A historical review: The International Automobile Show (IAA) and Mercedes-Benz
18.09.2010 - 01:00

German version

A historical review: The International Automobile Show (IAA) and Mercedes-Benz
"Automobile exhibitions are highly popular events which attract far more visitors than just those able to afford a car", the "Untertürkheimer Zeitung" commented in a report on the International Automobile Show (IAA) in 1953. The same is true today; however, it was not always so. In the early years of the automobile most people had no interest whatever in this completely new form of horsepower. On the contrary, visitors to the first trade and world fairs at which automobiles were exhibited proved extremely skeptical where these newfangled horseless carriages were concerned.

The International Automobile Show (IAA), which nowadays opens its doors in Frankfurt am Main every two years, is always an important exhibition for Mercedes-Benz. It is Germany’s largest trade fair, and fascinates the motor industry and vehicle buyers in equal measure. The IAA has been held for more than 100 years and therefore has a long and varied history.

Benz Patent Motor Car, 1886.

Forums for automobiles and contacts

In the early years, demonstration drives were more effective advertising than static displays. Nonetheless there were exhibitions; these were important for establishing international contacts, and therefore for the propagation of the automobile. Gottlieb Daimler and the Englishman Frederick S. Simms became acquainted at the North-West German Trade and Industrial Fair held in Bremen in 1890, for example. This fair therefore marked the beginning of a business relationship which brought motorization to the British Isles.

Karl Benz exhibited his first car in Paris in 1887. One year later he also showed his Patent Motor Carriage to the German public at the Engine and Working Machine Exhibition in Munich. At the end of the 19th century, however, it was mainly at world fairs that international recognition was to be obtained. Accordingly, Gottlieb Daimler presented his engines and a four-wheel car in Paris in 1889. In 1893, at the World Fair in Chicago, it was not only the Benz Velo but also the cars by Daimler and Maybach that were admired by the American public.

In 1895 the first specialist motor show was held in England, with a car by Panhard & Levassor as well as a fire tender powered by a Daimler engine on display. In the same year this was followed by the "Exposition de Locomotion Automobile" in France, which was accompanied by a road race.

The first IAA fair was named "Automobile Review"

In 1897 the "Central European Motor Wagon Club" organized a one-day automobile show in Berlin, and this is now acknowledged as the first International Automobile Show (IAA). This "Automobile Review", as it was named, was a modest start, for at that time the automobile was not a particularly popular means of transport. Accordingly, the Hotel Bristol in Unter den Linden provided sufficient space to display the grand total of eight vehicles to the public – no less than four by Benz and one by Daimler. The third exhibitor was Lutzmann Dessau.

From September 3 to 28, 1899 the "First International Motor Wagon Exhibition" was organized in Berlin by the "Central European Motor Wagon Club". According to the official figures of the German Automobile Industry Association (VDA), the present-day organizers of the IAA, this event was already the third of its kind after the likewise one-day show at the Berlin Exhibition Park in 1898. Rather than the previous handful of participants, no less than 112 exhibitors (134 according to some sources) displayed their wares on an area of some 2,300 square meters in the exercise hall of the "2nd Regiment of Foot Guards" in Karlstrasse in 1899. At this time there were 36 manufacturers of vehicles with internal combustion engines and twelve producing electrically powered vehicles. There were also 20 foreign exhibitors in Berlin, 13 of them from France alone.

Inviting the world: In 1899 the first Motor Wagon Exhibition with an international appeal was organized in Berlin (exercise hall, Karlstraße). The photo shows the cover of the catalogue.

“The first and oldest manufacturer of motor wagons, Benz & Cie., Rheinische Gasmotorenfabrik Aktien-Gesellschaft Mannheim, must naturally be represented at this exhibition, and has displayed a number of its vehicles which are attracting particular interest”, the "Schlesische Radfahrer-Zeitung" wrote about the 1899 exhibition. At this early stage in the development of the automobile, manufacturers still needed to convince people that his modern means of transport was safe: “Operation is completely without danger”, the "Schlesische Radfahrer-Zeitung" wrote about the “odorless petrol engine”, and there was no danger whatever of an explosion. It was also pointed out that steering required far less effort than a coach and horses, and that the two safety brakes made “immediate stopping easy and safe”.

In the following years, and despite the initial misgivings of the Germans, the IAA was occasionally named the "German Automobile Exhibition" and became a regular event. The car became increasingly popular. In 1901 the "Association of German Motor Vehicle Industrialists" (VDMI), a precursor to the present-day VDA, was founded in Eisenach. By now the fourth IAA was held in 1902, in the tramway arches of Berlin, with 86 motor vehicles on display. An event was held almost every year until 1911, and even two in 1905, 1906 and 1907.

Poster of the IAA 1902

Even in 1903 it was still the case that an exhibition first needed to publicize the car itself. “The opening of this exhibition has attracted a large number of automobile-lovers from all over Germany and well beyond to Berlin”, wrote the "Zeitschrift für Automobil-Industrie und Motorenbau" on March 20, 1903. The absence of “any accidents expected by the opponents of automobile travel” would greatly help “to gain new friends for the automobile and make it popular even in the widest circles. Accordingly the German automobile exhibition is indirectly furthering a noble cause whose effects will no doubt soon be felt to the benefit of the entire industry.”

The exhibition was held in the Flora Charlottenburg. In the Palm Garden, the most beautiful of all venues, early vehicles by Benz and Daimler were displayed in a historical department and flanked by more recent models: “A comparison ... truly shows us the enormous progress achieved by automobiles within the short time of not quite 20 years”, said a newspaper report. No less than about 20,000 visitors found their way to the exhibition in the Flora.

