Tue. Apr 16th, 2024

In this episode of Qatar 365, we get revved up for the biggest auto show in the Middle East and hear from the car companies leading the way towards a greener future.

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The Geneva International Motor Show (GIMS) has been showcasing the latest trends in the auto industry since 1905. This year, for the first time in its history, it was held outside Switzerland as Qatar stepped up the host the event.

Ten global premieres, 20 regional reveals, 30 renowned automakers, all under one roof. Whether you’re a car buyer, collector or enthusiast, GIMS is widely considered the most important auto show in Europe. Now making its first foray into the Middle East, organisers hope GIMS Qatar will soon become the most important motor show in the region.

“This is amazing: ten brand new cars never seen anywhere in the world. And it’s not happening in Detroit, it’s not happening in Frankfurt, it’s not happening in Paris or Tokyo,” said Berthold Trenkel, the Chief Operating Officer at Qatar Tourism.

GIMS draws tens of thousands of visitors every year. The first motor show was held in Geneva in 1905 and by the 1950s, the show attracted some of the biggest brands from the UK and US. Landing in Qatar this year, the exhibition has come a long way.

“For us, the first challenge was to organise a show that is decentralised – what we call a festival,” revealed Sandro Mesquita, the CEO of the Geneva International Motor Show. “Because the beating heart is here in the halls with the motor show but we are present also at the Lusail track, we are present in the desert, at the Lusail Boulevard. So, we wanted to create an experience with static, but also with dynamic presentations.”

“The Middle East for us matches perfectly because in the Middle East, the Arabian culture is all about family and relationships. We are a life brand, a family brand and that fits perfectly to the Arabian culture,” explained Matthias Ziegler, the Managing Director of Volkswagen Middle East.

From one iconic German brand to another; Mercedes Benz made multiple regional reveals in Qatar, from traditional combustion engines to electric vehicles.

“For Mercedes-Benz, it’s about bringing both luxury and sustainability because that’s what we believe the future of luxury is,” said Selvin Govender, the Director of Sales at Mercedes-Benz Middle East & Africa

“We focus on building desirable cars. We focus on the top-end growth in luxury markets and this is the region for luxury.”

And this isn’t the end of the road for GIMS Qatar. The show will return to Doha every two years, coinciding with the Formula 1 Qatar Grand Prix.

“For us, it was great to have a global partner, a global brand and their expertise,” said Berthold Trenkel. “So partnering with Geneva was I think a very, very smart choice. It’s similar in terms of the look, the feel, the professionalism. And that’s what makes it so special.”

The need for speed at the Lusail International Circuit

The Lusail International Circuit is the home of all things motorsports in Qatar. Fresh from hosting another thrilling edition of the Formula 1 Qatar Grand Prix, the circuit is gearing up to host the motorcycling equivalent, the MotoGP race.

We spoke with Amro Al-Hamad, the CEO of Lusail International Circuit, to get his insights on what it takes to keep up with the leading racing tracks of the world.

“It was really exciting welcoming everybody into our new facility,” he told Qatar 365. “I wouldn’t say it is renovated. I would say it’s a brand-new facility, and we’ve broken a couple of records here. Number one was actually building the facility or getting the facility ready to host the F1 race in a record time. We’ve had a huge attendance – 126,000 people over three days, compared to 15,000 people a day in 2021. So, if that’s telling us anything it’s just telling us how motorsports now is becoming like really a popular sport or an event to actually watch in the state of Qatar.”

Amro explained that this is just the start of the beginning of back to back to back events for the Lusail International Circuit. 

“We’ve just finished with the 2023 Formula 1 race, and next, we have the MotoGP happening [from] 17 to 19 November 2023, followed by the Middle East and North Africa Karting Championship that’s happening in December. And then we move to 2024. We have the prologue for the World Endurance Championship, then the first round of the Championship, and followed back again with the MotoGP happening in March.”

This year, the Geneva International Motor Show was held at the same time as the F1. Amro Al-Hamad told Qatar 365 that this combination has boosted motorsports and the automotive industry in Qatar as a whole.

