Since its creation
The Geneva Motor Show has been intimately linked to the development of the automobile, to the evolution of society with its economic concerns that go beyond the automobile product, and finally to the history of mankind. As visionary as they were, the pioneers of 1905 could not have imagined that their event would become, over the decades, one of the main international meetings of the automobile industry. Approved by the OICA since 1924, the GIMS has become one of the most important exhibitions in the world, positioning Geneva and Switzerland as one of the world’s crossroads of the industry, even though the country no longer has a car manufacturer.
GIMS attracts hundreds of exhibitors and hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, ...
… thanks to its annual frequency, its human scale, its neutrality and the know-how of its organisers.
It has served as a showcase for the most iconic models in history ...
… for technological innovations that have become standards today, and for concepts that have set new design trends. The story continues today… with unfailing loyalty from both exhibitors – some of whom have participated to every edition – and the public.
More than just a showcase
GIMS also serves as a beacon to remind everyone of the essential role of individual motorized mobility in today’s society and to highlight the continuous progress of an ever safer and more sustainable industry.
The automobile’s origin is commonly attributed to Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach’s “Benz Patent Motorwagen,” which debuted at the Paris World Fair in 1889. However, earlier studies and experiments with motor vehicles were conducted throughout Europe, including Switzerland. Notably, Swiss engineers made several significant contributions to the automotive sector in the late 19th century, such as Henriod’s front-wheel drive and gear-transforming flywheel, Popp’s overhead camshaft, Weber’s progressive extension pulley gearbox, and Dr Guglielminetti’s development of road asphalting. At the start of the 20th century, Switzerland experienced a boom in its car industry, with over 70 manufacturers and growing combined revenue. The country held the first Swiss National Automobile and Cycle Exhibition in Geneva in 1905 and Zurich in 1907, showcasing its reputation for producing reliable and luxurious vehicles.
The economic downturn that led to the Great War severely reduced Swiss car production. Only Pic-Pic (closed in 1922) and Martini (until 1934) survived, as did the commercial vehicle manufacturers. From 1920 onwards, the major producing countries such as the USA, France, England, Germany and Italy flooded the Swiss market with cheap, practical and yet comfortable vehicles. The tastes and means of the clientele were no longer those of the pre-war period.
At the beginning of the 1920s, the rise of the automobile made distances shorter, life easier and happier, and activities more varied and enjoyable. Emergency vehicles (police, fire brigade and ambulances) were also introduced, which were much more efficient and faster than horse-drawn carts. It was also during this period that a Highway Code was drawn up, leading to the creation of a legal and fiscal system around the automobile (fines, import and traffic taxes, taxes on petrol, etc.) and the first motorists’ associations. In economic terms, in addition to the sale and maintenance of vehicles, an ecosystem around the car emerged with financing services, insurance and the first accessorizing companies, both for the vehicle and its occupants (suits, furs, mackintoshes, dust covers, etc.).
The victorious nations were working on their recovery, while Germany was nursing its wounds and facing the sanctions of the Treaty of Versailles
The European factories, until then devoted to the war effort, switched to automobile production while the American automobile industry was already running at full speed.
The 4th National Automobile and Cycle Exhibition of 1923 was already laying the foundations for the event to become international: the authorities provided a test track on the roads on the left bank of Lake Geneva and in November, the “Permanent Committee of the International Motor Show”, which is still the organiser and holder of the rights to the GIMS today, was created.
The first Geneva International Motor Show of 1924 dazzled with splendour but few technical innovations were presented
Some experts at the time even dared to claim that the automobile had reached its limits… The democratization sought by Henry Ford with his Ford T struggled to convince in Europe, where the car remained a privilege of the wealthy: it had to be imposing, powerful and luxurious to show its success.
The 1924 edition of the Motor Show made Geneva one of the European capitals of the automobile
The exhibition area was doubled compared to 1923. Railway companies and customs authorities facilitated transport and administrative formalities for the transportation of cars to the exhibition.
In 1925, the number of visitors exceeded 100,000 for the first time. The “Bâtiment Electoral” and the temporary annexes on the Plaine de Plainpalais were too small. The building of a new “Palais des Expositions”, approved in 1925, enabled the 1926 edition – exceptionally moved to June due to construction work – to increase the exhibition space from 6,200 to over 13,000 m2.
For the 1929 edition, the last before the stock market crash in October of the same year, the Show was divided into two periods: from 14 to 24 March for cars and from 27 April to 5 May for cycles, trucks and aircraft.
The 1933 Geneva International Motor Show had a mixed atmosphere, marked by economic recovery and impending disaster. Despite the aftermath of “Black Thursday,” German manufacturers presented new technologies and Auto-Union, a merger of four brands. American manufacturers also established themselves in Europe, with GM, Ford, and Chrysler setting up assembly plants. The Show became renowned for luxury cars and attracted distinguished visitors, while Citroën, Renault, and BMW displayed products for the “Everyman.” Experimental prototypes were also showcased, including aerodynamic cars and gas generator engines, which would prove valuable during the Second World War.
