Munich Auto Show: Top 10 Cars Of IAA Mobility 2021
The every-other-year German auto show, IAA (German for International Automobile Exposition), has a new name and a new home in Bavaria after a half-century in Frankfurt, 250 miles northwest of Munich. It’s now IAA Mobility 2021. The focus is on electrification and alternative transport including e-bikes.
IAA Mobility Munich is off to a rocky start. Instead of landing every automaker from everywhere when Frankfurt was at the top of its game (more than a decade ago), IAA Mobility 2021 encompasses: most all the German brands, Renault and subsidiary Dacia, Renault, a Ford Mustang Mach-E representing the U.S. auto industry, Polestar of Swedish-Chinese parentage (but not Volvo), several other Chinese brands not yet on everybody’s radar, and a few others. There were many suppliers taking part, including mega-brands such as Bosch and Magna. All this raises, again, the question of the longer-term viability of auto shows beyond the current Covid-influenced show,
Day two of IAA Mobility, Tuesday, was to draw German Chancellor Angela Merkel … and protesters. Not protestors opposed to combustion-engine cars, but protestors some of whom oppose the very idea of cars, period (as in: take the subway, ride a bike, walk, but don’t use a car).
Nonetheless, even with few automakers gracing Munich on a week slated to be sunny and warm, there were more than enough new cars and concepts to make for 10 great new vehicles. IAA Mobility runs through Sunday, Sept 12, at the exhibition center on the outskirts of town and at multiple pop-up locations downtown.
Here are Forbes Wheels’ top 10 cars of IAA Mobility 2021 in Munich:
BMW i Vision Circular Concept
The BMW i Vision Circular Concept is BMW’s long-range look at what a BMW circa 2040 would be like: a subcompact hatchback, or one-box, design of about 160 inches in length but still spacious inside because the electric motor doesn’t take up much space. “Circular” means circle of life for the components, 100% recyclable, even the solid-state battery (using a solid electrolyte with little or no explosion risk). The body skin is aluminum, anodized not painted, with the BMW logo etched into the metal rather than a plastic badge glued on. To make recycling simpler, construction uses quick-release fasteners, cords and press studs instead of bonded or riveted components. Some of these attributes may appear sooner, around 2025, in the next iteration of BWW’s Neue Klasse (New Class) vehicles. “Neue Klasse” was first used by BMW circa 1960 to celebrate BMW’s emergence from risk of insolvency toward becoming a premium automaker with its sights on Mercedes.
Mercedes EQB Electric SUV
Mercedes-Benz continues the rollout of EQ—electric–vehicles. In Munich that included the EQB, a 184-inch (compact) SUV with two or three rows of seats (max passenger height for row three, Mercedes says: 5-foot-4), about the length of the current GLC small SUV. Initially there will be all-wheel-drive vehicles with 66.5-kWh batteries and 168 kW or 215kW power delivery, followed by a front-drive model and then a long-range version. Mercedes actually brought five new EVs to the show: the Concept Mercedes-Maybach EQS, the new EQB, the new EQE (midsize sedan), the Mercedes-AMG EQS 53 4MATIC+ (electric full-size sedan), and the Concept EQG (electric G-Class off-roader, see below).
Volkswagen ID.Life Crossover
The Volkswagen ID.Life electric crossover extends VW’s ID series downward in size. ID.Life is the concept for a future subcompact production vehicle that will be smaller than both the ID.4 compact crossover and ID.3 hatchback. The nicely styled ID.Life will get a 231-horsepower electric motor and a 57.0-kWh battery. VW says it will return up to 249 miles on the European WLTP cycle (Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicles Test Procedure). WLTP is often considered to be about 10% more optimistic than EPA ratings, but that’s not the case with all WLTP scores. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to read “250 miles WLTP” and prepare yourself for 225 miles—not exactly Tesla driving distances. The concept has a built-in projector, a translucent grille and a steering wheel with the top third cut off. In the concept. VW says the US may get the ID.3, with first ID.3 shipments in 2025.
Audi Grandsphere Concept
“A private jet for the road” is how Audi describes the sleek Grandsphere. It’s long, low and sleek, bigger than the sporty Audi Skysphere that debuted at the Pebble Concours / Monterey Car Week in August. Audi will show a third concept, Audi Urbansphere next year. Grandsphere is also a platform for Audi’s vision of autonomous operation, with a steering wheel that retracts into the wraparound dashboard, suggesting Level 4 autonomy (full self-driving on some roads such as interstates with long advance notice of handover to the drivers, such as exiting the interstate). The dashboard is flat with no buttons or touchscreen; instead, information is projected on the dash and an eye-tracker sees what information the driver is looking at. A production version could be ready in 2025 or 2026.
