
“We'd done the research, we asked car manufacturer marketing people what they wanted - they wanted a cheaper show, a shorter show, they wanted media exposure, they wanted an experiential show. We created those things.”
Dowsey said that while the event’s organisers had made projections, “we couldn’t know for sure how many people would come through the door”.
The partnership’s position was not helped, Dowsey said, by “a number of manufacturers umming-and-ahhing” as the opening date neared.
In the end, just five mainstream auto brands were on display - Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Isuzu Ute, Volvo and Ferrari - with others either unable or not inclined to cover the roughly $100,000 cost of a display space, or instead taking a ‘wait and see’ approach to the first event before committing to future shows.
“I don't blame manufacturers, when you're talking about considerable sums of money, I don't blame people for being careful," Dowsey said.
"What the manufacturers said, essentially, was 'we'll have a look at this and see how it goes and we might come on board later on'. And of course, almost every manufacturer was sort of thinking the same thing, and so they sat by and saw nobody jump in. That was the problem in a nutshell,” Dowsey said.
“It got to a point where we had to put the show on, it was too close to the event to not, and it went ahead with a small number of manufacturers and in the end we didn't get the crowd numbers we were looking for.”
The Australian Motoring Festival was modelled on the UK’s famous Goodwood of Festival of Speed, depending on a more interactive model than the zoo-like “look but don’t touch” approach that motor shows have taken since the first major shows opened more than a century ago.
“The days of just sticking cars on a plinth and asking people to come in and pay money to look at them, those days are clearly gone,” Dowsey said. It seems, however, that carmakers - in Australia, at least - are done with spending big to share floor space with their rivals.
“It's only a fairly recent phenomenon, but carmakers now have so much more choice in getting their cars in front of people. They have their websites and their social media campaigns, and many carmakers like Ford are doing their own mini roadshows around the country,” Dowsey said.
“And I say good luck to them, that's really good.”
The death of the short-lived Australian Motoring Festival means that, almost by default, Melbourne’s Motorclassica, to be held again this weekend between October 23 to 25, is now Australia’s largest motor show.
But, as event director Paul Mathers told CarAdvice today, the ‘motor show’ model is not what Motorclassica is about.
“We don’t really see ourselves as being a motor show. Really, the public understanding and perception of a motor show is something where manufacturers gather in order to promote their cars and ultimately sell units, to an audience of consumers,” Mathers said.
“As a result of that, manufacturers rely on massive audiences to make the event a worthwhile return on investment.”
“Motorclassica is very different: we’re a lifestyle show, specifically targeted to people who really love cars and identify themselves or their personalities by the types of cars they drive.”
“We’re not relying on 180,000 people to come to our show, because 180,000 people don’t feel that way about their automobiles,” he added.
Motorclassica saw 20,000 visitors in 2014, and Mathers couldn’t be happier. In fact, he’s not expecting many more than that at this week’s show.
“I’d expect about the same. I don’t think our exhibitors expect more than that, we’re very clear in our communications with them about what Motorclassica is, and they’d probably prefer to speak to 20,000 people that are really genuinely enthusiastic and passionate than 60,000 people who are saying ‘how much is this?’”, Mathers said.
Likewise, Ferrari will use the event to celebrate 50 years of the Dino nameplate, and BMW will host the local debut of its M4 GTS and 3.0 CSL Hommage R concepts, to be displayed alongside a wide range of classic BMWs.
So, while the motor show as a marketing tool for volume brands may be dead, fans still have plenty of opportunities to admire precious metal.
The 2015 Motorclassica is on this weekend, October 23 to 25. Details: http://www.motorclassica.com.au