Geneva Auto Show Shifts Gears to Doha for Its Debut in the Desert

The Geneva International Motor Show, typically associated with its Swiss heritage, is embracing the scorching heat of Doha, Qatar, as it returns from a three-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Shifting its location to the heart of the Middle East, this year’s event promises to be a scintillating blend of luxury and mass-market automakers, with iconic names like Lamborghini and McLaren sharing the stage with industry giants Toyota and Volkswagen.


Marking a significant departure from its traditional Swiss home, the Geneva International Motor Show, or GIMS, is charting new territory in the East. Moreover, Sandro Mesquita, the CEO of the auto show, expressed excitement about expanding its legacy in the Middle East, emphasizing the event’s role in bridging the automotive industries of the Western and Eastern worlds.


Qatar is no stranger to hosting global spectacles like the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Hence it sees the motor show as a strategic move towards becoming the Middle East’s fastest-growing destination by 2030, according to  Saad Bin Ali Al Kharji, deputy chairman of Qatar Tourism.


One may wonder, why the sudden shift to Doha? In 2021, Qatar secured a ten-year deal with GIMS organizers to host the venerable event biennially from 2023 onwards, with the Swiss edition set to return in 2024. For automakers like Volkswagen, this represents a golden opportunity to engage with local customers and introduce their latest vehicles to a region they deem pivotal.


The Gulf Cooperation Council, comprising six nations including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, witnessed a significant surge in new vehicle registrations, reaching 2.75 million in the previous year, according to Jato Dynamics. While this figure pales in comparison to China’s staggering 20.54 million passenger car sales, it aligns closely with Germany’s 2.65 million registered vehicles, underlining the growing automotive potential in the Middle East.


As nations like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates commit to climate-change goals and diversify their energy sources, the Doha show features at least three electric-vehicle manufacturers. Lucid Group, fresh from opening a factory in Saudi Arabia, is expected to unveil new iterations of its Air EV and potentially introduce its Gravity SUV.


Vinfast Auto, founded by Vietnam’s wealthiest man, Pham Nhat Vuong, is also partaking in the event, alongside Silk, a lesser-known hybrid and EV luxury brand from China’s FAW Group, and Italy’s Silk EV. However, conspicuous by their absence are electric vehicle pioneers Tesla and BYD, both of whom declined to comment on their non-participation.


Legacy automakers are not to be left behind in the EV revolution. Mercedes-Benz’s distributor in Qatar plans to launch the luxury marque’s entire all-electric lineup, marking a significant step in the country’s journey towards sustainable mobility, according to Sheikh Faleh bin Nawaf bin Nasser al-Thani, a managing director at Nasser Bin Khaled (NBK) Automobiles.


In an automotive landscape reshaped by the pandemic, with traditional auto shows like Paris and New York reevaluating their strategies, Doha’s event serves as an intriguing experiment in reaching new audiences. It’s a dynamic shift from the conventional, as the industry explores private events, online launches, and test drives to adapt to changing consumer preferences. As the Geneva International Motor Show revs its engines in Doha, the world watches with anticipation, eager to see if it can steer the industry towards a new horizon.