Tales from the Bangkok Motor Show

The Geneva Motor Show, despite its glitz & glamour and overall positive press, ended on a slightly downbeat note, with grave concerns about the future of the European car industry being expressed by most major manufacturers. The 33rd Bangkok International Motor Show (BIMS to its friends) turned that on its head, gleaming as a beacon of hope for an industry that has suffered catastrophic setbacks through natural disasters.

BIMS supremo Dr. Prachin Eamlumnow’s confidence that this year’s event “will overturn the fortunes of the Thai automotive industry and be the gauge of the Thai economy” was rewarded. Everyone, including the world’s media, appeared to rally around to support the event and make it a superlative success in terms of sales, global débuts and eco-friendly innovation. Non-Asia based brands presented models specifically tailored to the needs of the region’s motorists, some to be built locally. Two of the top three brands, Ford and Chevrolet, garnered a lot of exposure from their manufacturing plants in Rayong, Thailand.

Although peaking on the press days, BIMS enjoyed a high level of coverage both during the week leading up to it, and throughout its 12-day run, gaining headline exposure in Thai, Indonesian and Vietnamese nationals as well as the trade press. Gadget and tech titles were present too, supporting the show’s theme of “Technology making a Difference”.

Ford particularly embodied this by presenting safety features and driving aids ideally suited for the traffic conditions in cities such as Bangkok and Manila, and wowed the ‘techies’ with its voice-controlled music and smartphone management system. As A. Lin Neumann of the Jakarta Globe put it, “It’s a little creepy to have a car say, “laugh out loud” followed by “big grin,” but I am sure you can get used to it”.

Aside from it being more positive than you might expect for automotive event tonality, there was something else that stood out in how the media presented this particular auto salon. Coverage of all major motor shows will include shots of a glamorous model illustrating the car/ motorbike/ carburettor featured in the story. At BIMS, these models ARE the story. For 10 years now they have been generating as many column inches as the products they are advertising, and they are the envy of the international motor show world. In Thailand, they are so famous, a new noun has been invented for them: “pretties”. Check out this highly entertaining take on how this fits into the lexicon.

Although the objections of the self-appointed moral watchdog Rabiabrat Pongpanich and the Culture Ministry were reported, the media appeared, for the most part, firmly on the side of the ‘pretties’. Some ignored the naysayers and merely listed the pretties as part and parcel of the multifarious attractions of the show, others accompanied the objections with wry comments and a ‘here-we-go-again’ air. In some cases, whole features were run detailing the purpose, commercial success and character of these ‘professionally pretty women’.

A few, more serious-minded journalists expressed their distaste for the presence of the ‘pretties’, when they preferred to discuss the grave matter of power output and body control with a ‘guy in a suit’, rather than “some dizzy dame parroting off specifications while dressed like a Barbie doll” (Dr Iain Corness, The Pattaya Mail). These comments only fuelled the ‘pretties” publicity.
The whole debate lent humour and whimsy to the proceedings. It’s a media phenomenon that will continue probably as long as BIMS remains on the automotive calendar, and it was exactly in tune with the peppy, upbeat nature of the media activity surrounding that event.

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