BMW Circular stand.jpg

2021 Munich Auto Show

The IAA (International Automobile Exhibition) Mobility was held in Munich on the second week of September this year; replacing the bi-annual Frankfurt based event for the first time (although until 1950 the event had been mostly held in Berlin).  

A new location, and a new identity and format: in identity the word ‘auto’ (or motor or car) have been wholly usurped by ‘mobility’, born out by the embracing of vehicle forms other than the car and a host of mobility services; in form the event now straddles that of a trade fair and a dispersed city-based series of ‘pop-ups’ for the wider public.

Preview list

As the first major European auto show in almost exactly two years, expectations were high for many visitors to Munich. With a context of a long term decline in the auto-show format, a new location, and COVID mitigating against high visitor numbers (and increasingly related costs) the show was unsurprisingly thin on traditional new car design debuts.
We are showing here in colour those cars that debuted in Munich that were new in the last three or four months, in black-and-white those that debuted in this period but were not present in Munich. Essentially, less than half of the established European market car brands were there — no Stellantis (14 car brands), no JLR, none of the Japanese brands, and only a couple of Chinese brands —and there were none of the smallest specialist luxury brands or coach-builders either. But over the last few months have seen a rich body of new designs announced at other small events and digitally. There may no longer be a single place to experience them all together, but in 2021 there has still been a wealth of new designs.

Core insights

The biggest take-away from Munich is the new more geo-dispersed show format — being both in the Munich trade exhibition halls on the edge of the city, and also in the heart of the old city — and the related way ‘Auto Shows’ are migrating away from the celebration of the car as an artefact, to a wider engagement on the concept of mobility. Whether this more nebulous approach in space and theme is covering all the bases, or loosing focus, remains to be seen. The show organisers were bullish about having had 400,000 participants, a wide range of 744 exhibitors (“98 areas of auto manufacturers, 75 bicycle brands, 152 supplier companies, numerous tech companies and 78 startups”) and the extent of the conference programme with its 936 speakers. And it was valuable to engage with this greater breadth of show offer, not least as the sun shone on Bavaria this September.

The Mercedes city centre standMercedes debuted some significant new designs, not least the EQE sedan, and several concept previews of other EQ series production designs. But in Munich, the highlight from Germany’s oldest car brand was their stand design: in the heart of the old town of Munich — Odeonsplatz — the brand built a two storey construction akin to those they previously built inside the trade halls of the Frankfurt Exhibition space, but this time it was open to the elements, sat juxtaposed to the nearly 200 year old Feldherrnhalle (Field Marshal’s Hall), and was shrouded by an ethereal floating sculpture made of recycled material thread. Titled ’Earthtime 1.26 Munich’, the work by artist Janet Echelman stood to symbolise the fragility and dynamics of our ecosystem — and was markedly the most creative single expression of the entire event.
Lichtinstallation Mercedes.jpg
Renault Megane E-TechNo big surprises after the very similar show car preview nearly a year ago, but this new mainstream electric car design really does look to define the fast evolving lower-medium (electric) car sweet spot: fresh but also comfortable proportions enabled by a shallow battery pack, short overhangs also from the dedicated electric platform. Unusually three dimensional interpretation of the 2D graphical logo mark aside, the new Megane is a really well resolved theme that has been emerging progressively through many of the recent van den Acker cars, and, on first acquaintance, its UI was slicker to use than the much championed Hyperscreen in the new Mercedes cars. This was quietly the most significant new design presented in Germany.
Renault Megane E-tech electric.jpg
BMW i Vision Circular concept Historically BMW is best known for its sports sedans and producing larger than normal premium cars; yet it most conceptually innovative designs have tended to be small — the E1, the Z13 concepts, and the i3 (and the Isetta, if not an original BMW design). The i Vision Circular concept maybe continues that theme; it uniquely champions having been designed for disassembly (replete with ‘Joyful Fusion’ fasteners…), and comprises mostly of mono-materials (easier to recycle) that are either recycled or recyclable— this 4 metre car is the new figurehead for BMW’s ‘Circular Economy’ focus, and specifically for its ‘Circular Design’ approach. The rest of the expressive exterior and interior design is unusually different to any BMW before, although it ’s good to see a return of the Hofmeister kink!
BMW i Vision Circular.jpg
Audi Grandsphere conceptAudi had no presence in the trade show area of the new Munich IAA, unlike Mercedes Benz, BMW, and Volkswagen. Instead is had a dedicated stand adjacent to Porsche in the old-town, a hundred meters along the road from Mercedes, and centre stage there was the Grandsphere concept. The design is the second of three ‘Sphere’ concepts (following Skysphere, and preceding Urbansphere) that are further from production design intent that the recent Audi A6 e-tron concept. A luscious design that makes a bold claim to prioritise the interior above all else, consciously moving away from being centric to a driver interface as befits its L4 status, and evidenced by a lack of controls, dials or even conventional screens (displays are projected onto hornbeam veneer). The 5.36 metre long design gives some foretaste of what to expect from the next generation A8 (or repositioned A7 perhaps), and was the most talked about concept in Munich.
Audi Grandsphere concept with Marc Lichte.jpg


The most memorable new designs presented at the first IAA Mobility in Munich — the Munich Auto Show — were notable for all being electric; Porsche’s new Mission R concept, Renault’s new mainstream electric car (The Megane E-Tech), the Mercedes Benz previews of a wider range of electric luxury ‘EQ’ cars. Only the Dacia Jogger and Kia Sportage bucked this trend, but they are designs that necessarily remain ICE powered with their relatively utilitarian focus and low-price points. Perhaps being so public in its orientation — having so much of the show literally facing the German public instead of being orientated on industry, media and enthusiasts who have their heads tipped towards the car — this is maybe not so surprising. But it also evidences the stage the industry has reached in Europe in its march towards electrification and a more responsible position.  

Beyond this clear electric direction in Munich, and the new location for an international auto show, it is its un-auto-show-like format with a very different visitor experience that is the most significant takeaway from attending. Whilst still using quite separate trade centre spaces for a kind-of scaled back normal auto show is perhaps a fudge in some respects, the nature of a serious mobility show necessarily has to be a broad church. Arguably the trade show aspects will continue to work in their newly less elaborate form, much as they do in other industries, and potentially the separate brand pop-ups in the city will find their way to a new form that more consistently goes a little further than being lightly re-skinned retail concepts. Ultimately though, this Munich Auto Show was compelling, and as a transitional show, seems to show a fairly clear and valid direction to others.