Sep 7, 2021 - Economy & Business

Auto shows are back but they aren't just about cars any more

Image of Hildegard Mueller, President of the Association of the German Automotive Industry, in front of a screen demonstrating multiple modes of transportation.
Hildegard Müller, president of VDA, organizer of the 2021 IAA auto show in Munich. Photo: Christof Stache/AFP

Auto shows are coming back, but they don't just feature pretty cars: Now they also have hands-on experiences showcasing innovative climate-friendly technologies and new modes of mobility.

Why it matters: Big, international auto shows have been dying for years, and the coronavirus pandemic looked like it might be the final straw. Instead, they're trying to stay relevant by reinventing themselves to reflect an industry undergoing historic change.

  • But uncertainty — about public health, the ongoing computer chip shortage and other pandemic-related supply chain disruptions — is tamping down automakers' enthusiasm.

Driving the news: This week's IAA show in Munich is the first major auto industry event in two years, showcasing everything from bikes to e-scooters to cars, reports Reuters.

  • A "Blue Lane Road" dedicated to clean vehicles and autonomous shuttles will ferry visitors among show venues while they listen to lectures or music, or immerse themselves in virtual reality worlds.
  • "Climate-friendly engines, the digital connectivity of transport — that's what this fair is about," Hildegard Müller, president of show organizer VDA, said at a press conference. "The goal of climate protection is guiding us."
  • Other interactive booths will demonstrate features like automated parking.

Yes, but: Despite abundant outdoor spaces and spread-out venues, many of the world's largest automakers — Toyota, Stellantis and Nissan, to name a few — are not even participating.

What they're saying: While reimagining traditional auto shows is laudable, "it is hard to base a show entirely around demonstrations and the somewhat nebulous concept of ‘mobility,'" says Tim Urquhart, principal automotive analyst at IHS Markit. "There will still be an element of seeing and touching physical vehicles that attendees will want to engage with."

What's next: Later this month, Detroit aims to revive its international auto show with Motor Bella, an outdoor event billed as "the future of auto shows."

  • The event, at an 87-acre motorsports track, will allow visitors a variety of experiences: "cruise in an electric car on a mile-long track, take an exhilarating ride in a utility vehicle up rocky terrain, or feel the G’s of a sports car taking you from 0 to 60 in 3 seconds."
  • And for people who just want to shop for their next car, there will be about 400 cars, trucks and SUVs on display, too.
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