This year’s Frankfurt Motor Show was slightly unusual. On the first press day, typically, you go from stage-show to stage-show – launch-to-launch that is – and after a long day it all seems to blend together into one big cinematic experience that would put Universal Studios to shame.
But 2017 was different. It was almost held under a pall of gloom, as though the industry was collectively mourning the death of “business of usual” as they’ve known it. Two years after the VW diesel scandal, the industry has finally decided that the best way to address the elephant in the room is to look it straight in the face.
At the VW Group night, the evening before the opening of the show, Matthias Muller, Chairman of VW AG, said that they realise they need to be more transparent and honest when declaring emissions levels. He also pledged to invest 50 billion Euros in electric mobility over the next few decades, but there was an important caveat – VW needs to continue selling conventional cars in order to earn the money to invest into e-mobility.
The next morning, in keeping with tradition, the first press conference of the day was at BMW – but, again, minus all the glitz and glamour. Harald Kruger, Chairman of BMW, kicked off the show by proceeding to have a freewheeling conversation with someone seated across from him – apparently a German journalist who’s known to be very critical of the automotive industry. Kruger couldn’t have been more emphatic in pointing out that his cars don’t use, and never have used, any cheat devices! What proceeded for the next ten minutes was more like the Spanish inquisition rather than the opening of the largest motor show in the world.
The German auto industry has obviously been counting the days till the federal elections in their country – scheduled to be held on the 24th of September. But during the Frankfurt Motor Show, I suppose there was nowhere to hide. So the only thing left to do was brace for impact and face the full wrath of the German media, which are baying for blood. No one enjoys being lied to, of course, but some are beginning to question why the German domestic media are so intent on killing their own largest industry sector.
Perhaps the whole thing will settle down post elections in Germany, but one thing is clear – the industry has been put on notice. Make the shift to electric mobility or perish. And transition periods are tumultuous – that’s their very nature. Change is hard, but it’s also the only constant. For now, the entire industry is bracing for change the likes of which it’s never experienced before. As one automotive executive declared, "it’s a revolution!"