The nobility helps to popularize the car

The German aristocracy made a major contribution to the spread of the automobile after the turn of the century. While these traditional horse-lovers had still adopted a pained expression whenever the car was mentioned at the end of the 19th century, the events held by the "Imperial Automobile Club", like the shows in London or Paris, eventually became a meeting place for high society, and the middle classes soon followed. Although Kaiser Wilhelm II is said to have pronounced to trusted friends in 1902: “While I still have warm horses, I refuse to climb aboard such a stinking cart”, there were already three Mercedes cars in the imperial stables by 1903.

To mark the IAA in 1903, around 300 cars embarked on a "homage to the Kaiser". There were 115 exhibitors at the fair, which was officially opened by the car-loving Prince Heinrich of Prussia. In 1904 the fair was relocated to Frankfurt at the behest of the VDMI. The number of exhibitors increased to 170. The new six-cylinder engines made their debut at this fair, and special steels developed for cars also aroused great interest.

In spring 1905, Kaiser Wilhelm II himself opened the seventh IAA in Berlin. This symbolic act showed that the car had meanwhile gained acceptance at the upper levels of society. Prince Heinrich became the patron of the International Automobile Fair, taking the opportunity to inspect his new car on the Benz & Cie. stand: this made the dark-blue semi-limousine with leather upholstery, a model 40/45 hp with a four-cylinder engine built in 1905, the star attraction at the fair. In October an automobile and bicycle exhibition was also held in Frankfurt. The ninth IAA once again took place in Berlin in February 1906. Unfortunately the premises were unheated and only available during the winter, so another IAA was organized in November 1906 – this time in new, heated facilities by the zoological gardens.
Poster of the IAA 1904

In 1907 the cars were separated from the commercial vehicles. The International Automobile Fair took place from December 5 to 15, and the International Commercial Vehicle Fair from December 19 to 22. The reason given for this organizational change was the large demand for exhibition space. However: “Owing to slow business activity and the costs involved in attending trade fairs, a distinct loss of enthusiasm made itself felt, with the result that no automobile fairs were held for the next three years”, the magazine "Motor" reported in 1924.

The exhibitors having sought to outdo each other with more and more ostentatious stand decorations in the early years, with resulting explosion in costs, a move was made to standardize the stands for the IAA in October 1911. New guidelines by the fair organizers were to produce a more informative overall picture, enabling the visitors to concentrate on what was important – namely the cars.

This 13th IAA was nonetheless an illustrious event for Benz, although for another reason: Prince Heinrich of Prussia remained loyal to the automobiles from Mannheim, and once again ensured that the company had much-admired display models to show at this, the last IAA before the First World War. The Prince’s new, dove-grey 29/60 hp Torpedo Phaeton attracted great public attention, as did the car owned by his wife, “the extremely elegant 14/30 hp limousine landaulet”, as a newspaper wrote. Other vehicles shown by Benz included the 200 hp record-breaking car, which held the world speed record at 228.96 km/h. In addition to three more cars on the Benz stand, another 20 Benz models were displayed on the stands of other exhibitors.

As for delivery vans, the Mannheim company was obliged to restrict itself to a single exhibit owing to lack of space – the perennial problem of the IAA; for the same reason no trucks at all were displayed at the 13th IAA. This problem was to be resolved by the construction of a 17,000 square meter exhibition hall located on Kaiserdamm; however, the official inauguration planned for autumn 1914 came to nothing – the country was at war.
Poster of the IAA 1907

The First World War as a watershed

In the years leading up to the First World War, the automobile had already begun its march to victory in Germany: by 1911 approximately 55,000 motor vehicles and motorcycles had been registered in Germany. In 1912 there were 124 automobile manufacturers employing around 36,000 people. In 1914 German manufacturers were able to offer 217 different car models, 11 different electric vehicles and 82 different truck models.

The first post-war IAA – the 14th since counting began – was held on the new exhibition site in Berlin. The situation of the German automobile industry was characterized as “bloodied but unbowed” in the opening speech. In terms of exhibitors the automobile exhibition was a purely national event, for “there is no such thing as internationality at present”, as the "Allgemeine Automobil-Zeitung" opined on September 23. Having lost the war, Germans were not permitted to take part in fairs abroad, so the doors of exhibitions in Germany were also closed to foreign exhibitors. There were still foreign visitors, however, as German cars were comparatively inexpensive: inflation was putting the German Mark under great pressure at the time, and foreign exchange was correspondingly welcomed by manufacturers. Conversely, the main concern of customers was whether the cars they had ordered would actually be delivered, as strikes were a daily occurrence in the turbulent years of the early 1920s.

Fairs as a political tool

The exhibition in Berlin is German industry’s answer to a question posed by German drivers and the entire world: have the wartime raw materials blockade, the labor blockade by the revolution, the mental blockage of demented war production and the worldwide flood of American motor vehicles impeded the healthy development of German automobile engineering?“ The answer according to "Allgemeine Automobil-Zeitung" was “Yes – in the past, but a thousand times No in the present!“ The overriding topic for all German motor shows during the 1920s remained the question how Germany could resume its pre-war success and regain its competitiveness in the face of strong international competition.

