The eyes of the motoring world were on Munich this week, but we started planning months ago. Autocar Subscriber Extra is our package of exclusive benefits for our magazine subscribers. One of these is a weekly behind-the-scenes email newsletter from our editors. For a limited time, we’re giving all Autocar readers free access to these newsletters and columns. You can subscribe to Autocar magazine with our Summer Sale offer here and save 50% on your first 13 issues.
Motor shows are back, then. We haven’t missed the silly-hour airport arrivals, the firm hotel mattresses or the criminally weak teas, but boy have we missed being at the events themselves, poring over the headline-baiting new cars and raiding the brains of those who brought them there.
The Munich motor show this week was the first full-scale international motor show held on European soil since Frankfurt in September 2019 – and in the interlude we have been somewhat restricted in terms of our physical access to crucial new metal and high-level company executives. Zoom and Skype calls are fantastic for added insight but can’t quite replicate the invaluable experience of a face-to-face interview on the show stand.
Munich motor show: all the news from IAA 2021
So, while every motor show is absolutely mission-critical for the Autocar news desk, Munich had that extra hint of anticipation behind it in the run-up, which – it’s worth saying – felt quite a lot shorter than usual, given the event itself seemed uncertain to go ahead as planned almost until we got on the plane. No sooner had the attending companies been confirmed than we were firing out interview requests and drawing up a list (of truly encyclopedic length) of questions for the company representatives that were due to appear and present.
As is always the case with a motor show such as this, it was absolutely crucial to have enough feet on the ground for the event itself. Messe Munich isn’t quite as incomprehensibly colossal as its counterpart in Frankfurt, but we still had double-digit reveals to cover, easily double that number of cars to photograph and more interviews to schedule than a showrunner on Desert Island Discs. Four writers, a roving photographer and a press-room-based picture editor had us covered, but there still wasn’t going to be time for a particularly leisurely lunch break. I’d be surprised if snapper Olgun wasn’t still there, frantically hunting down that elusive microcar from a German start-up or trying to capture the sheer scale of the grille on the Mercedes-Maybach Concept EQS.
But during an event of this scale, the most time-critical and unrelenting work is carried out by those back at base in the UK, who paradoxically can often have a far clearer overview of the show than those who are actually there. Effective social media coverage, picture editing, story writing and website management are absolutely essential to ensure our coverage is as comprehensive and accessible as it possibly can be, and to give our readers as great an understanding of the cars as we get from standing next to them. Fortunately, 2021 being what it is, most of the press conferences at Munich were broadcast live online, thereby ensuring nearly equal access to all members of the Autocar team, and saving a bundle on pre-flight lateral flow tests.
The real advantage to actually being there in the room, though, is the ability to sit at the same table as Volkswagen head honcho Ralf Brandstätter, chat with Porsche boss Oliver Blume over a bowl of beetroot (other, better snacks were available) and be shown around Renault’s latest creation by designer Gilles Vidal himself. The four writers who attended – myself, Jim Holder, James Attwood and Mark Tisshaw – were divided, essentially, among the starring manufacturers: one of us would attend the BMW events surrounding the reveal of its new concept; another would keep track of the plethora of Volkswagen announcements and presentations and so on.
Chiefly, of course, this arrangement (by and large adhered to, it must be said) ensures continuity and avoids repetition or over-explanation across a range of stories on a similar theme. And it works very well indeed, albeit with the caveat that you can quite easily be distracted when your phone buzzes with a ground-shaking snippet of unexpected gossip from a colleague in a nearby conference room. And that can happen quite often, actually, as one of the overriding responsibilities of show-going Autocar writers is to submit regular updates for the live blog – news bites, thoughts, observations and less overtly ‘on topic’ remarks from company bosses – which forms the foundation of our running report and evolves to become an all-encompassing round-up.
Looking back at it now, it’s astounding, really, how much can be gleaned from just a few hours of roving reportage. It was only mere months ago that we thought the full-bore motor show was gone for good – the organisers of Geneva had yet to confirm a certain future for that event and the prospect of travelling to LA or Shanghai seemed a completely untenable fantasy – but yet here we are: back on home soil with overflowing notebooks, a wealth of new production cars and concepts to get excited about and a new-found appreciation for the humble portable phone charger. Bring on the next.
Munich motor show 2021: full report and gallery
Munich motor show 2021: star cars