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Climate protests and economic clouds force changes at Frankfurt motor show

Bernhard Mattes, President of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA), is seen at the 88th International Motor Show at Palexpo in Geneva, Switzerland, March 6, 2018.  REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
Bernhard Mattes, president of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA), at the International Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland, March 6, 2018. Credit: Reuters/Denis Balibouse

The Frankfurt International Motor Show (IAA) opens its doors to the public next week in a time of unprecedented challenges for the automotive industry.

Bernhard Mattes, president of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA), spoke of the troubles facing the sector and the impact of industry changes on the famous car show in a press conference in Frankfurt on Monday.

Mattes said that the VDA had brought forward its annual press conference in view of the current situation. “This IAA — and the social and political environment — are very different from previous events,” he said. “Demonstrations have been planned to coincide with the IAA. We have offered to enter into a dialogue with these NGOs.”

Environmental organisations and activists, including the Fridays for Future movement, are planning demos during the first weekend of the show on 14 September to demand an end to combustion engine cars, especially big, polluting SUVS.

READ MORE: Geneva auto show president envisages a shift from motors to mobility

The IAA, which is organised by the VDA, is among the world’s largest car shows and takes place every two years. Chancellor Angela Merkel will open the show on 12 September.

Mattes said today that the car industry is “undergoing a huge process of transformation” spurred by three big challenges: climate protection and new CO2 emissions targets; digitisation and automation; and global trade disputes and protectionism.

READ MORE: Germans could be hit with higher taxes on meat and SUVs

The VDA president warned that the three biggest car markets, the US, China, and the EU, are facing a slowdown in growth, and urged policy-makers in Germany to take urgent steps to bolster the country’s competitiveness, criticising Germany’s high corporate taxes and energy levies.

“In the light of the trade disputes between the US and China, and between the US and the EU, and Brexit, it is plain for all to see that Germany as an automotive location, with its high export quota, is facing considerable challenges,” Mattes said.

Prof. Rupert Stadler (L), Chairman of the Board of Management of Audi, Matthias Wissmann (2nd L), President of the German Automotive Industry Association (VDA), German Prime Minister of Hesse Volker Bouffier (R) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel stand next to an Audi as she makes an opening tour of the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt, Germany September 17, 2015. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski
Chancellor Angela Merkel makes an opening tour of the 2017 IAA in Frankfurt. Credit: Reuters/Ralph Orlowski

Mattes reported a decrease in the number of car brands exhibiting at the show this year, to 800 exhibitors, down from 994 in 2017. The drop reflects a trend among car brands in recent years to think harder about whether or not to invest huge sums of money into stands at auto shows.

As cars become more about the tech, brands are increasingly opting to give the auto shows a miss, and in some cases present their innovations at tech events like the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. This year, big names like Toyota and Renault won’t have stands at the IAA in Frankfurt.

“We regard this as a challenge,” Mattes said. “We want to make the IAA so attractive that those who cannot be present this time… will take part again in the next IAA.

“For this reason we have re-cast the IAA as the international platform for the individual mobility of the future,” he continued, noting that this year’s show will host 200 speakers and panels tackling aspects of future mobility.