In 1921 a total of 67 (other sources say 46) automobile manufacturers presented 90 car and 49 truck models in Berlin. Approx. 300 000 visitors attended the fair, and this huge influx meant that the entrances had to be closed for a time. “The cars by Benz owe their worldwide reputation to the fact that they exhibit painstaking quality of workmanship down to the last detail“, a newspaper article reported at the time. Meanwhile Daimler aroused the curiosity of the automotive world with an announcement that the company had developed a new engine. While the “Mercedes secret“ did not take part in the race accompanying the fair on the nearby race track, specialists were fully convinced after a test drive with the new supercharged engine.

In 1923 the Automobile Fair was held without the participation of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) for the first time. The company had initially booked 100 square meters of stand space in order to exhibit six cars, and the body plant in Sindelfingen reserved a further 60 square meters for its own purposes. The demand from exhibitors, however, was so great that the fair organizers reduced the stand area to 80 square meters. DMG protested furiously at this halving of the desired stand area.
Poster of the IAA 1921

The problem for DMG was compounded by rampant inflation, which was at its height in 1923. It led the fair organizers to impose a surcharge of 1 1/2 Gold Dollars per square meter, a sum the Stuttgart company could not afford, for “owing to the high tax burden coinciding with endless wage increases, our financial means are at present so limited that we are obliged to cancel all non-productive expenditure immediately in order to maintain our operations”, as the company explained in its letter of cancellation at the end of August. The stand space was eventually reallocated elsewhere.

In 1924 the 25th anniversary of the German Automobile Fair was celebrated, which meant that 1899 was taken to be the starting year for the IAA, not 1897 as is accepted today. The exhibition site in Berlin was expanded by a second hall, making a total of 20,000 square meters available. The fair organizers also took measures to prevent the illicit display of used vehicles on Königin-Elisabeth-Strasse, outside the gates of the fair, which had obstructed access and endangered pedestrians during the two preceding fairs.

Close observation from abroad

The focus for passenger cars was on low-cost maintenance, and for trucks on pneumatic tires. At the 1924 fair Benz exhibited a diesel truck with a pre-chamber engine for the first time. “Minor faults and teething problems still need to be rectified in these engines”, the Swiss newspaper "Der Motorlastwagen" commented. “However, it is certain that these engines have finally sounded the death-knell of the oil carburetor, which was only recently thought to have a promising future.“

Since German products were still barred from international exhibitions, no foreign exhibitors were permitted to attend the Berlin fair in 1924. Only Austria was represented. The English publication "The Automobile Engineer" considered the German automobile industry to be “in a precarious position, and it has without doubt fallen behind. No more than half a dozen really modern designs reflecting the latest developments were to be seen. These are usually companies which also enjoy a high reputation abroad, such as Mercedes and Benz.”

In 1925 the automobile exhibition was still a national event held in three large halls, as a report from Untertürkheim informs us. Apparently a building belonging to the radio industry was added to the existing halls to accommodate the motorcycles. “The old German brands have now come closer to general international design principles, and indeed the example of Mercedes with its supercharged engine shows that they have in some measure stolen a march on the entire international competition.“

Commercial vehicles: Displayed on the Daimler stand at the 1925 International Motor Show in Berlin.

Mercedes and Benz, who had entered into a cooperative arrangement in 1924, occupied joint stands for both cars and commercial vehicles at the German Automobile Fair in 1925. A decision had been taken not to present new designs: in line with the rest of the German motor industry, Mercedes-Benz did not wish to make production processes more expensive with frequent model changes, preferring to specialize in just a few models for a number of years and reduce production costs to a minimum, as an internal exhibition report states.

Accordingly there was an overall drop in the number of exhibitors and models during the 1920s: while there were no less than 86 companies exhibiting 146 different car models in 1924, the number had fallen to just 30 companies and 42 models by 1926. “Daimler-Benz, whose stand has probably enjoyed the largest influx of visitors, declares that it is fully satisfied with the level of sales”, the newspaper "Hamburger Nachrichten" reported on the fair, which attracted some 300,000 visitors.

The 1926 Automobile and Motorcycle Fair in Berlin was the last purely national event of this kind during the 1920s. At the end of that year the "German Automobile Association" (RDA) was accepted by the international umbrella organization, which meant that German companies were once again invited to attend fairs abroad, and international fairs were permitted to be held in Germany.

Poster of the IAA 1926

From Berlin to the Rhine

In May 1927 the 19th IAA was held at the exhibition halls in Cologne, with trucks and special-purpose vehicles on display. This was followed by an IAA in Leipzig, after which the venue for the IAA once again became Berlin until the outbreak of the Second World War. The 21st IAA in November 1928 was the first post-war automobile fair that could be described as truly international. The exhibition area of approx. 22,500 square meters attracted around 600 exhibitors, of which 80 were foreign companies.

According to an internal exhibition report in Untertürkheim, the main consideration was “greater comfort”: “Even the purely technical innovations shown at the fair, for example the overdrive gear, the synchronized transmission, the automatic clutch, the swing axle and other features are the result of this objective...” Nonetheless the management of Mercedes-Benz also announced a technical highlight to the press on the stand in Hall 1: the new eight-cylinder Nürburg model, which satisfied “the highest of expectations”.

The world economic crisis prevented any further International Automobile Fairs from being staged until 1931. Though the worldwide recession was still noticeable when the 22nd IAA was held in Berlin that year, the fair attracted no less than 295,000 visitors. New features on display included models with front-wheel drive. At the 23rd IAA in 1933 the focus was on price. The fair was attended by around 400 exhibitors in nine halls, and was opened by Adolf Hitler as German Chancellor. He declared himself a friend of the automobile and flattered the industry by announcing tax concessions and road construction programs. At the IAA two years later, the magazine "Der Motorist" reported with enthusiasm that the “ingenious concept” proclaimed at the time, namely motorization in all areas of German life, had been realized.
Poster of the IAA 1927

While newspaper reports on the IAA of 1933 praised the introduction of coil springs in place of conventional leaf springs for their positive effect on roadholding in the Mercedes-Benz Model 170, the diesel engine had meanwhile emerged victorious in the commercial vehicle sector. Daimler-Benz Director Wilhelm Kissel also emphasized the fact that in future, all car models would be equipped with “a special electro-mechanical anti-theft system and the well-known Vigot vehicle jack”.

