Goodwood turns up the heat on traditional auto shows

Visitors to the Goodwood Festival of Speed will get to see and hear the new Aston Martin DBS Superleggera in action this week.

On the face of it, the Goodwood Festival of Speed is a small specialist show held in a rural corner of southern England. In reality, this motorsport-themed event is attracting global manufacturers by offering far more than traditional auto shows such as Paris or Geneva can ever do.

This year Aston Martin, McLaren, Ford and Tesla are among the brands staging public global or European debuts of new models, but the secret sauce at Goodwood that elevates it above traditional auto shows is what it calls the “dynamic launch.” In other words, it is the first time the car is seen moving. For the crowd attending the four-day event starting Thursday, that is a big deal.

Not only will visitors get to walk around the new Aston Martin flagship sports car, the DBS Superleggera, they will hear it and watch it being driven at full speed along the famous Goodwood hill, essentially a driveway to the grand house belonging to the event’s organizer, Charles Gordon-Lennox, the Duke of Richmond.

Same goes for the new performance version of the McLaren 570C entry-level car, called the 600LT.

This year the mix adds high-tech cars alongside brawny supercars and racecars, old and new.

Tesla is using Goodwood to officially show the Model 3 for the first time in Europe, inviting the UK’s first customers to the event.

Siemens will run an 1965 Ford Mustang retrofitted with autonomous technology up the hill, without input from a driver.

Visitors will also see a running prototype version of Toyota’s upcoming Supra coupe, albeit still in its disguise.

Even SUVs get a turn, providing, of course, they are high-powered and preferably loud.

Jaguar’s new F-Pace SVR and the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio will thunder up the hill, as will a Bentley Bentayga specially tuned to beat the SUV record at America’s Pikes Peak hill climb event.

Goodwood isn’t huge. About 200,000 visitors are expected this year, compared with more than 1 million for the most recent Paris auto show, held in 2016.

But those that do come are a key crowd for automakers — full-blown petrol heads.

“Goodwood has grown exponentially over the past few years. It has sold out this year and gets a very good audience, an audience that is really enthusiastic about cars,” said Lisa Brankin, head of marketing for Ford in the UK.

Ford will use Goodwood to give the Focus its European public debut. The Focus will shown alongside the high-performance Fiesta ST.

The show represents Ford’s biggest marketing spend for an event in the UK, Brankin said. Goodwood is also now important enough that Ford of Europe contributes, too. Elsewhere, Ford is pulling out of traditional European auto shows. It won’t be at Paris, one of many brands to reject the event this year, and last month Ford said it would skip Geneva in 2019.

Participating at Goodwood isn’t cheap, but the Duke of Richmond told Automotive News Europe last year that he estimated it cost three times less than maintaining a stand at a big auto show.

The publicity could be worth a lot more. A static car doesn’t make for a great video on your social media feed. Add in tire smoke, a rumbling engine, a celebrity driver and a glamorous backdrop, and suddenly viewer numbers start climbing. It gives Goodwood an edge traditional auto shows will struggle to match.