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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 May, 2004, 08:04 GMT 09:04 UK
Motorshow explodes into life
By Tim Fawcett
BBC News Online business reporter at the Birmingham Motorshow

As the motorshow opens its doors for the public on Thursday, BBC News Online takes a look at what's on offer and what it says about the car industry's health.

A black Honda S2000 sports car, roof down and locked into full throttle, spins furiously in a continuous series of smoke filled donuts. It is an act that clearly illustrates how the leading UK motor show is chasing its own tail.

Thunderbirds set at Ford's stand Motor Show Live
Can Thunderbirds inspiration and entertainment rescue the show?

The live arena action is part of the Birmingham show's new look: Entertainment and interactivity have become the new buzzwords after the show came to realise that it is no longer merely up against motor shows in other countries.

"Our main competitor now is Alton Towers," Christopher Macgowan, outgoing chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders which organises the show, told BBC News Online.

With visitor figures falling to dangerously low levels in recent years, the challenge undertaken by the presumably insane Honda driver is similar to that facing the SMMT: To bring back the fun.

To succeed, the motorshow must try to emulate the way the driver performs his stunt - which involves him grabbing a briefcase containing the "secrets to the joy of driving" - with speed and certainty.

What is required is clearly inspiration.

No buts

And that is what Ford's Thunderbirds extravaganza aims to provide with a performance that easily rivals any play in London's West End.

Caterham in action at NEC Motor Show Live
The show has redefined the term "being taken for a ride"

In an explosion of jets on full boost, the belly of Thunderbird 2, hijacked by The Hood, opens to reveal the enemy who is lowered down onto Tracy Island - home of the famous puppet special agents come movie stars.

"Parker, let's kick .....what's that word?" cries Lady Penelope who has just arrived in a pink Rolls Royce the length of a number 19 bus.

"Butt M'Lady," cries her double act before Lady Penelope smashes a bottle of bubbly over the head of a kung-fu attacker while crying "No buts, Parker...".

Puddle

But kick butt is what the show is doing this year as it redefines the term "being taken for a ride".

Oh what fun it is to ride in a tiny, open-wheeled and extremely noisy Caterham sportscar with driver Richard's soothing bellowing as the only accompaniment: "You get the wheels spinning giving it a lot of throttle then modulate the pedal to steer the car."

4X4 Experience Motor Show Live 2004
Visitors can see Motor Show Live from many different angles

A slower but considerably steeper experience is to be had in the woods outside the exhibition centre where the driver of a Nissan Nivarra inches up an incline of over 40 degrees.

"The nearest most people go in these lifestyle cars, quite frankly, is going through a puddle in the local high street," he said.

Commitment

But scathing comments aside, the car industry's commitment to revive the show impressed at least one visitor ahead of the show's official opening.

"I'm delighted to be visiting [the motorshow] to see at first hand what a great job the UK's automotive sector is doing and pay tribute to the vital contribution it makes to our national economy," said Chancellor Gordon Brown, the man behind the wheel of UK Plc.

"The motor industry has risen to the challenges of globalisation and international competition and not just survived, but thrived."

Mr Brown knows better than most that the motor show is important, not merely as a competitor to theme parks but rather as a show piece for the UK's vast and vital car industry.

Mini display at NEC 2004
Cars paying tribute to the vital contribution the sector makes to our national economy

More than 300,000 people are employed by 3,200 car and component makers or in thousands of car showrooms in the UK, and almost half the jobs are in the Midlands where the show is held.

"The UK automotive manufacturing sector contributes some 8.5bn to the UK economy and accounts for almost 10% of total UK exports of goods," said Mr Brown.


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