MUNICH, Germany – From weird and wonderful technological innovations in Chinese cars, to the rush to transition to electric vehicles — and even a bike wash. Here are some key takeaways from this week’s Munich auto fair IAA, one of the world’s biggest. –
Movie-projecting Chinese cars
Carmakers, in particular those from China, are pulling out all the stops as they rush to meet consumers’ demands to have the latest tech in their motors. One brand, HiPhi, has launched a car that can use its headlights to project a film against a wall and symbols on the road. It can even display emoticons on screens under its headlights letting know pedestrians they can pass. It is fitted with an “assistant” which consists of a robotic arm that moves a screen towards the person speaking to it. While such innovations may seem like fun, but largely unnecessary, gimmicks, analysts believe they could have real practical value. Andreas Nienhaus, from consultancy Oliver Wyman, said electric, autonomous vehicles are typically silent, meaning they “need to have display to talk with the pedestrians”. Another Chinese automaker, Leapmotor, has introduced a virtual assistant that can identify people using the car with facial recognition technology. It records their habits and does things such as adjust the seating position and lighting. –
Bye bye, combustion engine
Not a single petrol-powered car was on display at the stands of BMW, Volkswagen or Renault, while Mercedes was exhibiting just a few plug-in hybrids. It highlights how European manufacturers are racing full tilt towards the green transition, even though electric models still only account for a tiny proportion of sales on the continent. Among the European titans, only luxury sports carmaker Porsche exhibited a petrol-powered model — and that was in the second row of its stand.
China takes centre stage
Chinese carmakers were out in force at the biennial IAA mobility show — 41 percent of exhibitors at the fair have their headquarters in the world’s number two economy. BYD, the country’s leading electric auto manufacturer, set up shop in Munich opposite Volkswagen, and its stand was barely smaller than that of Europe’s leading carmaker. The group is aiming for between four and six percent of the German market within a few years, its boss Michael Shu said in an interview with financial daily Handelsblatt. “The Chinese are of course better on price than VW,” said Dietmar Kepiro, a visitor from Germany, after looking at some of the models on display. “I think the quality is very good”, especially as when it comes to on-board software, he said.
The Munich car show wasn’t just about cars — dozens of cyclists flocked to use a bike wash equipped with water jets and rotating brushes. The set-up cleaned two-wheelers in about 15 minutes, leaving frames sparkling like new, and it proved a hit — on one day alone, 120 to 130 bikes used it. “It was a rush,” said Christopher Stroebel, who was running the bike wash. It is part of efforts by the auto fair to boost its green credentials by focusing on other forms of mobility. Several stands were also offering test rides on bicycles, both electric and pedal-powered. But the efforts did not go far enough for some — activists from environmental group Greenpeace protested at the show, calling for the auto sector to do more to fight global warming.
PHOTO: German Economics and Climate Protection Minister Robert Habeck (left) visiting the BMW stand at the International Motor Show IAA in Munich, southern Germany, on Sept 8. (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)