Ein Concept Car von Audi auf der IAA

Future on wheels

Concept vehicles question history and conventions. Some are miles ahead of their time or simply too bold, but never useless. They are the real stars of the IAA and a driving force behind the evolution of mobility.

What could be more exciting than catching a glimpse of the future at the upcoming IAA?

The show car legend

Not all the latest coupés, station wagons, SUVs and off-road vehicles appearing at the IAA are destined to go on sale. Studies and concept vehicles are also on show at the IAA. They are designed and developed to drive forward visions of the future and flashes of technical inspiration, and to try out new design concepts and technologies. Some of them are way ahead of their time, or simply too daring – but they are never created in vain. Every show car is full of creative spirit that fuses with technology and art in an initial symbiosis that does not always lead to series production. So what could be more exciting than getting a glimpse of the future at the next IAA?

The models on display range from design studies made of foam and without any technology inside all the way to cruisers ready for the roads. “Larger than life” is a phrase often applied to these new icons – with their futuristic bodywork, oversized wheels, all-round windows, an interior resembling a living room and everything responsive to voice control or gestures. Concept cars stimulate public discussion of the mobility of tomorrow and give the designers and developers important clues as to what the customers will like – or reject. One of the main reasons for having premieres is to exceed expectations: the smooth, high-gloss vehicles in the IAA spotlights are the fashion icons of the automotive industry.

Careful staging for icons of style

Rumors about new concept cars already appear in the trade magazines weeks before the show, along with the first photos of test vehicles. When the presentation day arrives, car freaks, journalists and influencers wait in front of the veiled silhouettes. Carefully choreographed light shows, video installations and music provide the perfect setting for the show. Finally the object of desire is revealed. Snapshots and videos reach all corners of the world in a matter of seconds. Even suppliers and brands that are better known for their small and compact cars use the big stage now and then to present a bit of futuristic escapism that attracts attention.

The Irish supplier Adient presented its AI18 interior study at the IAA 2017.
The Irish supplier Adient presented its AI18 interior study at the IAA 2017.

If the trade reacts enthusiastically enough, a concept vehicle can quickly go into series production. For example, in 1983 Porsche presented its “Gruppe B” supercar study at the IAA. The car was powered by a 450 hp boxer engine with water-cooled cylinder heads and bi-turbo sequential charging. It broke through the 300 km/h barrier with playful ease. Porsche received so many inquiries that the study ultimately went into production as the Porsche 959. The super sports car was oversubscribed even before it went on sale, despite its astronomical price tag of 420,000 deutschmarks. Likewise at BMW: its i3 and i8 electric vehicle studies were unveiled at the 2009 IAA, and four years later the company celebrated the series debut of both models at the IAA 2013.

When visions remain visions

But this is not always the way. When Mercedes-Benz presented its C 111 research vehicle with a huge amount of hype, the public loved it. The super sports car with gull-wing doors and a Wankel engine became an icon of Seventies’ style, and still generates waves of nostalgia today in the trade press and lifestyle media. Yet although the head office in Stuttgart received hundreds of orders for the car, two years later the company decided not to produce it for technical reasons. The research study did not live up to expectations. And so sometimes visions remain just visions.

Series production remained a dream: Mercedes-Benz premiered its C 111 super sports car in 1969.
Series production remained a dream: Mercedes-Benz premiered its C 111 super sports car in 1969.