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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.

Go deeper

Oct 7, 2021 - Technology

GM will vastly expand hands-free driving by 2023

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Starting in 2023, owners of some premium General Motors vehicles will be able to push a button and navigate hands-free in 95% of driving situations — including highways, subdivisions and city streets.

Why it matters: Ultra Cruise — the next-generation assisted-driving technology that GM introduced Wednesday — is a giant step forward in the automaker's goal of "zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion."

GM plans to double revenues by 2030 as it rolls out EVs and services

GM CEO Mary Barra. Photo: GM

General Motors plans to double its revenues over the next decade as it transitions to an all-electric future, tapping into software and subscription services that enable new vehicle experiences and connect customers' digital lives, the company told reporters on Wednesday.

Why it matters: It's an extraordinary target for a lumbering industrial giant that is trying to transform itself from automaker to "platform innovator."

Rahm Emanuel questioned on murder of Laquan McDonald in confirmation hearing

Rahm Emanuel during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Oct. 20. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke about the murder of Laquan McDonald during his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday to become the U.S. ambassador to Japan, saying that "there's not a day or a week that has gone by in the last seven years I haven't thought about this."

Catch up quick: McDonald was a Black teenager who was fatally shot 16 times by Chicago police during Emanuel's tenure as the city's mayor. The 2014 shooting triggered massive protests, both because of its nature and the fact that the officers' body-cam footage was concealed for years.