After a fallow auto show calendar in 2020, IAA MOBILITY 2021 served to clearly reiterate that the automotive industry is experiencing technological disruptions of historic proportions. Indeed, I believe many veteran attendees of IAA auto shows would agree with me when I say that this year’s IAA was akin to attending a conference on energy transitions and software & computational technology. In a stark departure from your run-of-the-mill gas guzzlers, we got to see automakers showcasing electrical & electronic gadgets on wheels. If anything, this edition of the IAA reflected the immense transition happening in the automotive sector, shining the spotlight on sustainable mobility solutions for the future. The new format of this year’s event, featuring virtual shows on digital platforms for those unable to attend and the live shows/displays at multiple locations across the city, made it look like the city of Munich had turned into a kind of Mobility lab of the future.

While the event covered various mobility solutions spanning cars, bikes and bicycles, my interest was piqued by developments in the passenger car domain.  So here are my five key takeaways from the show:

Pushing forward on decarbonization: The push to achieving carbon neutrality over the next 15 to 30 years was a core theme. All major vehicles launches were centered on alternate powertrains, mainly comprising electric vehicle (EV) propositions and hydrogen fuel cell (FC) technologies. Reflective of such trends, Mercedes-Benz unveiled five battery-powered vehicles and a hybrid model; BMW displayed the production versions of its iX and i4 Electric cars, and Renault launched the Megane E-Tech Electric. A standout was Volkswagen’s ID LIFE, an affordable and small EV price starting from €20,000, set for launch in 2025. In a free-flowing discussion, Herbert Diess, CEO of VW, and Francesco Starace, CEO of Enel, emphasized the need for green/clean energy in driving energy transitions in the mobility ecosystem. Apart from displaying the concept vehicle Prophecy EV, expected to become the basis of the Ioniq 6 models, Hyundai also revealed its passenger car FCEV roadmap for the next few years, covering models such as Nexo, an upcoming multi-purpose vehicle (MPV), and a large SUV. Major suppliers like Bosch, Continental, Valeo Magna, Plastic Omnium, and Faurecia exhibited a range of low-carbon products and services covering hybrid, full battery-electric, hydrogen fuel cell, and e-fluid solutions to aid the transition towards carbon neutrality. Frost & Sullivan expects Battery Electric vehicles (BEVs) to account for 30% of Global Light Vehicle sales by 2030.

Gearing towards a sustainable future: Sustainability covering the entire product lifecycle was another important theme at IAA this year. BMW, which has championed circularity, made a splash with its i Vision CirCular Concept car made from almost 100% recycled materials, and which is 100% recyclable, with plans for a 2040 launch. Continental’s innovative GreenConcept tire illustrated the company’s approach towards engineering sustainable tires developed from traceable, renewable, and recycled raw materials for passenger cars. ZF mentioned that sustainability would be a mandatory criterion across its locations and supply chain in its bid to become climate-neutral by 2040.

Driving a large computer on wheels: Every automaker, supplier, IT company and start-up, without exception, flexed their software and AI development capabilities. CARIAD, the automotive software company of the Volkswagen Group, made its international auto show debut, while highlighting interesting aspects around Automotive Operating System (VW.OS), Automotive Cloud (VW.AC), and One unified Software Platform. Similarly, IBM shared successful case studies on how its software programs and quantum computing technologies were enabling smart EV charging. On the traditional supplier side, Continental demonstrated how its Automotive Edge Platform could enable new functions by leveraging server-based vehicle architectures and high-performance computers. Powered by NVIDIA DRIVE, ZF’s ProAI – touted as the most powerful automotive grade supercomputer on the market -targeted automated or autonomous driving levels 2 to 5.

The coming of driverless cars: Linked to the penetration of software & computation in vehicles is the fact that the future of mobility will be autonomous. The most prominent product here was the automated valet parking system jointly developed by Bosch, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, CARIAD, Ford, Jaguar Land Rover, Continental, Valeo, Kopernikus Automotive and Unikie. Similarly, Valeo showcased its Automated Valet Parking functionality, developed jointly with BMW. Continental displayed radar & LIDAR sensors, camera technology essential to automated driving. It was a privilege to have a real-time experience of the Snapdragon Ride Platform from Qualcomm equipped with Veoneer’s perception and driving policy software stack, created by Arriver (owned by Veoneer). Intel and Sixt announced their collaboration on driverless robotaxi services in Munich from 2022 onwards, using the Moovit or an integrated SIXT app. By 2025, Frost & Sullivan expects 1 in 5 cars in developed regions to feature one or more L2/L2+ features. Flagship vehicles equipped with Level 3 autonomy are expected to be launched by most European and Asian premium OEMs and a few mass-market OEMs in select regions. Frost & Sullivan expects the market approach for L4 autonomous vehicles can be rolled out in two models – one for the conventional ownership model and the other for the usership (e.g. robotaxis service) model.

Changing life on board: The inevitability of autonomous cars has triggered a rethink on the future role of drivers and riders. In this context, Continental exhibited the AMBIENC3 concept vehicle that highlighted how on-board equipment and interiors can merge the functionalities of driving, working and relaxation inside the vehicle. Brose spotlighted its real-time adjustable seating systems that can reconfigure the seats of autonomous cars in split seconds, depending on any sudden alerts or if the driver needs to take control of the car. Related to this, suppliers such as Valeo, Bosch and Continental displayed their own, in-cabin monitoring systems consisting of various sensors, including camera and radar technologies, for human-machine interactions in future autonomous vehicles. These systems will support safety-critical features like detecting driver distractions, signs of drowsiness, facial recognition, hands-on-wheel, child presence detection, and objects on seats. Frost & Sullivan expects the market for cabin & cockpit technologies to transform the life on board on a Level 4 vehicle to account for $ 21 billion by 2030. Against the backdrop of the pandemic, it was interesting to see the health, wellness and well-being products from Valeo where advanced technologies combined three functions – detection, protection and informing passengers about poor air quality.

The automotive industry has overcome many speedbumps in the past. If IAA was any indication, the industry is back with a bang: smarter, stronger and greener than ever before.

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