Geneva Motor Show 2020 canceled over tough new coronavirus rule

The Geneva Motor Show 2020 has been canceled, less than a week ahead of the annual auto event, after Switzerland recorded its first case of coronavirus. The Swiss government has banned any event with more than 1,000 people, set to take place until March 15, 2020. The car show was set to open to media in three days time.

After the press days, where automakers including Mercedes, Polestar, and Bentley were set to reveal new models and concepts, the Geneva Motor Show was due to open to the public. That was scheduled to run from March 5 through March 15, right within the Swiss Federal Council's imposed ban.

"We regret this situation, but the health of all participants is our and our exhibitors' top priority," Maurice Turrettini, Chairman of the Foundation Board responsible for the Geneva Motor Show, said today in a statement. "This is a case of force majeure and a tremendous loss for the manufacturers who have invested massively in their presence in Geneva. However, we are convinced that they will understand this decision."

The COVID-19 case in Switzerland couldn't have come at a worse time for the show. Construction of the stands, many of which are elaborate multi-level buildings within the Palexpo hall, was almost complete, the organizers say. Only a week ago – prior to the first confirmed coronavirus case in the country – the assumption was that the show would go on.

What the implications may be for exhibitors is still unclear. The organizers say that tickets that have already been purchased for the Geneva Motor Show 2020 will be refunded, with information on that process coming to the official website soon. "The financial consequences for all those involved in the event are significant and will need to be assessed over the coming weeks," it adds.

On canceled show of many

Coronavirus and the fear of community spread has already taken its toll on a number of high-profile shows. Mobile World Congress was axed at the last minute earlier this month, leaving exhibitors, would-be attendees, and businesses in Barcelona, Spain furious that organizing body the GSMA left the decision until the eleventh hour.

Other companies have been quicker to take a decision. Facebook's F8 2020 developer conference was due to take place in San Jose, CA, in early May. Facebook said this week that it would be canceling the "in-person component" of the event, however.

Big name exhibitors at GDC 2020 have also been dropping out, with Unity, Microsoft, EA, and others confirming they will not be attending the annual Game Developers Conference in mid-March.

Where that leaves events running through the rest of 2020 remains to be seen. There's no sign of Google canceling I/O 2020, nor Apple pulling the plug on WWDC 2020, for example. However as the fate of the Geneva Motor Show makes clear, things can change in an instant at the very last moment.