11/07/2016 15h23

São Paulo Motor Show puts on optimistic face

Valor International

Tired of talking crisis, the automobile industry's leaders made an effort to turn the São Paulo International Motor Show into a festive event marking the beginning of recovery. Carmakers will showcase highly connected cars and alternative-fuel offerings. The location itself, however, will be the biggest novelty. After being held for 46 years at the Anhembi convention center, this year's edition take place at São Paulo Expo (the former Imigrantes Expo Center) with more room, air-conditioning and other frills that make a difference.

Compared to Anhembi, carmakers are paying around 15% more for leases at their new home, which will open to the public from Thursday. But executives say it could end up costing less because São Paulo Expo allows savings with improvements to stands like floor finishing.

Brazil's first auto show was held in São Paulo's Ibirapuera Park in 1960. The same event helped inaugurate the Anhembi facility ten years later. Yet moving to a recently renovated space is not a mere detail, since it mirrors the industry's desire to change several things. From their image with consumers who changed habits and don't think owning its essential anymore, to the self-esteem of an industry that generates 4.1% of Brazil's GDP and 20.4% of industrial output.

The task isn't easy. In comparison to the previous motor show in 2014, which already showed a struggling industry, automakers are producing at a 32% slower rate. The output is forecast to reach 2.1 million units this year, a million less than the previous edition. Carmakers have cut 20,000 jobs since then.

The motor show will also represent the fulfilled dreams of state governments that always coveted auto factories. The number of states hosting at least one carmaker jumped to nine from two since 1990, leading São Paulo's share to fall to 48.1% from 74.8%. But the crisis also ran over plans for a regional boom as decentralization simply spread out idled capacity, which now stands at 52%.

Carmakers are prepared to be optimistic this Tuesday when the press takes a peek at this year's novelties. The motor show is taking place as forecasts stop falling. The holiday season is also traditionally a strong sales period. Antonio Megale, president of the National Association of Vehicle Manufacturers (Anfavea), said the great amount of used cars sold showed repressed demand.

Such data fuels optimistic expectations about the show, which closes on November 20. The organizers planned for 750,000 visitors, confirming that car fans still prefer to see their passion live. Even though industry polls show over 90% of buyers use the internet to pick a model before heading to the dealership.

As usual at the biennial event, the main attractions will be luxury cars like the new Porsche Panamera, capable of reaching 100km/h in only 3.6 seconds, or Jaguar's first sport-utility vehicle, the F-Pace, slated to cost over R$400,000. The Ford GT, which won this year's Le Manns race in France, will be showcased in Brazil for the first time.

Carmakers will also present models still not available for Brazilian drivers, like GM's hybrid Bolt. There will be concept cars and all makers will tout electric options. The Chinese will have a smaller presence compared with previous years, in a sign of the times as Inovar-Auto, the tax-break program for domestic production, helped protect traditional brands with long-standing factories. Several foreign executives will also travel to São Paulo this week.

New vehicles represent over 150 of the 540 vehicles for viewing. New SUV models like Honda's WR-V, a smaller version of the HR-V, or Renault's Captur and Koleos, which the company will start selling in 2017.

Drivers who don't take home a new car can at least have some fun. Organizers prepared a 20,000m2 area just for test-drives. Volkswagen, with the largest stand at 4,500m2, will offer virtual-reality rides in its cars 

Virtual reality will also allow visitors to go “inside” several car parts like air filters and engines, going through the combustion chamber and exiting through the muffler. They can also cross a narrow wooden walkway spanning the Grand Canyon, at least in the virtual world.

The idea is to ignore the crisis and raises the industry's own mood. “The risk of centering only on problems is to not leave them behind,” consultant Ricardo Pazzianotto says. Carmakers have even created a slogan for this motor show: “Nothing will be like before.” They are rooting for that more than anyone else.