It was during the 1950s that the recovery of the car industry in Europe, across all segments and origins, really took shape. Eastern and Northern European manufacturers gained recognition, the style of cars evolved in depth, notably under the influence of Battista (Pinin) Farina, synthetic materials made their debut in automobile construction and the safety of occupants was addressed with the 3-point belt offered by Volvo as standard from 1957.
But it was the concept of small, affordable and reliable cars that became popular and allowed the car to become more democratic
Many manufacturers jumped into the breach opened by the VW Beetle 10 years earlier. There were the Citroën 2CV and Renault 4CV and the Morris Minor since the end of the 1940s, Panhard and its Dyna X and Z and Fiat, which built on the success of its Topolino with the Nuova 500 from 1957.
The Italian manufacturer was the one who made the most significant attempt to expand outside its national borders, which was a strategic trend at the time
The Fiat 1400 was manufactured under license in Yugoslavia, Germany, Austria and Spain, where it led to the birth of the Seat brand.
During this decade, the Salon de l’Auto hit record highs: the number of visitors approached 300,000 and the number of exhibitors was close to 1,000. Personalities from all over the world converged to Geneva, whether they were directors of major brands, politicians or artists and stars, also helped by Swissair, which increased the frequency of its flights from all over Europe to Geneva during the event.
The exhibition's scenography also took on importance
The carpet stretched over miles, floral decorations brightened up the stands, lighting effects were used, outdoor scenes such as fountains with water jets or a mountain chalet were reproduced, and high pedestals or inclined planes were built to showcase the vehicles. For educational purposes to visualize technological innovations not always visible under the bodywork, the first exploded and animated views of real vehicles were presented and caused a sensation.
More than ever, the Geneva International Motor Show is consolidating its influence by simultaneously playing the roles of a platform for presenting the latest models and future trends, a dream generator for enthusiasts and a business show, both B2B and B2C as we say today. This bodes well for the next decade.
In the 1960s, progress and revolutions were happening in multiple disciplines. Switzerland experienced its first traffic jams due to the development of the motorway network. The US introduced a new car model segment – the “compact” family car – represented by Chevrolet Corvair, Ford Falcon or Plymouth Valiant. The Europeans launched Alfa Romeo Giulia, BMW 1600, Renault 16, and Peugeot 204/304. Technical concepts like the Wankel rotary engine, the continuously variable transmission, and front disc brakes were introduced. Sports cars like Jaguar Type E, Ferrari 250 GT, and Porsche 911 were launched. Brand mergers happened, such as Citroën acquiring Maserati and Panhard, and Volkswagen becoming the owner of NSU and Auto-Union. The Geneva Motor Show grew and a new exhibition site – the current Palexpo – was built in 1968.
In the competitive 1970s, world automobile production grew despite regulations on pollution, noise, and safety. The decade introduced new features like turbo and fuel injection systems, and the first oil crisis in 1973 caused setbacks. Small cars like the Renault 5 and VW Golf kept European manufacturers afloat while the Japanese market thrived. Safety innovations like ABS became standard in high-end vehicles. The Geneva Show welcomed luxurious and provocative creations from coachbuilders like Felber, Monteverdi, and Sbarro. Palexpo project construction started in Le Grand-Saconnex in July 1977.
Spain is now home to a number of Ford and Opel factories, while Fiat is withdrawing from Seat in favour of the VW Group
Fiat continued to support manufacturers in Eastern Europe and India, while the famous Italian coachbuilders now also worked for manufacturers on other continents. In order to counter import restrictions, high transport costs and the strength of the yen, Japanese manufacturers built factories in Europe and the USA. Associations between manufacturers to jointly develop engines and platforms were numerous, while the large groups acquired smaller brands with significant skills. The American industry was going through the worst times in its history due to outdated manufacturing processes and tooling. So much so that Chrysler was absent from the Geneva International Motor Show between 1980 and 1985.
In Europe, the situation was not much better in the first half of the 1980s
Peugeot, which became PSA Peugeot-Citroën after the absorption of the bankrupt brand with the chevrons in 1976, took over Chrysler Europe in 1978. Since then, PSA has struggled to make these investments profitable and has found itself in a deficit spiral. It found its salvation through the 205 launched in 1983 and the brilliant idea of Jean Todt to use this model to develop the 205 Turbo 16 which will shine in the World Rally Championships. The 205 GTI, unveiled in Geneva in 1984, became THE reference among the hot hatches, following the Golf GTI and paving the way for the Fiat Uno Turbo and Opel Corsa GSi. Meanwhile, Renault was facing numerous social conflicts. The range was enlarged in 1984 with the 25 (top of the range) and the Espace – developed by Matra and initially offered to Peugeot – which launched the MPV segment in Europe.
The second half of the decade saw a significant recovery
With the creation of Lexus and Infiniti, the luxury brands of Toyota and Nissan respectively, in 1989. The splendour of the 1980s was certainly embodied by the Porsche 959 (1983) and the Ferrari F40 (1987), which were both setting records, before McLaren and its F1 (1989) set new standards. On a technical level, Audi made history with the Quattro, a permanent all-wheel drive system that would equip its saloon cars and revolutionise the world of rallying. Electronics became a must in cars, both for the mechanical part and for the comfort features.
