Geneva Motor Show Officially Canceled Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

Also in Speed Lines: Coronavirus spells bad news for Tesla.

byPatrick George|
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Welcome back to Speed Lines, The Drive's roundup of what's new in the world of transportation. Good news: it's Friday. Bad news: almost everything else. 

Geneva Canceled, Not Postponed

All week we've been keeping an eye on the 2020 Geneva Motor Show—one of the world's biggest auto shows and a magnet for high-end European supercars and luxury vehicles—as the coronavirus outbreak quickly spread from Italy to Switzerland and other countries. Journalists, industry officials and attendees have all wondered whether the virus would mean the show won't happen this year, or if it could get pushed back to a later date.

This morning, we don't need to wonder anymore. The Swiss government has banned gatherings of more than 1,000 people, until at least March 15. That means the auto show, which was set to begin press days on Tuesday, isn't happening at all this year. It won't even be postponed.

"We regret to announce the 2020 Geneva motor show will be canceled. This is force majeure," a spokesman for the Palexpo show venue said on Friday. Organizers said the show will not be held at a later date.

"The show cannot be postponed. It's not possible. It's too big. It's not feasible," the spokesman said.

Earlier on Friday Swiss Federal Heath Minister Alain Berset announced that events involving more than 1,000 people were prohibited with immediate effect.

"In view of the current situation and the spread of the coronavirus, the Federal Council has categorized the situation in Switzerland as 'special' in terms of the Epidemics Act," the cabinet said after a meeting.

"Large-scale events involving more than 1,000 people are to be banned. The ban comes into immediate effect and will apply at least until 15 March."

Though the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Switzerland is only at nine as of Thursday, it's clear the Swiss government isn't messing around with regards to preventing an outbreak. China, Italy, Japan and the U.S. have all been criticized for the handling and containment of the virus so far, and Switzerland clearly doesn't want to be in that position. 

As for the new car debuts planned for Geneva, I fully expect most of those will happen online instead. Auto shows in general have struggled with relevance in recent years, and while they're often useful and fun for actual buyers who want to see and sit in cars in one place, the internet has made them far less useful for driving new product news.

Coronavirus Hits Tesla Stock, Hammers Everything Else

Yesterday was an abysmal day in the global markets and Friday is shaping up to look the same, thanks again to the coronavirus outbreak. The Wall Street Journal says selloffs and investor panic over the virus mean we're on track for the biggest weekly losses since 2008, and we all remember how fun that time period was. 

As we've written on Speed Lines since the beginning of the year, the virus has had an impact on pretty much every automaker's sales, production chains and supply networks. It's been bad for everyone, but it's especially rough for Tesla, which saw its stock price soar to record levels after reporting an excellent Q4 of 2019. 

Here's Fortune on why this is bad timing for an automaker now valued more highly than General Motors and Ford:

The electric carmaker's shares fell to as low as $669.02 during (Thursday) morning trading, before slightly recovering. Its shares closed at $679, down nearly 13%. Tesla had promised aggressive growth in China this year, but all signals point otherwise. China’s state-run Automotive Information Net has reported that registrations of new Tesla cars were down 46% between December and January, to 3,563 vehicles,

Meanwhile, Chinese EV sales dropped a steep 34.6% in the fourth quarter of 2019, investment bank Cowen said in an early February report.

Those declines may not be strongly linked to coronavirus: Chinese authorities didn’t report the first cases to the World Health Organization until December 31. China has been in a mild overall slowdown, with economic growth declining in 2019 to 6.1%, from 6.5% in 2018.

But coronavirus does appear to have sharply accelerated the broader trend. Overall car sales in China declined a staggering 92% in the first two weeks of February, according to Bloomberg. Tesla blamed coronavirus for a two-week closure of its new Shanghai factory.

I use Tesla as an example here not to single it out, specifically, but to illustrate how bad the virus is going to be on top of everything else—China's economic slowdown, weakening global new car sales and more. 

Uber's Helping Out on Public Transit, But It Wants Your Data

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi would have you believe he runs a kinder, gentler ride-hailing company than the misogynistic bro-fest that his predecessor Travis Kalanick ran. On the whole, he hasn't been perfect and Uber is still a black hole that endlessly sucks up investor money, but he has cut back somewhat on some of the company's worst tendencies and more absurd delusions of grandeur. 

Next up: adding public transit directions and schedules (and even tickets in some cities) to Uber's app as it works to become the go-to source for how you get around. Here's why, in a deep dive from The Verge:

The thinking goes: if given the choice between a $2.75 subway trip or a $30 car ride, most people will take the subway. Unless, of course, that subway is delayed. Then the car trip becomes the more attractive option.

“To some extent, we’re competing against ourselves,” Khosrowshahi says. “But we have the philosophy that if there’s a better product out there for the user, and we think an integrated movement solution is better for the user, we should be the ones competing against ourselves versus others doing it.”

Uber isn’t just adding subways and buses to its app. It’s also giving bikes and scooters more prominence, adding a raft of new safety features and bringing Uber Eats, its food delivery product, into its main ride-hailing app so both services operate under one umbrella.

Of course, this is Uber, so don't expect this to be some altruistic, pro-public transit move. Uber wants your data. Further from the story:

“We will use your data,” he says. “We won’t sell it, but we will use your data to make sure that the offerings that we’re giving to you are the right offerings. So we don’t have to offer you 10 things, but we can offer you probably the two or three best choices out there.”

Hearing “Uber” and “your data” in the same sentence is sure to set off some people’s alarm bells. After all, this is the same company that created the infamous “Greyball” program to hide its cars from law enforcement officials in a move that some consider to be obstruction of justice. There was also “God View,” which allowed the company’s employees to track riders in real time. Uber agreed to submit 20 years’ worth of third-party audits in a settlement with federal investigators over the spy software.

But data that helps cities make better-informed decisions about transit improvements could help Uber rise above the competition while also settling nagging thoughts about the company’s trustworthiness. Needless to say, cities and transit agencies want that data, too. Uber is notoriously stingy with its data, often refusing requests from cities for reasons around privacy and the desire to preserve its competitive advantage. That’s changed a little over the last few years with the launch of Uber Movement, an online tool expressly for cities to map travel times, powered by the company’s vast store of trip data.

Given how consistently trustworthy and stand-up Uber is as a company, I am sure this will go totally fine.

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Your Turn

How big do you see the impact of this virus being on the transportation industry as a whole? When will we start to see its effects taper off?