IAA: More electric cars, less show – economy

Visitors can still experience the past and present at this auto show: there is actually a diesel engine right in front of the Mercedes exhibition stand. Four cylinders, the silver surface is caressed repeatedly and tenderly by an employee of the stand. As always in an auto show, you might say. But nowadays, you have to be sure: it’s a bit outdated. Just like the diesel station wagon placed next to it.

Almost none of the first visitors to the International Motor Show in the Munich exhibition halls and in the city at the “Open Spaces” are interested in gasoline and diesel. Everyone wants to see the new battery cars, of which there is actually a lot to see this time around, including at Daimler, of course, there isn’t. But this time the avant-gardes are different. BMW has staged an eco-friendly car that is not only meant to be a vision, but also represents a new “way of thinking,” as CEO Oliver Zipse explains: a small car in which they ditched the moldings and to decorations. With the help of BASF and recycling specialist Alba, the automaker wants to achieve a “circular economy” in which a car is made as much as possible from recycled materials – the target is 50% by 2025. And it has to be constructed in such a way that it can then be recycled as easily as possible later. It’s a question of image, but it’s also a question of cost. And it’s a whole new approach: talking about waste at a motor show.

You cannot see more clearly than here in Munich how the industry is currently taking different paths. Especially in light of the climate debate, everything is a mess – or, positively, the future of mobility is more open than ever. The first auto show at the new Munich location is expected to be different, said chief lobbyist Hildegard Müller. It is not the cars, but the “solutions on the road to climate neutrality” that should be the focus.

Because there is no longer a technique that is as varied as it used to be. Two years ago it looked something like this: Mercedes introduced its C-Class, which was roughly the same as the new BMW 3 Series, which was roughly the same as the Audi A4, which has debuts next door. Industry and its fairs have always been the version of steel and cylinders, nothing else. Plus as many headlights as possible and some great sports cars from Ferrari and Lamborghini to grab the attention.

Volkswagen owners did not come this time

You can see how times have changed on the eve of this fair. And nowhere more clearly than at Volkswagen. The corporate reception has always been solemn, with all brands showing off their cars: Audi, VW, Porsche, Bentley, Seat, Skoda, etc. The family owners of the two branches Porsche and Piëch have always traveled from the Land of Salzburg and explained their point of view on the automotive industry in general and the leaders of VW in particular, and finally the works council had another thing.

This time, none of the owners came because they weren’t really invited: VW management decided that the focus should be on factual issues. And they’re not even vehicles. They brought only one with them to the Isarpost in downtown Munich, and even it’s in the back of a garage: a futuristic minibus with all kinds of antennas and cameras. CEO Herbert Diess sees a different future for the automotive industry than BMW and Daimler; he believes not only in electrification, which for him is already finished, but in robotic shuttles.

At the entrance are Greenpeace activists who brought a banner that reads: “Von Wegen Klimaschutz”, with the V and W painted in bold. For Diess, that was the debate yesterday, as VW relies a lot on electricity. It is almost “a little unfair” that Greenpeace is demonstrating here, he says of the activists, who are being watched by the police. And inside, he’s talking about where they’ve set up a lounge and serve up vegan bites, actually robotaxis all night long. Next to him on the couch: Bryan Salesky, the boss of robotic technology company Argo AI, in which VW and Ford are involved. People want vehicles like this, both say, it’s a multibillion dollar market and will launch in just a few years.

At Mercedes, you see everything a little differently: the Swabians had also tried robotic taxis, with Bosch. But the two companies found: Too difficult and too expensive. Now they prefer to build expensive assistance systems in expensive electric cars.

And they show a few of them on their previous night. The start of the Daimler Group show, where the new models are traditionally presented, will this time not take place in a specially rented place, but in the Munich branch – which, with its twelve floors, is just a little less representative than the Frankfurt Festhalle in which the Swabians had already presented their motor show for 16 years.

Former Daimler boss Zetsche chatted until late at night

All combustion-engine cars – which they of course also sell – are hidden behind a large black curtain. And that night, no one at Mercedes either talks about diesel and gasoline. Instead of “sustainable luxury”, which is mainly seen in the fact that the newly introduced electric cars are mainly intended to appeal to affluent customers: even the all-terrain vehicle, the G-Class, will be electric in the future. The good party atmosphere like before, before Corona and before this change of conduct, does not arise – which can also be due to the fact that people make the party badly with a mask. Only one person chatted very heatedly until late into the night: former Daimler boss Dieter Zetsche, who had previously watched the presentation of the new electric models in a dark corner, undisturbed and perhaps largely undetected because his hallmark, the distinctive mustache, was buried behind in the white FFP2 mask.

In conversation, he looks a bit like an elderly gardener who wanders his flower beds and rejoices in the slow growth of his seeds. After all, this turnaround, the shift from diesel and gasoline to electric cars, has already started under his leadership. The gardener Zetsche has sown, his successor Ola Källenius is now authorized to bring in the harvest. Is the former entrepreneur no longer worried about the German auto industry? A little smile. “I’ve never done this before.”

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