Kicking the tyres in Geneva

Some 700,000 people are expected to visit the Geneva motor show Keystone

Petrol-heads, eco-warriors, leggy students and the odd "pervert" – the 78th International Motor Show in Geneva attracts them all.

This content was published on March 10, 2008 - 17:04

swissinfo visited Europe's first major show of the year to talk to some of the punters and staff at this year's event, which opened last week.

"I would have to fall ill to miss a Geneva motor show," said Renata Anchisi, a retired United Nations staff member, who is looking to trade her four-year-old Honda Civic for a greener model.

More than 700,000 car fans were expected to pass through the turnstiles at the Palexpo exhibition centre from March 6 to 16. Some 80,000 took the show by storm at the weekend.

"It was rock'n'roll," said Arlette, a car show veteran who has managed the information desk for the past 25 years. "But less stressful than the press days last week."

"It's a fun job where you meet lots of different people and you get lots of questions, sometimes odd ones," she smiled, recounting the tale of the man who wanted help to find his uncle's cemetery grave in Geneva, or another in agony who needed a dentist.

Cosmopolitan

As well as being quite young – almost half the visitors are under 34 – and popular with women (almost a third) the Geneva show is known for being particularly cosmopolitan.

Around 40 per cent travel from outside Switzerland, with many from neighbouring Germany, France and Italy, but there are "also many Russians and Japanese", she added.

At the Lancia stand, Italian mechanic Mattia and his barman friend Massimo take time out from speeding around the seven huge halls to down an espresso.

They arrived in Geneva on Sunday after driving 500 kilometres from Sondrio in Lombardy and are packing in as much as possible before motoring home on Monday night.

"Geneva is the best show," enthused Massimo in broken English.

And many motoring journalists, such as Christophe Bourroux from the French radio station RTL, would agree.

"The advantage of Geneva is that you can see a huge number of carmakers as it's small and neutral – unlike Frankfurt, which is dominated by the Germans, and Paris, where the French carmakers are very present," he said.

"The carmakers are more relaxed here and spend time checking out the competition on the other stands."

Interesting models

In contrast with the bulging tyres and testosterone at the nearby Hummer stand, Maserati oozes understated Sardinia-chic.

I work my way past the flashing cameras to a doorman who lifts a VIP velvet chain. Inside, it's another world: Geneva bankers sip champagne at the marble bar eyeing expensive polo shirts and umbrellas for sale. Behind, a customer is debating whether to buy a GranTurismo or a Quattroporte DuoSelect.

"Our booth, like Ferrari, is a little bit different from the others as you need an invitation," said Maserati's marketing manager Lorenzo Dal Vi.

Geneva is a very important car event as it has a very good potential client basin, he added.

Over the ten days around 260 exhibitors from 30 countries display their shiny wares. And there are many other models on show, too.

For Kenia, a psychology student from Madrid working on the Seat stand, the show is more than smiling at leering men and handing out brochures.

It will be extremely useful for her thesis, she told me. "It's a fascinating job from a psychological point of view, as there are lots of weird, interesting people."

But some of the model-students at a nearby stand had mixed feelings.

"It's a good atmosphere and if you want to you can party every night," said one.

"But there are lots of perverts: people who take photos up your skirt. That's why we've got a security guard," said her friend, pointing towards the bulky figure keeping an eye on the hostesses and the cars.

swissinfo, Simon Bradley in Geneva

In brief

Alternative powered vehicles, sports cars and prototypes are some of the key attractions at this year's Geneva International Motor Show.

On March 6 Swiss President Pascal Couchepin opened the event, which runs until March 16, which is expected to attract more than 700,000 visitors.

Some 94 world and European premieres are announced, with 17 dedicated to new technologies.

A special exhibition will be dedicated to future environmental technologies and a scientific conference, the International Advanced Mobility Forum, will be held from March 11 to 13.

The organisers claim that the Geneva motor show generates SFr200 million ($192.9 million) in direct and indirect income.

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