Mercedes Fields Buzz Aldrin to Take on BMW While Fiat Stays Home – Bloomberg

It’s mind over muscle at this year’s Frankfurt motor show for automakers chastened by a two-year diesel scandal.

While there will be new models and concept cars aplenty, from Bentley’s Continental GT to Mini’s electric prototype, some of the biggest manufacturers are taking a lower-key approach than usual at the biennial event that begins next week. Others, including Fiat SpA, are staying away altogether.

Bentley’s Continental GT

“We want to showcase our innovation power and our ideas that will shape how people use cars and get around,” Hildegard Wortmann, senior vice president BMW brand, said of the luxury automaker’s plans for the event.

BMW AG will join with TED, the sponsor of TED talks, to judge a competition between half a dozen futuristic ideas, including making 3D-printed cars from recycled plastic. Archrival Mercedes-Benz is hosting a three-day talk-fest, featuring notables such as former astronaut Buzz Aldrin and supermodel and entrepreneur Amber Valetta, that won’t even concentrate on cars.

“We want to offer visitors a community experience with dialogue rather than a classic presentation of our products,” said Jens Thiemer, Mercedes’s vice president for marketing.

That’s a far cry from the bravado and one-upmanship that’s characterized past shows, such as in 2011 when Audi spent 10 million euros ($12 million) on an indoor track to match BMW’s own test driving loop. This time around, Audi, a unit of Volkswagen AG, won’t even have its own pavilion at the continent’s biggest motor show and BMW isn’t setting up a track.

Mini’s electric prototype

Shifting Dynamics

The evolving approach reflects the industry’s changing dynamics. As Europe’s automakers grapple with the diesel-cheating crisis they’re also making record investments in electric vehicles and self-driving technology that may or not pay off. And, as cars become smarter and autonomous-driving features advance, manufacturers are increasingly looking beyond motor shows to display their wares to tech-savvy consumers.

Jaguar Land Rover is holding its own, inaugural “tech fest” in London on the weekend before the Frankfurt show gets underway, a three-day event “dedicated to stimulating conversations” about the future of mobility, according to its website.

Ford Motor Co. was the first carmaker to set up a display at the computer games convention Gamescom in Cologne, Germany, last month. Inside a high-performance Focus RS at the show, visitors could don virtual-reality goggles and “drive” a timed lap around Belgium’s Spa-Francorchamps race track. BMW chose to unveil its M5 sedan at Gamescom to complement the vehicle’s virtual presence in the “Need for Speed Payback” computer game.

Skipping the Show

“It will be very difficult to recreate the sense of an autonomous vehicle at a display like” a car show, Henry Ford III, who heads up marketing for Ford’s performance arm, said last month. “It’s something we’ll have to think through and a lot of it will be through virtual technologies like this.”

BMW chose to present its lineup of new vehicles to journalists on Sept. 7 at its Munich design headquarters, rather than in a flashy unveiling in Frankfurt. Chief Executive Officer Harald Krueger, head of development Klaus Froehlich and head of design Adrian Hooydonk spent three hours explaining the vehicles’ features. Audi, meanwhile, decided it was a better idea to host 2,000 guests in Barcelona in July to present the revamped A8 sedan and offer workshops on artificial intelligence than stage a 15-minute car-show press conference.

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