The Paris Motor show has survived and blossomed despite two world wars, economic hardship and the dynamic nature of the automotive industry. And even in tumultuous times, the show and its organizers continued to uphold and advance all things automotive. This innovative thinking carries the Mondial de l'Automobile forward into the next millennium-and beyond.
THE EARLY YEARS: In 1898 the Automobile Club de France held the first international exhibition of automobiles in the Jardin des Tuileries. About 140,000 visitors admired the 232 exhibitors' models that had successfully completed the trial journey from Paris to Versailles and back again. From 1901 onward the show was staged in the Grand Palais just off the Champs-Élysées, a venue worthy of the automobile's growing prestige.
The 1902 show saw the advent of electric lighting and about 230,000 visitors attended a sight and sound show featuring the Gaumont cinematograph. Automakers from other countries were making their presence known, particularly the Italian Fiats, German Mercedes, American Locomobiles and British Napiers.
By 1904 the Grand Palais had already grown too small, so trucks were moved to the nearby Cours la Reine. During the early 1900s the automobile's body style gradually became distinct from the horse-drawn carriages that had initially inspired it. Hoods became lower and longer, curved body lines became prevalent and dropped-frame chassis were adopted. Furthermore, Henry Ford's Model T (the first vehicle to roll off an assembly line) was exhibited in 1913, heralding the era of mass production.
Though the Paris Motor Show did not take place during World War I, the automobile contributed to victory: Paris taxis turned the tide in the Battle of the Marne; Renault and Saint-Chamond tanks helped break through German lines in 1918; and endless convoys of trucks supplied Verdun.
THE POST WAR YEARS: In 1919 the exhibition was renamed the Salon de l'Auto (Auto Show), as automobile manufacturing evolved from a craft to an industry. André Citroën was hailed for his Type A (the first European "people's car"), produced at a rate of 100 per day.
At the 1921 show, Citroën presented its 5 CV. In 1923 the Salon opened its doors on the first Thursday of October, a tradition upheld to this day. The 1926 show marked the appearance of the 6-cylinder engine, reflecting the influence of the U.S. auto industry. Autos of the 1930s had lower-slung lines, and the first front-wheel-drive cars-a good 30 years ahead of their time-did away with bulky transmission parts. However, the Depression led to economized production and a shift to mass consumption; some of the more precariously positioned manufacturers of luxury cars, such as Ariès, Brasier, Charron and De Dion-Bouton, eventually disappeared.
Despite uncertainties at home and abroad (the Popular Front, Spanish Civil War), the 1936 Salon would be remembered as a great success, introducing the Peugeot 302, Fiat 500 Topolino and Panhard Dynamic. However, World War II brought auto shows to a grinding halt, postponing projects until peacetime.
THE SHOW THAT BROUGHT PARIS BACK TO LIFE: In 1946 the Salon was once again back at the Grand Palais. Remembering the first post-war gathering, the show's General Commissioner, Mr. Mautin, said, "When I arrived through the Cours la Reine on the morning of the opening day, I saw a line several people deep stretching from the main gate all the way to the Seine. We had been so deprived of cars that this auto show was needed to bring Paris back to life." The 1946 show was attended by 809,000 visitors (twice the pre-war figure), who came to admire the Panhard Dyna and especially the Renault 4 CV, which came to symbolize France's economic recovery.
In 1962 the Paris Motor Show moved to the Porte de Versailles. Along with a large-scale extension (exhibition space was increased to 100,000 square meters), the overall concept of the show also changed. With the creation of the EC, both manufacturers and consumers had to see things from a more European standpoint, and for the first time the exhibition included second-hand cars, campers, bicycles, motorcycles and accessories.
The stars of the "Swinging Sixties" were the Peugeot 404 station wagon, Opel Rekord (1960), Renault 8, BMW 1500 (1962), Porsche 901 (1963), Rover 2000, Chrysler Barracuda, the luxurious DS Pallas, and Citroën's Ami 6 station wagon (1964) and Dyane (1967). The Salon de l'Automobile had by then become the Salon du client ("customers' show"), and the slogan devised by Fiat in 1969, namely "The times are changing, and automobiles too," accurately captured the mood of the era.
This principle of change was reflected in the austerity of auto shows during the 1970s, against a backdrop of recession and labor unrest. Nevertheless, new cars such as the Citroën CX, Volkswagen Golf and Fiat Mirafiori (1974), as well as the Ford Fiesta, Citroën LN and Audi 100 (1976), filled the increasingly large crowds with admiration.
CHANGING TIMES: In 1976 the Paris Motor Show became a biennial event, since most manufacturers felt there were simply too many auto shows. Staged in alternation with the Frankfurt show, the Paris Motor Show is held in even-numbered years and features private and industrial vehicles, while the Bicycle and Motorcycle Show is staged at the same venue in odd-numbered years.
In 1988 the Paris Motor Show took on a new name-Mondial de l' Automobile-and has gained strength ever since. Though the number of manufacturers has dropped as the industry consolidates, the number of exhibitors has increased regularly. Indeed, the number has grown from 232 in 1898 to the current figure of approximately 1,000 (all sectors combined). In 1898 some 140,000 visitors attended the show at the Jardin des Tuileries; in 1954, over one million flocked to the Grand Palais, and this high level of attendance has been sustained for the biennial show, with 1,460,803 visitors at the Porte de Versailles in 2004.
THE MONDIAL TODAY: From the very beginning, the Paris Motor Show fulfilled a basic role in terms of knowledge and promotion of the automobile industry. People came to shop for their new car, and the number of orders placed during the first half of October accounted for a substantial proportion of the automakers' annual sales.
Today the Mondial de l' Automobile serves a twofold purpose: It is a huge showcase where the general public can admire models built in France and throughout the world, and it is also a favorite meeting place for professionals from all branches of the automobile industry.
Though many other auto shows have come into existence since 1898, the Paris Motor Show remains the premier event both in France and on the international scene. Through its colorful history and continuous evolution, the Mondial de l' Automobile will continue to be the showcase of the automotive world for many years to come.