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IAA 2003: A Model Car Show

September 15, 2003, by Bill Cawthon

With the International Model & Hobby Expo going on in Chicago as I write this and the new Hobby Visions show scheduled for Las Vegas next month, the American hobby press soon will be filled with new model announcements from most of the hobby manufacturers.

The IAA 2003 logo proclaims the fascination of the car. Image courtesy of IAA.

On the other side of the Atlantic, a number of new model announcements have come from what we might consider an unlikely place: the 60th IAA for Cars, ("IAA" stands for "Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung" or "International Automobile Exhibition"), being held in Frankfurt, Germany, through September 21 (my birthday!).

The IAA is one of the world's major auto shows and a tradition dating back to 1897, when the first one was held at the Hotel Bristol in Berlin. Twenty-eight more were staged before the outbreak of World War II.

In 1951, the IAA moved to its present home in Frankfurt and a regular schedule of one show every two years was adopted. The shows featured both passenger cars and commercial vehicles and continued to grow in popularity. By 1989, it had grown too large, with 2,000 exhibitors and more than 1.2 million visitors. The decision was made to split the show. Beginning in 1991, the passenger vehicle exhibition would be held in Frankfurt in odd-numbered years and commercial vehicles would be shown in Hanover in even-numbered years.

Dave Leggett, my editor at, went to the show this year and complained about all the loud music and noise. What a change from two years ago. IAA 2001 had just gotten underway when the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 took place. Because of the massive investments that had been made in staging the exhibition, the show went on, but as a measure of respect for the victims, the music and fancy shows were cancelled.

The VDA ("Verband der Automobilindustrie" or "German Association of the Automotive Industry"), which organizes the event, expects more than 850,000 people to attend the exhibition this year, ranking it among the world's top three automotive exhibitions. Visitors will see the latest in automotive technology as a thousand exhibitors from around the world display their wares.

IAA is big in more than just attendance. In terms of physical size and number of exhibitors, it is the world's largest industry show. The total exhibition space measures 215,000 square meters or more than 2.3 million square feet - that's over 53 acres. Where I live, there are subdivisions smaller than that. The open-air area covers more than 30,000 square meters, better than seven acres by itself.

This year, the slogan is "The Fascination of the Car" and it's an accurate description of the nearly two-week event. Dozens of new automobiles will have their world premiere and there are plenty of concept cars, some of which will make their own production debuts at future shows. Beyond the static displays, IAA has facilities for test-drives, an off-road circuit and outdoor go-karting. It's a paradise for anyone who loves cars.

There's much more to see than just the full-size cars; a number of scale models took their first bows when IAA opened last week.

Scenes from the show - Top: BMW's pavilion (did I mention the show is very large?). Middle: Professor Jürgen Hubbert, head of Mercedes passenger car operations, presents the new CLR four-door coupe. Bottom: What would a car show be without lots of pretty women showing off the latest product? A lot like a hobby trade show. All pictures courtesy of IAA.

As I have mentioned before, it's a long-standing custom for German auto manufacturers to commission 1:87-scale models of their new cars. At IAA, these promotional models are sometimes given away, but they are more often sold to show visitors, potential customers and collectors. After the show, the models are normally added to the car companies' accessory catalogs or sold through their dealerships.

Most of these models are eventually added to the modelmakers' regular catalogs, but there is usually a wait: sometimes six months or longer. So the IAA show is a great place to get a head start on next year's models. That is, if you can get to Frankfurt.

Fortunately, my friend Marc Schmidt had media credentials and was able to attend the show days before it was open to the general public. While you will have to be a member of the 1/87 Vehicle Club to read Marc's report on the show, I would like to share a few of the highlights he passed on to me.

BMW was showing two major new cars, the 6-Series Coupe and the new, smaller X3 sport-utility vehicle. Herpa, which makes all of BMW's 1:87-scale promotional models had miniature replicas of each, in four colors, ready for the BMW display, as well as a supply of the 530i sedan, which has been out for a couple of months.

Over at the DaimlerChrysler exhibit, Mercedes was showing off the new Mercedes-McLaren SLR sports car. The real thing, which will come to the U.S. next April, will set you back about $350,000, so it's not surprising the Herpa version was one of the most expensive models at the show at well over $20.00. On the other hand, having seen it in person, Marc tells me it is one of the best models Herpa has ever made.

One model rumored for the show was a replica of Mercedes' stunning Vision CLS concept car. Unfortunately, that model apparently will have to wait until the Geneva show next spring when the production version of the CLS makes its debut.

On the other hand, we can look forward to seeing almost all of these models at Promotex. The 5-Series sedan will be in stock shortly. The BMW 6-Series Coupe, X3 SUV and Mercedes-McLaren SLR will all be part of Herpa's regular collection next year. Herpa has already said the SLR will be released in April 2004.

