Germany’s revamped IAA auto show, one of the world’s largest, is to open in Munich tomorrow for a celebration of all things vehicle-related, but climate concerns and COVID-19 pandemic woes threaten to spoil the party.
After a disappointing edition in 2019, marred by environmental protests, poor visitor numbers and no-shows from major automakers, the event, which occurs every two years, has reinvented itself as a “mobility fair” with a spotlight on electric vehicles, scooters and even bicycles.
Historically held in Frankfurt, the IAA is for the first time to take place in the Bavaria state capital of Munich as part of efforts to revive the event. The six-day fair is scheduled to be one of the largest exhibitions since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, coming just as Germany grapples with a fourth wave of infections.
To reduce infection risk, daily visitor numbers are capped at 80,000 and guests must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination, recovery or a recent negative test report before entering.
Confirming a trend seen at auto shows around the world, many well-known brands are again skipping the showcase, chief among them Stellantis NV, with its brands Peugeot, Fiat and Chrysler, as well as Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp.
Also absent is leading electric vehicle maker Tesla Inc, leaving IAA organizers to hope that this year’s more than 70 bicycle exhibitors can keep audiences satisfied — and attract new ones.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is bowing out of politics after a general election on Sept. 26, is scheduled to give a speech tomorrow when the fair opens to trade visitors.
Once known as the “car chancellor” for her efforts to shield German automakers from tougher EU pollution rules, the veteran leader is likely to touch on the industry’s costly transition toward greener engines, even if critics say change is not happening fast enough.
Climate campaigners have vowed to disrupt the IAA by staging protests on Friday and Saturday, when the general public is invited. Similar “civil disobedience” rallies at times blocked access to the IAA in Frankfurt in 2019, leaving visitors waiting outside for hours.
The threat of legal action against polluters also hangs over the fair, after Greenpeace and Germany’s DUH environmental group last week threatened to file lawsuits against Volkswagen AG (VW), BMW AG and Daimler AG if they do not speed up efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
The plaintiffs want the German vehicle giants to stop producing diesel or gasoline engines by 2030, saying that their current pledges for electrification are vague and nonbinding.
The plaintiffs are emboldened by landmark court decisions in favor of climate protection, including a German verdict that forced the Merkel administration to commit to faster carbon reduction so as not to place an unfair burden on future generations.
The health crisis has meanwhile left its mark on the industry in other ways.
While automakers initially recovered quickly from last year’s showroom and factory shutdowns, a pandemic-fueled surge in demand for home electronics led to a global shortage in computer chips that threatens to slow the vehicle industry’s recovery.
The semiconductor crunch has forced automakers worldwide to trim production, including at General Motors Co, VW and Stellantis.
As a result, sales are expected to remain below pre-pandemic levels for a while longer.
In Germany, Europe’s top economy, new vehicle registrations were down 23 percent year-on-year last month. In France, they were 15 percent lower.
In China, the world’s largest vehicle market, sales have “clearly lost momentum,” industry analyst Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer said.
Although automakers are increasingly unveiling new models online, exhibitors are saving a few surprises for the IAA.
VW is debuting its plug-in hybrid T7 multivan, while its Audi subsidiary is to offer a fully electric sedan with semi-autonomous driving functions.
Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler is launching a battery-powered luxury Maybach concept car. The group’s Smart brand is to show off a small electric sports utility vehicle (SUV).
BMW plans to present a hydrogen-powered SUV, as well as its vision for a fully recyclable electric vehicle made entirely from recycled material and renewable resources.
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