“The exhibition shows that we are in all respects in a favorable position with our model range, and especially with the passenger car models”, reads an internal report on the 23rd IAA. “Our design and workmanship are recognized as first-class and leading. We are also very well placed where prices are concerned, as some of our competitors have been obliged to raise their prices considerably.“

Represented also with commercial vehicles: Daimler-Benz at the 1931 International Motor Show in Berlin.

The 100th birthday of Gottlieb Daimler remembered

At the IAA held in 1934, during which a ceremony was held to mark the 100th birthday of Gottlieb Daimler, the German automobile industry was once again experiencing good times: in 1933 domestic sales increased by 121 percent to just under 82,500 cars, with exports rising by 34 percent to more than 10,000. Total production of vans and trucks rose by 54 percent to over 12,400 as a result of mainly domestic sales, as the proportion accounted for by exports fell by 2.4 percent to 1,782 units.

The German Chancellor Adolf Hitler not only opened the 24th IAA in 1934, he also decided its March opening date. After all, “the motorization of Germany has become a question of fate”, as the "Braunschweiger Tageszeitung" wrote at the time. 400 automobiles and 125 motorcycles were on display at Germany’s largest motor show. In a circular to all dealerships and sales outlets, Wilhelm Kissel expressed satisfaction at the large crowds around the Daimler-Benz stand, and at the public’s opinion of the model range, which was “generally extremely favorable”. “The 1934 International Automobile and Motorcycle Fair in Berlin has further strengthened and reinforced the reputation and status of the Mercedes-Benz brand”, he continued. “Now you must all do your duty, each in his own position. We expect this of you. The registration figures must furnish the proof.”

At the IAA in 1935, which was held on a roofed area of 60,000 square meters by the Kaiserdamm and radio tower, and was celebrated as the “greatest motor show of all time”, the German automobile industry was brimming with self-confidence. The feeling of unity was encouraged by the architecture: “This exhibition is a uniform whole, designed and constructed according to a single will and plan, and gives an impression of solidarity which has been lacking in earlier fairs”, is how "Der Motorist" described the new uniformity in fair organization. “This is no longer a matter of industrial companies fighting for supremacy, but of the German automobile and motorcycle industry firmly uniting to fight for our national prestige and the national success of a wonderful cause.” Some 600,000 visitors found their way to the 25th IAA in Berlin.
Poster of the IAA 1933

Future-oriented: Mercedes-Benz touring coach with streamlined body, presented at the 1935 International Motor Show in Berlin.

50th birthday of the automobile

To mark the 50th birthday of the automobile, Daimler-Benz fitted out a hall of fame at the fair with the world’s first car, the three-wheeled Benz Patent Motor Wagon of 1885, and the Mercedes-Benz world record breaking racing car of 1934. Other exhibits included three large Mercedes-Benz diesel engines and further “masterpieces of design and workmanship by Daimler-Benz A.G.”, as the circular to the sales outlets described them. The Mercedes-Benz pavilion also had a historical theme: in addition to new products, 40 years of motor racing were presented with the company’s winning vehicles from 1894 to 1934.

This proud review of the past was clearly good for the company’s image: “Press reports from Germany and abroad are already confirming that in keeping with its traditions, Mercedes-Benz continues to dictate the pace in international automobile engineering”, the Board of Management wrote to the sales organization at home and abroad shortly after the fair.

The IAA in 1936 was extended from ten to 16 days to cope with the large crowds expected in the light of the previous year’s event. Once again the focus was on the mass motorization demanded by the government, as well as on national pride at being the inventors of the automobile. Accordingly there was another hall of fame to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Benz patent. Coinciding with the IAA the two inventors of the automobile, Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz, were each honored with the issue of a postage stamp by the German Post Office.

In 1938 the IAA was opened in Berlin under the motto “Five years of motorization“. In his opening address Adolf Hitler himself claimed to have solved the nation’s economic problems with motorization, and Information Minister Goebbels had the figures to demonstrate it: while there had been one motor vehicle for every 40 Germans in 1933, there was now one for every 24. In addition, exports now accounted for more than the entire production level for 1932. “The story of the Berlin exhibition since National Socialism came to power has been an uninterrupted triumph”, the regime was praised in a newspaper article. "A victory of ideas over harsh reality and the confinement from which this event suffered in the past.“ 739,000 visitors were attracted to the 28th IAA, around 39,000 more than in the previous year.
Poster of the IAA 1936

The last IAA before the Second World War took place from February 17 to March 5, 1939. This 29th fair attracted a record 825,000 visitors. It was at this large-scale event that the car for the masses was presented for the first time: the new "Volkswagen", which was still known as the "strength through joy" car at the time and was to make automobile history as the "Beetle" after the war. At that time ten German automobile producers apart from Daimler-Benz manufactured passenger cars; eleven others produced trucks and 18 other made small trucks, tractor units and semitrailer tractors.

Mercedes-Benz sports cars – here a W 125 Grand Prix racing car – were part of a special exhibition at the 1938 International Motor Show.