Other model companies had their promotional contracts, as well. Wiking produced a model of the new Golf V, which made its official debut at IAA. Over the past year, Wiking has created scale replicas of the VW Touareg, which just went on sale in the U.S. a few months ago, the New Beetle Convertible, the ultra-luxury Phaeton, which will officially go on sale in North America in the new model year, the new T5 Multivan and the Golf-based Touran minivan. VW has not decided whether the T5, which replaces the T4 Eurovan, will make the trip across the Atlantic and, for the moment, the little Touran is strictly European Union-only.

Herpa produced a model of the 499-hp Alpina B7, but the only way to get one at the show was to place an order for the real thing. Perhaps in the future, we will see it as a PC model. Image courtesy of IAA.

The newest Busch model was found at the Smart display. DaimlerChrysler's micro-car division was showing off its newest model, the aptly named Forfour. For the show, Busch created a six-car set with every Smart model starting with the original City Coupe and progressing thought the Cabriolet, Crossblade, Roadster and Roadster Coupe to the Forfour. There were also individual models of the Forfour in different colors and varying styles of wheels. I don't know if the IAA set was like the set Smart distributed to members of the press when the Forfour made its media debut. That was also a six-model set, but there was a seventh space left open. According to DaimlerChrysler, that space will be filled with a "lifestyle" version of the Smart, due to be introduced for the American rollout of the Smart vehicles in about two years. Incidentally, company officials say the Forfour and the Roadster will accompany this newest Smart across the Atlantic, but the City Coupe and Cabriolet won't be coming. There isn't room in the tiny car for the fuel filtering system required by federal regulations.

Mercedes also commissioned special runs of the new CLK coupe and convertible, each limited to 320 pieces. Busch produced a Cuban silver convertible, while Wiking created an ice-blue version of the CLK Coupe.

Even the specialty manufacturers had 1:87-scale models. BMW tuner Alpina had a Herpa-made model of its B7, the performance version of the BMW 7-Series. The B7 model is very exclusive; you have to buy the real thing to get it. Brabus, which does nice things with Mercedes, had the E V12 sedan. That's an E-Class with the V-12 engine from a Maybach. Herpa also produced the scale version of this car.

Herpa prepared a number of new models for the show, including three special models of the BMW 530i, Mercedes-Benz Viano and Porsche Cayenne Turbo (top) and created a brand-new line with the new Z4 Playcar (bottom), which is about 1:18 scale. The Playcar will be available from Promotex Online in time for Christmas. Photos courtesy of Herpa.

The modelmakers had their own special models for the show. Herpa had three IAA specials, a BMW 530i, a Porsche Cayenne and the new Mercedes Viano minivan, painted an identical blue and packaged in individual presentation boxes. Each model had a limited, 500-piece production run. Wiking had a Porsche 356 in white with Italian racing stripes. It's a follow-up to last year's model, which was silver with the German colors. There was also a black CLK coupe with extra detailing. Both Wiking models came in special IAA packages.

From a model point of view, the big news of the show, in more ways than one, was the introduction of the first Herpa Playcar, a BMW Z4 Roadster. This may be Herpa's largest model ever. It's roughly 1:18-scale and is designed to be compatible with the popular Playmobil figures and activity sets. The new Playcar will first appear in BMW's lifestyle collection, but it will be at Promotex in time for Christmas. My family has some of the Playmobil holiday sets, and I think it's about time for Santa to trade in the sleigh.

While I like the idea of being able to visit an auto show, see all the new cars and come away with some new models, the traditions of the IAA are vital to the model business. Just as promotional models of American cars allowed the creation of custom car kits, the commissions from the automakers provide crucial business that not only provide new models of the latest cars and trucks, but also allow investments in other models. Sadly, cost-cutting measures have forced companies like Ford and Opel to drop out. Marc noted there weren't any Audi models, but I have a hunch that's due to timing. Audi recently commissioned the new A8 and A3. I am hoping Audi will sponsor a model of the upcoming revision of the TT Roadster.

On the home front, there will be some announcements in the not-to-distant future that will gladden the hearts of a lot of American model railroaders and model vehicle fans. So stay tuned; it just keeps getting better.

See you next time!

- Bill Cawthon

Bill Cawthon is an award-winning modeller and collector. His primary modeling interests are model railroading and vehicle models in 1:87 and 1:160 scales. He has written numerous articles for regional and division NMRA publications and is a contributor to the newsletter of the 1-87 Vehicle Club. He follows both the automobile industry and the European scale vehicle industry.

In real life, Bill is a full-time marketing and public relations consultant for the high-tech industry. He lives in Houston, Texas with his wife and four children.

Bill writes bi-weekly for Promotex Online. To learn more about him, click here.


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published by Cadabra Corp. This page was lasted updated: October 12, 2005