Reinvented Tokyo Motor Show beats the odds and exceeds attendance target

Marketing

TOKYO — The odds were against it, but the beleaguered Tokyo Motor Show — championed and reinvented by Toyota boss Akio Toyoda — not only met its ambitious attendance target but exceeded the 1 million-visitor goal by good measure when doors closed this week.

Toyoda, who also is chairman of the show’s organizer, the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, brashly set a goal of 1 million visitors in a bid to reverse the show’s flagging fortunes over the last 10 years amid waning enthusiasm for auto expos worldwide.

When the 12-day show wrapped up Monday, more than 1.3 million people had visited.

The tally represented a 70 percent surge over the 771,200 who attended the biennial show in 2017. Attendance had been falling fast, from 902,00 visitors in 2013 to 813,500 in 2015. Back in 1991, the show swelled with a record 2.02 million people.

Numerous factors conspired to make reversing the downward spiral a tough task.

First, half the show’s traditional exhibition center — Tokyo Big Sight on the capital city’s waterfront — is under construction to become the international media center for next year’s Summer Olympics. That meant that halls for Toyota, Subaru and Daihatsu were in a separate location, with visitors needing to ride shuttles between the venues.

Also, international participation reached a nadir. The only major global brands participating this year were Mercedes-Benz, Smart, Renault and Alpine, the last two seemingly out of solidarity with their Japanese alliance partners, Nissan and Mitsubishi.

The lack of exotic foreign brands only further undercut the show’s draw power.

But JAMA and Toyoda rallied to reinvent the show and pull in the people with new ideas. The concept was to create an event more akin to a theme park than a traditional auto exposition.

The Tokyo show relied on a full menu of freebie activities to bring people downtown. The hope was they would then cave to buying tickets into the exhibition halls with the cars.

Free admission for high school students and anyone younger only helped the push. Buses of students piled into town for the show on school excursions.

Indeed, JAMA’s official tally included people perusing the free-admission areas in addition to the paid-entry automotive halls. It relied partially on officials with click-counters to add up the number of people in those areas. JAMA didn’t release a breakdown for only the ticketed portions.

The sideshow attractions ran the gamut, from trendy to techy. They included girl pop groups, drift-driving demos, esports tournaments and aerial drone racing.

JAMA seems to think it hit upon a new formula for auto show success.

“You may have felt something a little different from usual this time,” Toyoda said in a statement after the attendance figures were released. “If you found yourself happy to come this time, please look forward to the 2021 Tokyo Motor Show. … We would like to propose something far beyond my imagination at the next motor show two years from now.”

Naoto Okamura contributed to this report.

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