We have just spent four days at the IAA Frankfurt Motor Show 2019 and it is time to recap our experience at what used to be Europe’s most important auto show.
Fewer manufacturers, smaller stands and gaps filled with used cars and carpet. It doesn’t take long to see the 2019 IAA Frankfurt Motor Show is no longer what it used to be. But the pace at which the downfall of the IAA has taken place is shocking to see.
Clearly the cancellation of many car manufacturers in the run-up to the IAA this year posed challenges for the VDA, the organizer of the IAA. But the way the challenges have been handled seems to have an accelerating effect on the downfall of the show.
To make matters worse it is not just the absence of the likes of Aston Martin and Ferrari that makes the IAA so unattractive for visitors and journalists alike. But the decision from German groups to leave their top brands at home; including Bentley, Bugatti and Rolls-Royce, is something I can’t wrap my head around.
Where are the visitor highlights?
Clearly those manufacturers present at this year’s IAA want to present electric models and show that they are ready to face the challenges ahead. But the reality is the green naysayers that dominate the political discussion in Germany are not visiting the IAA. The visitors that still come to IAA are interested in cars and want to see the latest and greatest there is on the market. That they can’t see the new Ferrari is a shame but that the Volkswagen Group is withholding the IAA audience from recent highlights like the Bugatti Centodieci or the Bentley EXP 100 GT gives visitors all the more reason not to come back in two years. Turning the further downfall of the IAA into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Experience vs Display
Motor shows around the world are struggling so what is happening to the IAA should not come as a surprise. But the decline is about more than just the lack of halo cars but also the visitor experience. 20 years ago visitors didn’t know much about the cars they were presented. Today the average visitor knows a lot about the cars shown at the IAA when he walks through the door thanks to the plethora of information and content available online. Motor shows and manufacturers have to adapt to this new reality that just putting a car on display is no longer enough to appeal to visitors and satisfy them. Visitors should be offered experiences and interactions that they cannot get online or at a dealership.
At the same time online also offers manufacturers an alternative to the expensive motor shows, which served the key purpose of getting the word out about new models for decades. I love motor shows for the opportunity to see many different models, meet key people in the industry, get an overview of trends and see where the journey is going. I would be sad to see them go but clearly most motor shows are reluctant to change or have no answer to the changed market dynamics.
There are exceptions
Where some brands decide to pass on the IAA altogether and others like BMW significantly downsized their presence from 11,000 m2 to 3,000 m2, Mercedes-Benz holds on to their prominent and extensive display in the festive hall and adjacent pavilion of the Frankfurt Exhibition center. In the front pavilion you will find a large number of new models on display as it used to be. But continue into the Festive Hall and a new approach concept awaits: few cars, more brand and theme experiences. Neatly integrated in the Daimler IAA presence is also the MeConvention – a future lab’ for exploring major issues and promising ideas for society, business, science and our planet. Combining new with old Mercedes-Benz hopes to satisfy both returning visitors as well as appeal to a new tech-savvy audience. However with the rest of the IAA in such an appalling state we doubt Daimler can justify their current efforts and investment for the next edition.
On the other side of the IAA grounds we find some first-time exhibitors from China. Seemingly unaware of the ongoing decline so obvious to returning visitors of the IAA they bring a positive vibe and new inspiring products to Hall 8. The sad reality remains that the IAA this year has nowhere near the density of products, brands and innovations as it used to have.
The e-mobility push
One thing that nearly all manufacturers present at this year’s IAA have in common is the seemingly endless range of electric cars in the limelight. These range from a 1,400hp Chinese hypercar called the Hongqi S9 to a modest Volkswagen e-Up. On Thursday we accompanied German Chancellor Angela Merkel through the IAA halls as she was brought up to speed about the latest innovations and products by the CEOs of major German manufacturers and suppliers. All were doing their best to show the latest and greatest electric car; from the Mercedes-Benz Vision EQS to VW ID.3 and Porsche Taycan.
Just before the end of the IAA tour Merkel unintentionally put the finger on the main issue for mass-adoption of electric cars. She asked the Opel CEO about the price difference between the new Corsa and the e-Corsa; the answer: the combustion Corsa is around 15,000 euro and the e-Corsa 30,000 euro. In the mass market segment prices will have to come down to the same level as combustion cars and even than it will be a tough sell to consumers. Until that happens e-mobility will not become mainstream and primarily a tool for the rich to buy a clean conscience and pretend they are saving the environment by driving an over-sized and over-weight electric car powered by coal power plants.
IAA 2019 Highlights
In the past we struggled to pick the 10 best cars of the IAA. This year we struggle to even fill a Top 10 at all. So we have reduced our highlights to the Top 5 cars of the IAA 2019 in random order.
The first all-electric Porsche Taycan is celebrating its world premiere in Frankfurt. Hailed for using 800V technology and setting a new benchmark for electric driving dynamics it is without a doubt one of the few highlights in Frankfurt. Personally I’m sceptical whether or not electric (sports)cars are really a satisfying replacement for combustion cars but with 30,000 pre-orders Porsche cannot complain.
The first Lamborghini with a hybrid system and what a stunner the new Sian is. Just ignore the fact that it is still based on the eight year old Aventador platform and the 2 million euro price tag.
Mercedes-Benz Vision EQS
Mercedes-Benz said they want to sell 50% full electric cars by 2030. A very ambitious goal which requires appealing full electric cars in their line-up. The Mercedes-Benz Vision EQS is their take on a full-electric version of the S-Class flagship limousine.
Land Rover Defender
The Defender is back! We like the functional design of the interior but the quality of the materials used is not the best. It suffers from an issue BMW had a while ago where parts designed to be aluminum or steel have been replaced with plastics.
At the Audi stand you can find a full-electric off-road vehicle that looks like a moon buggy. But our attention was drawn by the world premiere of the new Audi RS7. Equipped with a new version of Audi’s 4.0 liter V8 it is even faster and more luxurious than the previous generation.
Read more about the IAA at our IAA Frankfurt Motor Show 2019 news channel.