Poster of the IAA 1947
A new beginning: In 1947, Mercedes-Benz displayed the 170 V and models derived from it as well as a racing car chassis at the Export Fair in Hanover.

A new beginning after the Second World War

89 percent of German automobile plants and supply companies were destroyed during World War II. The first post-war International Motor Show took place in Paris in September 1946, however without the participation of German companies. Accordingly, the German automobile and accessory manufacturers took part in the 1947 Export Fair in Hanover – in their own country. The hall occupied by the automobile industry at this fair, which is regarded as the 30th IAA, drew the largest crowds, although the cars exhibited were mainly from manufacturers in the British zone of occupation.

In 1948 and 1949 automobile manufacturers and suppliers from the two now united western occupation zones took part in the Export Fair in Hanover. In 1949 a motor show was already held in Berlin, with the participation of the Berlin-Spandau subsidiary of Daimler-Benz. In 1950 and 1951 the German automobile industry no longer exhibited its wares at the Hanover Fair, but rather at the "Auto Show" in West Berlin.

Around 300 exhibitors attended the 1950 Auto Show, among them the best-known American, French and Italian manufacturers. This international attendance showed that the German industry had a great deal of catching up to do, especially where cars were concerned: “Just one walk around the exhibition halls shows that the German automobile industry will not have an easy time against foreign competitors”, the daily newspaper "Die Welt" wrote. Foreign manufacturers were clearly in the lead in terms of stand design as well, merely by virtue of their financial strength. Daimler-Benz displayed the model 170 S and 170 D passenger cars, as well as the A and B convertibles, in addition to the commercial vehicle models L 3500, L 500 and O 3500 and the two OEM engines M 202A and M 204A.
Poster of the IAA 1950

International again

In April 1951 the first automobile fair with a truly international following took place in Germany once again, though in Frankfurt am Main rather than Berlin. This 34th IAA was organized by the Frankfurt-based Automobile Industry Association (VDA), the successor to the "German Automobile Association" (RDA). Once the VDA had been accepted as a permanent and fully-fledged member by a plenary session of the Bureau Permanent International des Constructeurs d’Automobiles in Turin in May 1950, and had therefore subjected itself to the rules of this international association, there were no more obstacles to the first post-war International Automobile Fair. Although another Auto Show was held in Berlin in the same year, and is accepted as the 35th IAA, Frankfurt was nominated as the sole future venue for the now biennial exhibition until the 53rd IAA in 1989.

The IAA in 1951 had a great healing effect on tarnished German self-confidence. After all, it was only in an international comparison that the domestic industry could show what it was still – or once again – capable of. "Automobil-Revue" wrote: “For all the modesty with which we welcome our foreign guests, there is no reason whatever for the German automobile industry to hide its light under a bushel.”

Accordingly the unofficial order of the day for the stand designers was not to do things by halves. “There were many murmurs about the automobile temples which some companies had erected in Frankfurt”, wrote the magazine "Auto- und Motorradwelt". “As there were no large, spacious halls, and only the Festival Hall, which is in reality completely unsuitable for an automobile exhibition, still has the old-style atmosphere, a complete rethink was of course necessary in Frankfurt. The enjoyment of a direct comparison between models by different manufacturers was certainly lacking; however, given the extremely large number of visitors such a comparison would not have been possible in larger halls either.”
Poster of the IAA 1951

As a major event, this IAA attracted 570,000 visitors from 20 European and 25 “overseas” countries, as press reports stated at the time. 537 exhibitors displayed a total of 553 vehicles in an area of approx. 44,000 square meters. These included the first truck equipped with a turbodiesel engine and the Mercedes-Benz Model 300, which was soon to be nicknamed the "Adenauer" owing to its popularity with the Federal German Chancellor.

Signs of respect from abroad

The foreign press showed its respect for the German automobile manufacturers: “The International Automobile Fair in Frankfurt is certainly a major success”, wrote the "New York Herald Tribune". The Swedish newspaper "Dagens Nyheter" confirmed that the West German automobile industry had regained its spurs at the fair in Frankfurt. And the French showed themselves to be both impressed and concerned about this “second Renaissance” by German manufacturers. Indeed, the IAA in Frankfurt showed that German production was capable of quickly outstripping that in France. At the fair Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer told the Executive Board of the VDA that he was grateful to receive the assurances of the industry’s representatives that “they would do everything possible to increase exports and contribute more strongly to the procurement of foreign exchange.”

Glamorous: The coveted Mercedes-Benz exhibits standing behind modern doors at the 1951 International Motor Show.

50 years of Mercedes-Benz

In 1951 Daimler-Benz also celebrated a very special anniversary: the Mercedes brand was 50 years old, for it was in 1901 that
Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft produced its first vehicle with the name Mercedes. While advertisements proudly proclaimed “Half a century of progress”, this important Mercedes anniversary also dominated the entire exhibition hall: “Broad, colored swathes of fabric turn the Mercedes hall into a homely tent”, the "Hamburger Abendblatt" enthused. “An old Daimler-Benz, a motorized coach from the infancy years of the car, stands in the center of the hall like a monument. Everything around it shimmers and shines.”

Six months later, in September 1951, a further motor show in Berlin attracted 290,000 visitors. After this 35th IAA the German automobile industry said farewell to its historic exhibition venue and moved to Frankfurt am Main: “Political events prevent the continuation of the old Berlin tradition”, commented "Automobil Revue".

