When I left Munich around Midday on a lovely Monday in early September to head for the Frankfurt Motor Show this year, I wasn’t sure what to expect. My colleagues Eric, Daniel and I knew that this would be a very different show compared to 2 years ago.
And different it was indeed. Due to many OEMs being absent, the show was only half the size of 2017. 4 instead of 8 halls but still the same amount of walking as the organisers couldn’t manage to make the show a bit more compact to make it a much more comfortable and pleasant experience.
The great thing about Frankfurt always was that it was fundamentally a motor show. This year, this is at the same time the biggest problem it has. The show is also a representation of the current stage of the car industry. It tries to be innovative but apart from ideas, there is very little doing. Both the show and industry don’t have the courage to really try something new. Interestingly, the companies that could have been able to disrupt a bit further like Byton (My-Byte production) or Honda (E production car) were put in a hall with suppliers. Of course, the attention to them was not close to a Hyundai 45 or Land Rover Defender.
From a transportation design perspective, there was little innovation to be seen – merely an Evolution with cars such as the Taycan or the new Defender. But the revolution that a lot of top level management constantly talks about is not even close yet. At least not from the companies present in Frankfurt. Of the very few show and concept cars presented at Frankfurt, I am not sure if we will remember even one of them in 3-6 months’ time. Again, where is the innovation and embracing the culture of new technology? We have all seen EVs by this time, an EV show car is nothing spectacular anymore. We thought for a long time that these new platforms will bring new ideas and concepts but the opposite is the case – apart from the (yes, refreshing) product design trend, there is very little advancement. And while everyone is talking about creating an “experience”, I personally didn’t feel that any OEM was trying at all to make their booths an experience at all. We certainly still have a long way to go before the customer can really feel what this “experience” is really about all these managers are talking about.
What has become obvious during the IAA however is that the build quality will be seriously challenged in the EV-development. OEMs will try to keep their profit margins on at least the same level as with ICE cars. This means that especially in the affordable price sectors, the manufacturers have to save some money somewhere else as the EVs production is expensive - The VW ID3 gave us a very poor design and production quality feeling. Especially compared to the Golf it simply felt cheap and not worth 40 000€ for the first edition. Honda didn’t use the best quality screens but the better interior quality - it felt like a much better and more secure car.
There’s been a lot of talk if motor shows will still be around in the near future. I very much hope they will be. But they need to change. But they can only change if the manufacturers embrace change and actually proof they are still as inventive as they have been in the past? How about a motto that everyone will adhere to. For example: an emission-free city without any personal driving - all concept and show cars will be based on the motto of the show.
In its current format, the IAA will not survive. The crowd who comes to these events has changed, both in and outside the halls. It was no surprise that there were a lot of protests for clean energy, low emission vehicles etc. But these issues where not really addressed in any of the press conference. The Frankfurt Show 2019 was still a celebration of the past without really looking into the future. If they won’t change, there won’t be an IAA 2021. At least not as we have known it decades – at the same could be said about the automotive industry.
For more insights on the IAA 2019, check out the latest episode of Gestalten - The Automotive Design Podcast - Review IAA 2019 or contact Martin Groschwald.