“The presence of the Geneva International Motor Show in Qatar side by side with the F1 race happening here made it all a motorsports festival, more than just two separate events and they completed actually, each other. We saw a lot of attention and a lot of eagerness from the people to actually get into motorsports. We’re going to have this festival happening for the next 10 years.”

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Qatar is a motorsport country, from Formula 1 to the MotoGP, to the Qatar International Rally, and Off-Road and Karting Championships. We asked Amro Al-Hamad what is driving this interest and the need for speed.

“Our whole idea that we have in mind now is to actually promote motorsports. We need to see younger youth now aspiring to be part of our motorsports journey and bringing all these international events into Qatar helps to benefit from or reach that goal.”

A former endurance racing driver, Amro explained that he remains a thrill seeker and motorhead to this day. 

“I was involved in motorsports and that was my aspiration to end up doing a job like I am doing now. I always tell the people I’m not doing a job, I just do what I love every single day. Going back to what I enjoy doing now, I’m not out of motorsports. I use every single chance to get myself into a car or on the track and the majority of the time now I’m doing motocross and enduro riding.”

A ‘once in a lifetime’ road trip: 8,000 kilometres in a Volkswagen ID Buzz

Electric vehicles are becoming a prominent feature at auto shows all over the world. In fact, EV sales are set to grow by 16% per year between now and 2035. 

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Frank Rinderknecht is the CEO of Rinspeed AG. He recently led two crews on a road trip from Geneva to Doha in two fully electric Volkswagen ID Buzz vans, to push the limits of electromobility. 

The monster journey took 34 days, crossing twelve countries and covering 8,000 kilometres.

“There were many challenges, many problems to overcome,” Frank Rinderknecht admitted. “It was a trip full of emotions, full of excitement, full of great people to have met, see landscapes which are extraordinary. So, it was intensive and in a way, probably a once in a lifetime.”

The historic event saw Frank and his team being the first to cross Saudi Arabia from West to East in electric cars. The trip wasn’t just a display of pioneering spirit, it also was a resounding success for innovation and electric vehicles.

“We need to get away from fossil energies to renewable energies. And already this step in the thinking is a big step towards that goal, not just to consume and then evaporate it into the air, but to make it a circular industry,” Frank told Qatar 365.

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The Volkswagen ID Buzz may look a little bulky for a long, cross-country journey, but it was the obvious choice for the Tour d’Excellence.

“The ID Buzz is like an iconic car. It goes back to the seventies, a travelling, serving car. And we need that space, we need the space for spare tires, for car checks and all different kinds of things,” Frank added.

What is driving the industry towards a greener future?

From vans to cars to even buses like these, electric vehicles are a big feature here at the Geneva International Motor Show. Qatar’s Mowasalat unveiled a minibus that’s not only fully electric but also driverless.

The buses mark another step in the partnership between Mowasalat and Chinese firm Yutong, to boost the use of EV buses for the public.

Meanwhile, new and up-and-coming EV brands like Lucid, VinFast and Exeed also unveiled new models, heating up the competition in an increasingly crowded race. Another brand looking to expand its reach in the Middle East is Lynk & Co.

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“Our flagship model Lynk & Co 09 car [is] a seven-seater SUV. So, in this GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) region, I think this car is going to be a huge success,” said Derek Peng, the Head of Marketing APAC at Lynk & Co.

To help them capture the Qatari market, Lynk & Co is teaming up with Qatar’s NBK Group and Auto Class Cars. The renowned dealerships have decades of experience distributing prestigious brands like Mercedes and Harley Davidson.

“Lynk & Co is just more than a car. And for us to have Lynk & Co was not just having another brand to our portfolio, despite having lots of competitors in the market. So, we wanted to have something different. That’s about the connectivity, Eastern-Western connectivity,” explained Ahmad Firoozi, the Marketing Manager at Auto Class Cars.

As more companies accelerate their plans to go big and go green, Frank and his team are all charged up for their next adventure.

“On our bucket list, we have Patagonia, south of South America. Whether we can do this trip electrically or in a typical car, we don’t know yet. But again, what’s important is to dream, and dreaming is great,” Frank Rinderknecht concluded.

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