The patron of the 36th IAA, Federal German President Theodor Heuss, considered that the large foreign presence – 43 exhibitors – made a major contribution to German reintegration into Europe. During the course of the 1950s the position of the German manufacturers versus foreign competitors was consolidated even further. In 1954 West Germany overtook France in automobile production, followed by Great Britain two years later. This trend was also reflected in the size of the fair: although the exhibition area had grown by a good 13,000 square meters to 77,700 square meters since the 1951 event, there was already insufficient space in 1953 to satisfy the requirements of the 568 exhibitors.

At the 37th IAA in 1955, which established a new record with 750,000 visitors, Daimler-Benz presented the first post-war Mercedes-Benz van in the form of the L 319. “The general development trend appears to be from the motorcycle to the small car”, the newspaper "Stuttgarter Zeitung" wrote.

In 1956, the year in which the car celebrated its 70th birthday, motor vehicle production in the Federal Republic exceeded the one-million mark for the first time. Around 302,000 people were employed in the automobile industry, and in world production terms German automobile manufacturing was in second place after the USA. Cars "Made in Germany" were in great demand: almost half the vehicles produced in Germany were sold abroad.
Poster of the IAA 1955

Separate display: At the 1955 International Motor Show, the commercial vehicles – among them the new L/O 319 van series – were presented in a separate hall.

Constantly increasing visitor numbers

In 1957 approximately 800,000 visitors encouraged the 649 exhibitors in their belief that further outstanding growth rates could be expected for the industry. 86 of the 700 or so exhibitors at the 39th IAA in 1959 were foreign companies, and visitor numbers rose to 870,000. A record of the 39th IAA kept by the Mercedes-Benz subsidiary in Frankfurt stated that the fair was “the most interesting show of the post-war period”. Accordingly, Daimler-Benz AG displayed its entire range of cars and trucks. “The fair was also highly successful for the subsidiary.” Meanwhile, however, the infrastructure in Germany was finding it hard to cope with all this technical progress and the advent of mass motorization: the VDA demanded urgent investment in the road network.

While the 1950s were very much dominated by the small car, visitors to the IAA during the 1960s were increasingly interested in medium-class and second cars. Brighter colors also became fashionable, in contrast to the dark tones of post-war automobiles. Conversely, the booming automobile industry was suffering a severe shortage of manpower.

Occupant safety was the main focus of the 40th IAA in 1961, with the seat belt the star attraction at the fair. The 950,000 visitors were also able to admire the self-service petrol pump. In 1963 the removable transistor radios presented at the IAA made life a little more comfortable in German cars. Mercedes-Benz presented the new car models 190 and 190 D, the new 220 SE convertible and the 300 SE, as well as the new M 833 and M 838 engine series. A total of 950,000 visitors were attracted to the exhibition site in Frankfurt – a new record. The breakthrough of mass motorization had been achieved.
Poster of the IAA 1957

Exhibition booth of the Kässbohrer Fahrzeugwerke 1959

At the 41st IAA in 1963 Mercedes-Benz presented the large O 317 K city bus: “The more compact overall dimensions and smaller turning circle will attract very favorable notice in bus depots, where space is at a premium almost everywhere”, the magazine "Verkehr and Technik" wrote. Mercedes-Benz continued to set new standards in bus engineering: at the IAA in 1967 the company presented the new O 305 regular service bus, which had been developed according to the recommendations of the German Association of Public Transport Operators, published only shortly beforehand.

In 1967 personal transport came under political attack. The automobile industry was filled with trepidation about the transport development plan presented by Transport Minister Georg Leber. Its intention was to strengthen the role of the railway system considerably. In the event nothing came of these plans, which would have severely limited the choice between means of transport.

“The 44th IAA will go down in the history of motorisation as the ‘motor show of progress’”, one newspaper asserted confidently at the time. Products displayed in 1969 included electronic fuel injection systems and sports coupes with bodywork partially or entirely of plastic. Daimler-Benz likewise showed itself to be adventurous: in addition to the model 300 SEL 3.5 and the 280 SE 3.5 coupe and convertible with a 3.5-liter V8-engine, the C 111 experimental car with a triple-rotor Wankel engine was on display. The experimental OE 302 bus also celebrated its premiere as the world’s first hybrid-powered bus, the "E" in the model designation referring to the additional electric motor. Its direct current traction motor generated an operating output of 156 hp and a peak output of 205 hp – more than enough for a city bus in those days. Moreover, Daimler-Benz introduced the hydraulically tilting cab with the new LP 1632 truck model.
Poster of the IAA 1967

Review: History revisited on the truck and bus stand at the 1961 International Motor Show.

Cancellation of the 1971 IAA owing to poor economic conditions

Longer delivery times were also a topic of discussion at the IAA again – the economic downturn of 1967 seemed to be over, and the German automobile industry enjoyed something like an Indian summer. The relief did not last for long, however: in 1971 the IAA had to be cancelled owing to the unfavorable development of costs and profitability in the automobile industry. Neither did it enter into the count, as the 44th IAA was held in 1973.

In the mid-1970s Daimler-Benz launched new commercial vehicles in the market, presenting the “New Generation” with gross vehicle weights of 16 to 26 tonnes at the IAA in 1973. In 1975 a new medium-class range of trucks with gross vehicle weights of ten, twelve and fourteen tonnes was added to the heavyweights, and the
Mercedes-Benz 2032 S semitrailer tractor with two steered front axles and a driven planetary rear axle was presented. All the heavy trucks were also equipped with an air-sprung rear axle.