1986 will also see the obligation for all new vehicles imported into the Swiss market to be equipped with a catalytic converter
Although the technology had existed for a long time and was mastered by most manufacturers, this decision gave a boost to pollution control and the EEC imposed it on all its members from 1989. A real concern for the automobile industry, environmental protection encouraged manufacturers to embark on all kinds of research: American manufacturers worked on engines running on methanol and VW presented a hybrid Golf, in which the combustion engine worked alternately with an electric motor.
For the Geneva Motor Show, the 1980s was marked above all by the event's move to the new Palexpo halls
Inaugurated in December 1981, Palexpo hosted the 52nd edition of the Show in March 1982. It was a huge popular success, with more than 580,000 visitors, but parking problems were already becoming apparent. Traffic control measures were taken and the opening of the airport railway station in 1987 made it easier to get to Palexpo by public transport.
The success of the Exhibition took on a new dimension
From 1985 onwards there was a lack of space and the authorities decided on a first extension of Palexpo. Hall 5 was opened in 1987. From the mid-1980s onwards, manufacturers noticed the particular and objective attention of the international press during the presentation of world premieres in Geneva. Until then, most manufacturers had preferred their national shows (Turin, Paris, Frankfurt and Tokyo) to unveil their world premieres. The trend is beginning to reverse in favour of the Geneva Show, which offers a real international media echo.
The Middle East was in turmoil, the economy slowed, and the car industry suffered. Manufacturers consolidated, with BMW buying Rolls-Royce, VW taking over Bentley and Skoda, and Daimler merging with Chrysler. European brands moved to cheaper locations, and Americans chose Mexico. Japan saw a 30% drop in production. Manufacturers turned to China, with PSA setting up Citroën in China and VW doubling its stake with FAW. City cars like Renault Twingo, Opel Corsa, and Ford Ka hit the market. SUVs emerged, with Toyota RAV-4 and Honda HR-V. Airbags became standard, and electrification made a remarkable entry. The Prius became the first hybrid model in 1997. The Geneva Motor Show expanded to cover over 50,000 m2, with nearly 670,000 visitors on average in the 1990s. It became the only annual show in Europe, strengthening its position on the world stage. In 1998, Hall 6 was planned to connect Halls 5 and 7, with a surface area of 22,000 m2.
The global automotive industry is exploring new directions in design, technology, comfort and safety
The global hierarchy of manufacturers places GM at the top of the podium, ahead of Ford and Toyota. The Europeans come next, in rank order VW, Daimler Chrysler, and PSA ahead of Honda. Consolidation and mergers have made it more difficult to segment manufacturers. VW, for example, with its 7 brands, ranges from Skoda to Bugatti. This group logic makes it possible to achieve significant economies of scale, particularly with the adoption of modular platforms. From the same technical base, the manufacturers can develop several models which will only differ in their aesthetics and interior fittings.
With a striking force, luxury is back stronger than ever
Mercedes-Benz resurrects Maybach in 2002, Bentley is reborn under the leadership of VW, Ford draws on its past for its GT, heir to the iconic GT40, and Bugatti, after a first attempt at a short-lived revival in Italy at the beginning of the 1990s, regains its place as the manufacturer of all superlatives with its Veyron, which has 1,000 PS and exceeds 400 km/h in top speed. With the help of Ferrari, Maserati brings us its convincing GT and Quattroporte. The SUVs continue their progression and disrupt the codes: Porsche surprises everyone with its Cayenne in 2002, the first “luxury” SUV, which will above all allow the brand to recover its financial health.
Alternative propulsion systems are also attracting attention
Natural gas, biodiesel, hybrid engines, fuel cells, hydrogen fuel and electricity. The proposals are tempting, but only hybridisation, mastered by the Japanese manufacturers, is currently on the market. The second half of the decade was marked by the financial crisis of 2007-2008. We saw the emergence of low-cost brands, led by Dacia, and CO2 emissions and ecological concerns became central and were prominently displayed on the stands of almost all manufacturers. Electromobility began to take shape at the start of the 2010 decade.
For its 2000 edition, the Motor Show reorganised the allocation of stands by bringing the manufacturers together in groups
This edition was the first to exceed 700,000 visitors. In 2003, the exhibition area increased to more than 76,000 m2 thanks to the opening of Hall 6. Although the exhibition area has more than doubled since 1980, the Geneva Show remains an event on a human scale in which all exhibitors, without exception, are on an equal footing. 2005 will mark the 100th anniversary of the Geneva Show and its 75th international edition. A major retrospective exhibition is being organised for the occasion. The event was in exemplary health, both economically, commercially and professionally, and the absolute attendance record was set, at 745,000 visitors.
In 2007, the Chinese manufacturers made their entry into the Geneva International Motor Show
Under the sometimes curious, sometimes inquisitive eyes of journalists and professionals. Despite the financial crisis, the manufacturers played the game for the 2008 and 2009 editions. Ecology and CO2 emissions are more than ever at the centre of preoccupations and in 2009 the Show inaugurates a “Green Pavilion” dedicated to low and zero emission propulsion systems and the innovations that surround them.