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Last Updated: Monday, 24 May, 2004, 10:19 GMT 11:19 UK
Struggling motorshow in spring debut
By Jorn Madslien
BBC News Online business reporter

A whopping 600,000 car enthusiasts are expected to visit this year's motorshow in Birmingham when it opens for the public on Thursday 27 May.
The Sunday Times Motorshow Live
27 May - 6 June
The NEC Birmingham

That would be a dramatic change from the last show, in October 2002, when a comparatively measly 485,000 people turned up.

Visitor numbers have been on the slide for years, and even car makers have failed to display as much interest in the Birmingham shows as they have in larger shows abroad.

The task facing the organisers of this year's show will be to carve out a new niche for the British event.

This explains why it is being held in May for the first time. The timing squeezes it neatly in between two other major shows - the annual March exhibition in Geneva and the September exhibition which is alternately arranged in Paris and Frankfurt.


In the past, the Birmingham show was little more than a scaled-down version of its huge Continental cousins.

Making matters worse, the show was held in October, hot on the heels of the Paris/Frankfurt shows.

Muddy car
Visitors will be able to go off-road
As a consequence, few car makers would bring genuine world premiers to the Midlands; car makers tend to chose Detroit or one of the Continental European shows for unveiling new models.

For years, the British show has been considered irrelevant by many car makers; so much so that many have not even bothered to turn up.

BMW - with the exception of its Mini subsidiary - has stayed away from the Birmingham show since the late 1990s, and both Suzuki and Hyundai decided not to exhibit their wares at the last show.

Others turn up, but only with a limited selection of their cars: Both Alfa Romeo and Mercedes-Benz will be there this year, but neither car maker will bring more than one or two models.

Live action

The lack of enthusiasm by some car makers seems strange given that the UK is the second largest car market in Europe.

The hope now is that the Birmingham show's new, action-filled format should convince the automotive manufacturers to return.

Mini stunt show
The Mini stunt show builds on the marque's British heritage
Some will. Both Hyundai and Suzuki will show off their cars this year.

But there will not be any genuine world premieres.

The planned launch of Renault's small people carrier, the Modus, was dampened by an unveiling in Madrid last Wednesday.

Yet many car makers seem excited about the new way the show is being run.

Gone are the days when motorshows consisted only of endless treks along rows of brightly lit and finely polished cars.

Instead, visitors will be treated to a choice of three test-tracks where they can try the latest models for themselves; one urban and two off-road ones - including what the organisers say is "the world's largest dedicated 4x4 course ever built at a motor show, on more than 70 acres of challenging terrain".

Sci-fi car show
There will be a sci-fi drama enacted by cars
Teenagers over 14 will get a chance to get behind the wheel of a driving school car on a special circuit.

And there will be live shows, including stunt shows by Mini and a sci-fi play of sorts where the actors or artists are cars rather than humans.

It sounds like a theme park for petrol heads, rather than as an industry show-case. Which in a sense it is.

The BBC's Brian Milligan
"This year, stunt driving is part of the plan to win back visitors"

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