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Geneva Motor Show 2012

This post first appeared on the LINE blog on 21st March 2012.

geneva motor show Walking through the doors of the Geneva Palexpo you enter a fantasy world, sparkling, sleek, glamorous and sexy; and that’s not just the cars, it’s even more true of the beautiful women posing for the press photographers.  Yes, this is the motor show, welcome to Geneva 2012.

Once you’ve got over the initial shock of this unreal world, the thing that really strikes you is how immense this is; every make and model of car as far as you can see, all impossibly spotlessly clean and immaculately presented.

Of course I wasn’t here to look at all this! I was here to find out about the challenges that the industry faces, and what impact this has on training and development. This is against a backdrop of tough trading conditions, with massive competitive pressure, especially from the newer entrants to the market from the Far East that are challenging the established position of European manufacturers.

The first thing that looking around a show like this does confirm is the sheer size of the industry. Predicted sales of new vehicles in Europe are somewhere between 13-14m over the next year, which although lower than years gone by, is still a lot of cars. There is a huge range of vehicle variants as far as you can see, each with a seemingly infinite number of permutations of body styles, engines and accessories. This presents an ever increasing challenge for people involved in selling vehicles; it becomes impossible to know everything about every vehicle and really supports the need to have easy and quick access to reference information.

As you visit each of the various stands, it also becomes clear how important customer handling skills really are. It seems obvious, but when there are so many good quality, competitively priced vehicles of not dissimilar designs competing for the same customers, it really is the only differentiator. We’ve seen plenty of evidence that shows that customer service isn’t anywhere near what it should be, some brands still seem reluctant to invest in proper training; at best they put their staff through outdated selling skills courses, or focus efforts entirely on product knowledge. The stands at the show reflected the experience you might get in a dealership, from the best (attentive, engaging, interested) to the worst (lack of engagement, not treating everyone like a potential buyer etc.).

It’s also clear that complex technology continues be an area that teams working in sales and after-sales will need to focus on more and more. Hybrid, extended range, alternative fuel and electric vehicles are now everywhere you look at the motor show. In-car technology, parking assist, sat-nav and links to mobile devices are increasingly common even in lower budget vehicles.  It made me think about how much the traditional aspects of the industry perhaps are holding back the sales of new technology. Sales consultants need new skills and new tools to sell in a digital age, where the customers enter showrooms sometimes better informed that the people selling the vehicles.

The show definitely made me realise that the approaches that LINE has been taking to learning and development in the automotive sector is the way forward. A changing industry needs new ways of learning, and new approaches to providing tools to support the selling process.

Oh and yes of course the cars. The top end brands still sell themselves and it’s the smaller niche manufacturers who still make cars that you can only dream of owning.  One favourite?  Probably the Maserati… or maybe the Lamborghini, or the Aston Martin, or the Bugatti, the list goes on.  Then again, that small hybrid might be a more sensible buy…next year.