Porsche Mission R
For the hardcore Porsche enthusiast who’s also racer, the Porsche Mission R racer vaults him or her into electric racing. The motor is rated by Porsche at 671 horsepower in racing mode and 1073 horsepower in qualifying mode, with separate motors front and rear. That translates to a 0-100 kph time of 2.5 seconds. Power comes from an 90-kWh battery that, Porsche says, is good for 30-45 minutes of racing. The Mission recharges from a 900-volt system with a recharge from 5% to 80% taking just 15 minutes, assuming there’s a 900-volt charger at the track. Today, the Mission R is a functioning prototype. It’s not slated for production, but Porsche suggests a final version could be ready in 2025, maybe 2026. At the least, the Mission R hints at future racecar design, for instance a carbon fiber safety cage that is part of the car’s structure. Building customer cars is a longstanding business for Porsche with more than 4,000 built over the years.
Smart Concept #1
Smart for years was a cute little – very little—car that found favor in Europe but not in the U.S. By the time it met U.S. regulations and got a decent stereo, it wasn’t much cheaper than a subcompact sedan. Now Smart is back, as a 50-50 venture of Daimler and Geely, here with with electric power and Mini-like dimensions. Specs have it as 169 inches long, on par with the Mini Countryman, with a 12.8-inch touchscreen and a claim the Concept will have the “highest level of dynamic handling.” It will be built in China, which means it could well be socked with the 25% tariff that was instituted by the Trump administration and has been continued, so far, by the Biden administration.
Several small, city-oriented EV runabouts—smaller than Smart cars—were shown in Munich. A standout for design versatility is the shape-shifting City Transformer car. What’s different is this: The City Transformer can expand its width on demand for a bit more comfort. In compact mode, four of them fit in a single parking space, says CEO Asaf Formoza. In City Mode, it’s 1,000 mm wide (39 inches). In Performance Mode, it expands to 1,400mm (55 inches). The Tel Aviv-based company claims these performance numbers: top speed of 90 km/h (56 mph), range of 120-180 km (75-112 miles) and an unchanging length of 2500mm (98 inches). The company has been around for several years; it is still in “pre-order” mode with prices starting at the equivalent of $15,000.
The boxy, iconic Mercedes-Benz G-Class is going electric. It will have the same boxy styling and rugged suspension—independent in front, solid axle at the rear—that allows for serious off-road driving. The classic styling cues are there: boxy greenhouse, big spare-tire carrier on the rear gate (actually for storage, including charging cable), big door handles. There are differences, too, at least on the concept: the grille has illuminated blue elements, the Mercedes tri-star is illuminated, and the grille surround and the two round headlamps have lit white borders. Mercedes did not illuminate some of the drivetrain details, though it did say there would be four electric motors, one driving each wheel and allowing for “unique driving characteristics.” Price will probably be in keeping with the combustion engine G-Class, which starts in the $130,000 range.
Mini Vision Urbanaut
This is a Munich-show re-launch of a 2020 concept EV, except now Mini hints the Urbanaut might, with adaptations, be headed toward production. The Urbanaut is a rounded minivan-like shell with sofa-style seating inside and—in the concept, at least—the steering wheel hides away when it’s driven autonomously. Mini says it’s “immediately identifiable as a Mini,” apparently meaning the Mini aura because the Urbanaut’s physical shape is more Toyota Previa than Mini Cooper. What Urbanaut would do is give Mini dealers something bigger to sell when owners find even Countryman can’t hold what they want to take on their adventures. To get to market, Mini would hold off on the concept’s proclaimed self-driving, possibly set aside the scent dispensers, ambient sounds and lights, then Mini has a nice, quirky (quirky in a good way) line extension.
When North Americans read international auto-show reports, they hear of cars such as the Dacia Jogger and ask, “Why wouldn’t it sell here?” Dacia is a Romanian car company owned by Renault, and thus by the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance that accounts for one of every nine car sales worldwide. The Jogger and many other alliance vehicles are built off a common platform that includes the Nissan Juke that we do get. The Jogger is a crossover/SUV design, popular everywhere, and there’s an option for three-row seating, meaning a snug fit in back and the need for a roof rack if this is vacation travel with lots of luggage. Dacia is considered a Renault budget brand and the Jogger starts at about $18,000, Considering the difficulty gaining U.S. traction by better known names—Fiat, say—it’s not U.S.-bound, even if everybody loves small SUVs with the ability to drive some unpaved roads.