IAA Munich and the future of 'mobility' shows

Article originally appeared in Automotive Engineering Magazine in October 2021

Enormous anticipation guided me as I entered the expansive Munchen Messe on Sept. 7, the inaugural media day and official kickoff for the first IAA – Germany’s combination auto show and industry trade fair – to be held in picturesque Munich. The Bavarian city is a far better show venue than drab, industrial Frankfurt, which hosted IAA since 1951.

The modern, airy facilities at the Messe provided more than ample floor space for exhibitors, meetings and panel discussions. Services clicked with cheery German efficiency. Blessedly, the ambient daily temperatures were in the 72°F/22°C range, with blue-sky sunshine. Frankfurt by comparison was classically hot; one year I attended, the Mercedes hall, packed with people and already steamy, generated a fog bank. And the Europeans still shun air conditioning.

Before we left the U.S., our group of American journalists had to blast its way through a mind-numbing wall of health protocols to get to Germany and into IAA. These involved multiple emails sending scans of passports, proof-of-Covid vaccine, and a worrisome volume of personal data sent through the internet. Everywhere, we wore cushy FFP2 masks with an additional layer of filtration.

Chairs in the large presentation spaces were set a perfect 1.5 meters (4.9 ft.) apart. I was told that IAA staff were assigned to monitor proper mask use, watching closely for masks pulled down below the nose. If you were caught, you were given a warning card and were a ‘marked’ attendee. Caught three times and they kicked you out. Could this be a health-safety model for future industry shows and conferences?

But I appreciated the COVID rigor, sadly lacking in the U.S. As of Sept. 8, 77% of German citizens had received two jabs. By comparison, only 66% of Americans had received a single vaccination shot. This was a proper strict, robust approach to ensuring at least a baseline of safety, and it was the price to attend IAA. We also had to take a COVID test upon arrival at Munich airport, another requirement to attend the show. I underwent a second test at the show, just before departure the last day.

Suppliers step up

In a postmortem release from the IAA organizers, the event hosted some 400,000 attendees, with 744 exhibitors including 152 supplier and tech companies and 78 startups. The classic German Tier-1s clearly carried the day at IAA 2021. They brought a wide array of products, from cleverly engineered subassemblies (some as high-tech as many electronics) to sensors and software. Wholesale pivots to electrification and hydrogen fuel cells were in evidence throughout the Halles.

OEM participation was a patchwork – and disappointing overall. Many appeared to take a wait-and-see approach to the first year in Munich. China’s Wey brand (part of Great Wall Motors) appeared with uninspired electric SUVs to occupy the largest floor space among attending automakers. By comparison, homeboy BMW’s booth appeared almost tiny, even including the adjacent Mini display which showed the brand’s first minivan, the electric Vision Urbanaut. Mercedes spent big on four electric-vehicle (EV) concepts including the E-Class EQE and EQG electric G-wagen. There was also the wild Vision AVTR shown at CES’20, now upgraded with alleged brainwave-control for certain cabin functions.

Volkswagen AG’s focus was on ID.2, ID.3 and ID.4 and ID.Life, a new low-cost crossover SUV that will debut in the next couple of years, the company indicates. Aiming for a base price of 20,000 euros, ID.Life uses a front-drive MEB platform and high content of PET in its body. ID.Buzz (or Bulli, or whatever they’re calling the new EV version of the Bus) was not present. Audi took the uber-luxury-EV stage with its Grandsphere, a sleek 17.5-ft.-long (5.3 m) AWD flagship sedan underpinned by VW’s Premium Platform Electric (PPE). Porsche underwhelmed with an electric racecar, the Mission R, that might be sold to customers.

Renault launched its new Megane EV. Polestar showed two cars. Ford of Europe had a couple of Mustang Mach-Es at a coffee bar. Tesla, now a formidable new German industrial ‘citizen,’ didn’t feel a need to participate. Reportedly Stellantis and Toyota dropped out at eleventh hour.

So, a bit uneven re-start for in-person, major auto/mobility/industry trade shows. But the rationale to continue was clearly there on many fronts. The industry needs this show. IAA Munich 2021 showed the right direction for reinvention. Hopefully more OEMs will be convinced of the event’s value and rejoin in 2022. IAA’s importance goes beyond the mighty CES conference in featuring not only the digital and virtual, but the mechanical technologies that will always underpin the electric future.

This article was written by Lindsay Brooke

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