The 2019 IAA Frankfurt Auto show — Renewing an old acquaintance

Having left the Automotive industry 8 years ago, after just a couple of years working in the ADAS and Infotainment area, I visited the IAA again this year to see what has changed, and what the latest and greatest themes and products were. The last visit was in 2011 and is summarised here

With an entire hall devoted to some New Mobility World, it could be useful to understand what this world was all about, beyond integrating various disparate modes of transportation in the most efficient manner, and hopefully improving our environment along the way. Who are the players, how does the eco-system function, how slowly or quickly is it developing? And does it really have to involve all these electric scooters now cluttering up the streets of Munich? Just joking, guys.

I didn’t get many answers to these questions. Part of the challenge is that Mobility is discussed on such a high and non-specific level, that it can be difficult to judge what exactly it is, and where it stands. The bigger the company, the broader (and correspondingly vaguer) their definition of Mobility. It still seems to be a collection of evolved versions of various transportation solutions, at an early stage of partnering with each other, plus a few standard methods and technologies (Cloud, AI, Agile, Anything-as-a-Service, etc.) thrown in for good measure. And it is still forming.

Autonomous vehicles were a key theme of the show, as expected. From the outside it can be difficult to comprehend the overwhelming emphasis on this, other than as a convenient mid-term marketing vision to focus an entire industry. It did seem like an obsession, and a concern would be that it’s to the detriment of other technologies that could be integrated into cars, for example to reduce accidents or save lives prior to autonomous vehicles happening on any meaningful scale.

Here are a few random snapshots from the show, focused more on the cars as it was a bit difficult to dig deep on the technologies with mainly Sales people in attendance.

The setting was very nice with the good weather. A lot of walking was involved as with any show of this type and involving this scale of venue, and at the end of all this walking the only beer available appeared to be becks.

Some of the roads around the show were in a really poor condition, as this Audi demonstrates …

There appeared to be an ongoing contest to design the least beautiful car, with notable contenders from all corners of the globe. To be fair, most SUV designs were pretty unimaginative and seem to be based on the same boxy template.

They certainly don’t make them like this one anymore. This was one of many interesting classic cars in the Heritage Hall, which highlighted that modern cars are tending towards common designs with less individuality then they used to have. And also that yellow works well on certain cars.

Also including this one. Which was Porsche’s second stab at a Cayman GT4. I’m sure the use of the term irrational is not absolute and more relative to how Porsche usually do things.

Then we had the latest and greatest Porsche, the Taycan. Undeniably impressive, packed with new technology and likely great to drive. But as a 2300 Kilogram sports car, there’s something about this ever-faster and ever-heavier trend that just doesn’t shout PROGRESS. Or even SPORTS for that matter.

It was much the same over at Lamborghini. Add a token electric motor and you get a Sian, which looked like another Lamborghini that had been squashed and had a few carbon details added, in a long line of iterations and versions of the Murciélago / Gallardo / Aventador / Huracan design. Always dramatic, but with a lessening effect and impact over the years. Time for a new design.

For example, like they did with this one, yet another yellow car which Lamborghini had made earlier.

A surprising show highlight was a shiny BMW that was not sold by BMW, rather by Alpina. It featured the somewhat mundane and familiar BMW 3-series estate body, but had such nice details and packaging that made it a bit more special.

The scale of these halls was amazing to see. Here is the VAG one, featuring their 6 sub-brands (VW, Seat, Audi, Porsche, Skoda, Lamborghini), and was the size of many football pitches, for sure. It contained a lot of empty space also.

But then big halls were required for some of the cars, such as this one. Likely designed for Very Important People, I just couldn’t get that ‘stretch limo’ picture from my head, of it ferrying around high-end stag and hen parties in Munich in the years to come …

The award for the best car rear-end went to this construction. A thing of beauty and a statement of intent, though from some angles all that was missing were some plant pots …

To illustrate how my mind (and possibly others) still think of EV’s, with this picture I imagine the scenario whereby the police are in hot pursuit of some criminals and desperately working out where the nearest charging point is, so that they can continue the chase afterwards. But of course, it’s the same with petrol cars.

IAA Frankfurt 2019 Final summary

The Good, the Bad and the Least Beautiful

+ The Venue and organisation

+ The displays and ambience and approachability

+ The Classic/Heritage hall. No fancy presentations nor marketing, leaving just some very interesting cars that you will rarely see.

+ There are few bad cars made these days, with all of them being at least competent.

? The absent OEM’s, with the ones I missed most including: Alfa Romeo, Alpine, Ferrari, Lexus, Lotus, Mazda, Nissan, Renault, Tesla, Toyota, and Volvo.

? There are few really different or original cars made these days, or ones with striking design — in the positive sense. Cars are tending towards the same designs, both within OEM ranges, and between OEM’s.

? Lack of models from the current ranges. You usually had to accept future (unavailable), or old (classic). If you were shopping for cars to buy today they were often not present, even though there was space for them.

? The constant risk to pedestrians, of getting run over by those silent electric cars that were transporting VIP’s around the show.

?? It was a disappointment to see so much innovation, technology and thinking being channeled into big, heavy and less beautiful SUV-like vehicles. To be a bit unfair for a while, why do these SUV’s exist? They often offer no more interior space than their car equivalent, they are way too heavy, they require and demonstrate hardly any exterior design flair, they are statistically more dangerous for pedestrians, they rarely get taken off-road to use their capabilities, and probably more. When will the benefits of all this research and investment into lighter and stronger automotive materials, start making an impact through the creation of smaller and lighter cars?


Veteran Product Management guy based in Munich, starting to use medium to get some random thoughts written down, related mainly to my work.

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John Craig

Veteran Product Management guy based in Munich, starting to use medium to get some random thoughts written down, related mainly to my work.