The Geneva Motor Show used to be the place for world-beating supercar reveals, but not anymore.
If the year you were born in starts with a '1', then you know just how epic the Geneva International Motor Show (GIMS) is - or rather was. The show that first opened its doors to the world in 1905 became a staple on the auto show calendar and, for the last four decades, has been the show for big reveals. In my dozen or so years in the motor writing trade, Geneva was always the biggest and best of any car show, guaranteed to play host to epic concepts and physics-bending supercar and hypercar reveals.
But Geneva is no longer the best. Geneva is barely even a thing anymore. While something called the Geneva International Motor Show is going to be held in Doha, the last time it was actually run was pre-pandemic in 2019. 2020's event was canceled just days before doors opened, with only Koenigsegg daring to reveal its cars as planned, dropping the mic with the reveals of the Gemera and Jesko Absolut.
Geneva is all but dead, and now, the best motor show in the world is officially in America, and it's called Monterey Car Week.
Last year's Monterey Car Week was a big one, with insane reveals like the Koenigsegg CC850, McLaren Solus GT, and Bentley Mulliner Batur, and major public debuts for the Bugatti W16 Mistral, Hennessey Venom F5 Roadster, and Porsche 911 GT3 RS.
At the time, however, it was potentially a once-off occasion. The world had been in lockdown for a few years, normality was returning, and car shows had been on ice, so choosing the setting of Monterey, where monied customers quite literally roam the streets for the entire week of the event, was perfect for the launch of dozens of special cars.
Many manufacturers had delayed the development of new cars, or public reveals, to get maximum traction, and Car Week just happened to be the perfect setting.
But 2023 has proven last year was no fluke. Monterey Car Week is officially the world's new it place for launching supercars, taking over the mantle from Geneva.
And there are a few good reasons why this is the case.
Traditional auto shows involve showing off a bunch of cars on expensive stands in an exhibition center. In and of itself, there's nothing wrong with that, and for a hundred years or more, it was the perfect way for car enthusiasts to see things like new cars and concepts.
Big reveals with thousands-strong crowds were met with "oohs" and "ahs" and whoops of joy, and people would flock to the Genevas of the world to be among the first to see a new supercar they may never see elsewhere.
But it all started changing when the world gained access to the internet in its pocket. News and media publishing changed, and you no longer had to wait to see a car on a stage to find out about it. For the same reasons print is dying (in the traditional sense; an argument for another day, though), car shows are dying, too.
You now get the latest news, pictures, and videos beamed right to the HD screen in your pocket, so with the exception of a few remarkable cars or a few very dedicated gearheads, most people are happy not to stand in queues and get bumped around all day just to see a vehicle on a stand that they can never get clear photos of.
Monterey Car Week isn't just another motor show, though, because Monterey Car Week isn't one single event. MCW is an experience that has something for every kind of car fanatic.
Like classics? There's the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, where you can see the most immaculately restored and kept classics from the last 120 years. Love motorsport? Whoo, boy! MCW has motorsport, with the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion gathering decades-worth of iconic racing machinery and running them around the iconic Laguna Seca and Monterey Motorsports Festival showcasing newer racing metal. Then there's The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering, which is a combination of motorsports and supercars for all to enjoy.
If you like buying cars, then everyone from Bonhams to Mecum and RM Sotheby's all have massive auctions of everything from vintage racers to modern classics and memorabilia.
It doesn't matter if you love general car culture or a specific brand, there are gatherings that cater to just about every sect of car culture - except tuner culture, and we agree that should be separate. Car clubs gather en masse to show off their collections, supercars and concepts get parked on lawns for you to ogle, and on the last day, there's a hill climb event up the famous Laguna Seca Corkscrew.
Even if you don't go to the festivities, it's impossible not to see supercars and classic cars, as the entire Monterey County is overrun with classic cars, sports cars, luxury cars, and more for a fortnight. Everyday traffic during Monterey Car Week becomes a festival of sights, sounds, and smells that any gearhead must experience, as it's the one time a year many collectors actually drive their exotica rather than just leaving it parked in a hermetically sealed chamber to be sold for a profit in a few years.
One of the significant issues with traditional car shows is that they're expensive to run. The premises, the insurance needed, and the sheer logistical hurdles that need to be overcome have high costs that need to be borne by the automakers. I know from speaking to many OEMs that these events are tantamount to flushing wads of cash down the toilet. Ticket costs do nothing to help the OEMs, and while there is an accepted level of cash-flush for the sake of marketing, the age of the internet has made it far cheaper for car makers to get their products out there in an exciting fashion.
The costs are no less sizable for Monterey Car Week; if anything, they're even more significant because of the prestige and scale of the event. So what's different?
Because of the concours events and auctions that were, for many years, the main attraction at Car Week, the average attendee is very different from a traditional car show.
Yes, they're all enthusiasts, but most that attend Car Week are absolutely loaded.
Instead of automakers showing off cars that will only end up in an attendee's house as a poster on the wall or a Hot Wheels toy in the collection, they have the opportunity to sell these million-dollar cars to passersby. While some are already fully spoken for before they're even revealed, those that aren't are quickly snapped up by attendees. In some cases, car makers even extend limited-production runs because of demand at the event, as was the case with the Koenigsegg CC850.
Money attracts money, and even those that don't buy a car at the show are quick to speak privately to the Christian von Koenigseggs, Horatio Paganis, Mate Rimacs, and John Hennesseys of this world to commission something even more spectacular.
Monterey is more than just a car show; it's a networking event for the who's who of the high-end car world where monied individuals can rub shoulders with the most exclusive automakers on a first-name basis.
The world has changed, and most car shows haven't kept up. But Monterey Car Week has grown from something niche into arguably one of the best events worldwide. It's no wonder that BMW wants to emulate the formula and create a Como Car Week in Italy.
The double-edged blade of a show like Monterey Car Week is this, though: On the one hand, it will only get better. As governments legislate out combustion cars, manufacturers are going all-out on creating the most special combustion send-offs they can, building low-volume machines that celebrate the best combustion has to offer.
But conversely, Monterey Car Week may be one of the few places we get to see cars like this. As large cities ban combustion-powered vehicles (it's happening already in Europe), day-to-day car life will get very boring. Thankfully, Monterey Car Week will likely thrive for decades to come, giving enthusiasts something to look forward to on the annual car calendar once more.