The Frankfurt Motor Show of 2017. — Reuters
FRANKFURT: Next month's vast Frankfurt Car Show could hardly have come at a worst time for the automobile industry.
Many of the big names in the game have chosen to stay away from the event, which is held every two years in Germany's financial capital.
There were some notable no-shows two years ago but organisers put on a brave face back then and the event was later pronounced a success.
At present, the news from the car-making fraternity is not encouraging and the mood before the 68th horsepower parade is anything but upbeat.
The talk is of profit warnings, sales slumps and possible assembly plant job losses. Scantily-clad women draped on new car bonnets will not change that.
The chorus of anti-car voices is swelling too and it now includes many who want to see combustion-engined cars banned from entering inner cities.
Electric cars are not catching on in Germany despite government subsidies, which make it cheaper to buy one. German manufacturers traditionally dominate in their backyard but some like BMW are scaling back their presence in Frankfurt this year.
In the run-up to the show, the roster of missing names is getting longer. Leading carmakers from France and Italy are staying away and Honda is the only Japanese car company to attend.
The list of car firms missing in Frankfurt is long — from Alfa Romeo to Volvo. Toyota is the global number two carmaker behind Volkswagen and the Japanese are making do with a "mobility loft" presentation in Cologne instead. Toyota spokesman Thomas Schalberger said the company's absence in 2019 does not mean that it will not return in 2021.
The show has shrunk to about two-thirds of its normal size, filling only four large display halls.
This a far cry from the bumper 2017 event when 1,000 companies from 39 countries displayed their wares. Many of these were component manufacturers but it all added up to 363 innovations, including 228 world premieres of new models and parts.
Amid the incredible shrinking show, Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW along with foreign visitors such as Hyundai from South Korea and Britain's Land Rover will now be hoping to grab more attention than usual.
Germany's VDA manufacturing federation will try to turn the event into more of a discussion platform, with lots of digital content and a display of classic cars.
VDA spokesman Eckehart Rotter said he thought it unfair to compare the show two years ago with the upcoming edition.
"In view of the enormous upheaval in the car industry it would be wrong to use yardsticks from the past like the number of square metres booked or of exhibitors", said Rotter.
Car guru and professor Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer from the University of Dusiburg-Essen in Germany said the car industry has been going through a crisis for more than 20 years.
Global car-making overcapacity is at an all-time high, with eight million more cars being turned out than people want to buy. Last year the industry sold 5 million fewer vehicles than the year before.
Car and component manufacturers face the prospect of many lean years ahead, said the expert.
Show organisers will also have to contend this year with protestors at the gates as a growing number of people call for a complete switch to emission-free motoring.
Despite attempts by carmakers to make their gas guzzlers consume less fuel by mating their engines to electric motors, heavyweight SUVs like the Audi Q7 and BMW X6 are seen by detractors as symbols of short-sighted and selfish.