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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 July 2006, 16:23 GMT 17:23 UK
Motor show move struggles to create spark
By Jorn Madslien
Business reporter, BBC News, at the London Motor Show

Getting on down at the GM party
GM threw an onstage party with young dancers and performers

There is one major corporate story looming over this year's British International Motor Show, and it is this: will they, won't they?

Much talk on the sidelines of the show is about whether or not Carlos Ghosn, motor industry doyen of the moment and the predicted suitor eyeing a stake in the troubled US car maker General Motors, will carry it off.

A deal with GM could come close to making Mr Ghosn the de facto ruler, not only of the world's biggest carmaker, but also of the world's biggest automotive alliance.

Even a 10% minority stake would add to his clout, given that he is already chief executive of both Nissan and Renault - a dual fiefdom that is supposed to send out a clear signal that the two companies have not merged but merely hold stakes in each other.

Some colourful surprises start the London Motor show

But Mr Ghosn, a regular at European motor shows, was nowhere to be seen.

Not even here, in Britain, at what could be seen as his home town when one considers the Nissan factory based in Sunderland.

Looking back

Indeed, neither the Japanese nor the French leg of Mr Ghosn's empire wheeled out a single executive.

Renault - the company behind the "shaking your ass" advert - instead opted for a history lesson into its old ads, including its Nicole and Papa ads.

Nicole, or Estelle Skornik, as is the actor's real name, turned up.

"Unfortunately, Papa can't be with us," declared the presenter standing in for Mr Ghosn and all his talk about profits and sales, strategies going forward and likely deals.

Estelle Skornik is interviewed about her 1990s car adverts
Actress Estelle Skornik recalls filming her 1990s Renault adverts

Which left Estelle the model, now a mother of three, to recite the tale of how, while filming the advert long before she took her driving licence, she managed to injure her steed.

"Yes, I had an accident, because I did not remember that in front of the car there was the wall," she admitted demurely.

General Motors also appeared to be in denial, though not to the same extent.

European chief Carl-Peter Forster turned up to unveil the new Corsa, a key car in the General's European line-up, not least in the UK where it is the automotive group's second-best seller after the Vauxhall Astra.

But Mr Forster steered clear of anything controversial.

Instead, the company threw an onstage party with young dancers, DJ Ross Allen and London's own Team Extreme skateboard, BMX and roller skate performers, to signal its ambition to penetrate the youth market.

London focus

A show that was supposed to be dominated by a string of world premieres, therefore, appears more like yet another entertaining event in London and the South East in July.

With rock concerts and boat trips on the Thames, this is undoubtedly a worthwhile family event, but there is no buzz here as there is at major European motor industry shows like Paris, Frankfurt and Geneva.

One retired automotive journalist, who turned up for press day merely to meet old friends after covering the industry for several decades, was particularly downbeat.

"How do you like the first London show? I reckon it'll be the last," he quipped.

Others disagree, some of them strongly.

The British International Motor Show has struggled for years, and not once in the last eight years has it managed to drum up a line-up of world premieres anywhere near as strong as this show has done, those in a bullish mode proclaim.

"London looks to be hosting a terrific show," said Land Rover's managing director Phil Popham.

"We are very supportive of and excited by the rejuvenation of the British International Motor Show," agreed MG's Mr Forster.

Besides, adds Bentley chief executive Franz-Josef Paefgen: "Birmingham for us was the wrong place. Most of our customers are in London."

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