The 1970s were not easy for the automobile sector: the car came in for criticism, the oil crisis made fuel more expensive and small, inexpensive and economical cars began to arrive from Asia. While the industry as a whole was battling against falling production, employment and profitability on a worldwide basis during the mid-70s, Daimler-Benz basically weathered the crisis undamaged. “Since we last came together at the IAA in 1973, the world economic picture and particularly the situation of the international automobile industry has fundamentally changed”, Daimler-Benz Chairman Joachim Zahn commented at the press conference for the 46th IAA in September 1975. “The events of recent years have left deep wounds in the automobile sector.”
Poster of the IAA 1973

Accordingly the Daimler-Benz Chairman advised the industry to learn lessons for the future – including that of the IAA in particular: “One of the most important conclusions in these times must be that when planning a vehicle range for the long term, producing new products for the sake of newness is outdated thinking. Putting on a ‘show in chrome and shining paintwork’ is increasingly a thing of the past. In accordance with the motto of this year’s IAA – ‘Living more easily with the car’ – the primary aim today must be to portray the automobile as a durable, safe and environmentally friendly product which meets an essential need and is able to integrate itself into the social environment.”

The motto of the Mercedes-Benz passenger car display in 1975 was “Mercedes-Benz – better drive safely”. The highlight was the 450 SEL 6.9, and Joachim Zahn made a point of emphasizing that the major attributes of this muscle-car were not so much the engine displacement and corresponding top speed, but rather “the overall conceptual interpretation”.

Proudly presented: The commercial vehicles of Mercedes-Benz at the 1973 International Motor Show.

The industry recovers – with a production record

The industry had substantially recovered by 1977, and German automobile manufacturers were heading for a new production record: more than four million motor vehicles were produced for the first time. Accordingly, the 47th IAA was symbolic of growing self-confidence in the industry. Daimler-Benz presented the 123-series station-wagon models 240 TD, 300 TD, 230 TD, 250 T and 280 TE to the public: “In this way we are also opening up the increasingly interesting recreational and transport market for Mercedes”, Daimler-Benz Chairman Joachim Zahn explained.

In 1979 energy was once again the focus of attention at the IAA. “This year’s automobile fair will no doubt substantially reflect the question of the concepts with which each individual manufacturer confronts the demands of a new phase in design, production and vehicle use, particularly in terms of energy savings”, Joachim Zahn stated at the press conference. He attached great importance to the fact that as a pioneer and proponent of diesel technology, Mercedes-Benz had placed its confidence in this “particularly economical and environmentally friendly” drive technology for more than 40 years, and continued to conduct intensive research on alternative drive systems for motor vehicles.

Accordingly, Mercedes-Benz presented the new S-Class models at the 48th IAA under the motto “The S-Class: Technology for the future with the economy of today” – “to emphasize that in developing these models, we have greatly contributed to the current debate on energy savings”, said Joachim Zahn. “This was made possible by weight savings of between 50 and 280 kilograms, fundamental aerodynamic improvements and new light-alloy engines. This has enabled fuel consumption to be reduced by more than 10 percent for the entire S-Class.”
Poster of the IAA 1979

In 1981 the new models were likewise exhibited in the light of economy and a low fuel consumption. At the 49th IAA, Mercedes-Benz presented a further energy concept for reducing fuel consumption and the environmental burden. In addition the company displayed the "Auto 2000", an experimental vehicle for innovations in car engineering. Glamour was brought to the Mercedes-Benz stand by the S-Class coupes 380 SEC and 500 SEC. All in all, the IAA was seen as a sign of a limited economic upturn.

Everyday heroes: The vans from Mercedes-Benz.

Handling dynamics were the major car topic on the Mercedes-Benz stand at the 51st IAA in 1985: in addition to the automatic locking differential (ASD) and acceleration skid control (ASR) the automatically engaged four-wheel drive system 4MATIC was presented. The electro-pneumatic gearshift EPS (Electronic Power Shift) was also installed in all heavy trucks with turbocharged engines to improve safety.

90 years after the "Auto-Revue" fair in Berlin, with just eight vehicles on display and a modest level of public interest, around 1.2 million visitors found their way to Frankfurt for the 52nd IAA in 1987. The automobile had become the predominant means of transport for both people and goods, and a major economic factor: one in six people employed in West Germany derived their income from the automobile, either directly or indirectly. Mercedes-Benz presented the anti-lock braking system (ABS) for vans with hydraulic braking, which was based on the well-proven system used in passenger cars.

Cars and commercial vehicles go their separate ways

The IAA in 1989 was the last event to be shared by passenger cars and commercial vehicles. The Frankfurt exhibition site had become too small for this huge event, where almost 2000 exhibitors from 36 countries were crowded into a space of 252,000 square meters. More than 1.2 million visitors were attracted to this 53rd IAA. Owing to the large demand, it was no longer possible to meet the requests of exhibitors for appropriate stand space in full.

At this last joint IAA, Daimler-Benz presented restyled models from the 124 series with an improved level of standard equipment. In addition, the completely re-engineered off-roader in the 463 series celebrated its premiere, and the new O 405 N and O 405 GN low-floor buses were displayed.
Poster of the IAA 1985

Exhibition booth of the Kässbohrer Fahrzeugwerke 1989.

From the 54th IAA in 1991 onwards, the Automobile Fair was a two-part event: in odd-numbered years the IAA for passenger cars has been held in Frankfurt, with the commercial vehicle IAA taking place in Hanover in even-numbered years. The passenger car IAA was held in Frankfurt from September 12 to 22, 1991, for example, with the second part for commercial vehicles taking place in Hanover from May 9 to 17, 1992.

The purpose of the separation according to the VDA was to stagger the flow of visitors, meet the requirement for more stand space and allow new exhibitors to take part in the event – “for owing to meanwhile habitual structures and a shortage of space, access to the event has increasingly been denied to new exhibitors” – as well as to provide more detailed information and advice to exhibitors and include new topics such as traffic solutions which transcended specific transport systems.

Concept vehicles become firmly established

Almost 1,200 exhibitors from 29 countries and 287,000 visitors attended the first Commercial Vehicle IAA in 1992. The exhibition covered an area of 250,000 square meters. 46 percent of the exhibitors in Hanover were new, while the proportion of specialist visitors was 66 percent. At the Commercial Vehicle IAA Mercedes-Benz displayed the futuristic Euro-Experimental Truck EXT-92 for the first time. With a number of conceptual ideas, this innovation carrier demonstrated what the long-distance truck of the future might look like. In addition, the successor generation to the light and medium Unimog series was shown.
Poster of the IAA Commercial Vehicles 1992

Exhibition booth of the Kässbohrer Fahrzeugwerke 1992.

In 1993 another vision was to be seen on the Mercedes-Benz stand: at the 55th IAA Mercedes-Benz presented the concept study Vision A 93, the precursor to the A-Class. At the 57th IAA in 1997, a number of design and equipment lines for the smallest Mercedes celebrated their premiere. And as an absolute world first, Mercedes-Benz presented the top-of-the-line model in the C-Class, the C 43 AMG with a
V8-engine; the C 220 Turbodiesel was equipped with a diesel engine featuring common-rail direct injection. In 1997 the "New Electric Car" was also presented under the designation NECAR 3 – based on the A-Class, this was the world’s first fuel cell powered car with onboard hydrogen generation. Visitors in 1997 were also able to admire the F 300 Life-Jet for the very first time – a study for a three-wheeled recreational vehicle with an active suspension system.

The motto for the last IAA of the millennium was “The car: where the future comes together”. In 1999 manufacturers and suppliers showed the future-oriented solutions they had prepared to meet the challenges of the new millennium. Engine-related innovations made it particularly clear that the automobile industry was serious about environmental protection. New drive train and engine features made automobiles even more economical and clean.

During the 58th IAA in Frankfurt – the first major event since the merger between Daimler-Benz and Chrysler – DaimlerChrysler was able to set new records for all its car brands. From January up to and including August 1999, DaimlerChrysler achieved worldwide unit sales of more than 2.8 million passenger cars, minivans, Sports Utility Vehicles and pickups to generate a turnover of 65 billion euros, an increase of 12 percent.
Poster of the IAA 1993

Exhibition booth of the Kässbohrer Fahrzeugwerke 1994.

A further increase in the number of exhibitors

Owing to EXPO 2000, the 58th IAA for commercial vehicles was not held in Hanover, but in Frankfurt. The number of exhibitors increased for the third time in succession, this time to 1,318 companies from 42 countries. The proportion of specialist visitors was very high at 84 percent. The Mercedes-Benz Medio minibus for 26 to 40 passengers celebrated its premiere at the commercial vehicle IAA in Frankfurt. The Medio was particularly noticeable by virtue of its external design, with a very large windscreen and side windows extending well down.

In 2001 the September 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York cast its shadows over the IAA in Frankfurt. While the fair still took place from September 13 to 23, there was a show of solidarity with the victims of the attack and their dependents by dispensing with the usual razzmatazz and loud music, and the ceremonious opening event with Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was also cancelled. A good 800,000 visitors attended this ”subdued” IAA.

The motto for the Mercedes-Benz stand at the 59th IAA was “Story of Passion”, with the Mercedes brand celebrating its 100th birthday as a link between the past and the future. Its engineers presented an innovative safety concept with the potential to reduce the risk of injury to car occupants even further: the PRE-SAFE® system already detects an impending collision in advance and activates special protective systems before it occurs. Unlike the airbag, for example, the system is also reversible: if the accident is prevented, the safety features return to their original status and are immediately ready for use once more.
Poster of the IAA Commercial Vehicles 2000

Traveling in all comfort: Touring coaches – both full-size and scale models – also ranked among the exhibits on the Mercedes-Benz stand at the 2000 Commercial Vehicle Show.

Despite the difficult market situation, the 59th commercial vehicle IAA in 2002 exceeded the expectations of the VDA. Around 237,000 visitors from 84 countries made their way to Hanover. The proportion of specialist visitors was a good 90 percent.

At the 60th passenger car IAA in 2003, just under 1,000 exhibitors presented their products over an exhibition area of 215,000 square meters. 37 percent of these exhibitors were from abroad. Visitors numbered just under one million, with specialist visitors accounting for one-third.

DaimlerChrysler focussed its presentation on brand fascination and included the world premiere of the Mercedes-Benz McLaren SLR. The company also retained its concept of presenting trailblazing vehicle and traffic studies at the IAA, however, with corporate themes such as “Energy for the Future”, ”The Vision of Accident-free Driving” and “Automotive Visions”.

Accordingly, the aim of automobile fairs is still “primarily to promote sales”, as defined in an in-house Daimler-Benz circular relating to the IAA in 1955. Nonetheless, they have also long been an indispensable marketing tool for maintaining the corporate image – while offering us all a glimpse into the future of the automobile.
Poster of the IAA Commercial Vehicles 2002

Focus on people: The Mercedes-Benz vehicles for passenger transport at the 2002 Commercial Vehicle Show.

Daimler AG
Kässbohrer Fahrzeugwerke GmbH

Daimler AG


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