Frankfurt, Germany - With the threat of diesel driving bans in major cities still looming and Germany's business culture on the line over claims of collusion, the usual atmosphere of glitz and glamour at the Frankfurt Motor Show will be hard to maintain.
Nine major brands have decided to stay away from the 67th edition of the expo, which is staged every two years in Germany's financial capital. It is one of the world's biggest motor shows.
The global mood among car manufacturers is still upbeat even though Germany's car industry, which usually dominates the event, is suffering from some serious image problems. Manufacturers will be putting on a brave face at the horsepower parade, with a host of new metal, ranging from expensive limousines to SUVs, family cars and city runabouts. Exotic sports cars will also be in the limelight.
The IAA - a German acronym for International Motor Show - is open to the public from September 14-24 following two press days. The motto this time is "Future now" and state-of-the-art automated driving is a key theme.
Threat of diesel driving bans
With the German general election only a few weeks away, politics will take centre stage at the expo, which is traditionally opened by Chancellor Angela Merkel. German car owners will be listening closely to what Merkel has to say about the threat of diesel driving bans in polluted cities such as Stuttgart.
The European Union has strongly warned Germany about nitrogen dioxide pollution. The European Commission said limits of the deadly pollutant were exceeded in 28 areas of the country and the gas is being blamed for more than 10 000 premature deaths in Germany in a single year.
People will also want to know if German car firms will be forced to pay for expensive engineering updates to clean up the toxic, diesel-powered cars that companies such as Volkswagen have been selling for years to customers. Many customers are unhappy with the software tweaks which have been offered for motors whose results in environmental emissions tests were found to be rigged.
'Million-car plan won't work out'
Both the car companies and Merkel say mechanical updates to older diesels are too expensive. Merkel recently pledged an extra €500 million (R7.7 billion) to a special fund aimed at helping curb air pollution in Germany. This brings the total of a special pollution-fighting fund to €1 billion (R15.38 billion).
The chancellor has acknowledged meanwhile that a plan to have a million electric cars on the country's roads by 2020 will not work out, even though automakers have prepared a raft of emissions-free models.
"The way it's looking at the moment, we won't meet that target," Merkel said at a parliamentary event in Berlin.
Regulators are also looking into claims that mighty German automakers operated a consumer-scammming cartel for decades at secret huddles on technical standards, suppliers, costs and other issues.
German big four will dominate
Meanwhile, IAA organizers have shrugged off the snubs from carmakers such as Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Peugeot and Volvo, saying the gaps at the show will be filled by new exhibitors, including up-and-coming manufacturers from Asia. The companies skipping Frankfurt this time around claim car shoppers are increasingly using the internet and special events to find out about new models. Traditional car shows are becoming old-fashioned, they say.
The Frankfurt expo will nevertheless be dominated by the big four German brands: Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Volkswagen and Audi.
Notable newcomers this year are an autonomous version of the swish new Audi A8 executive limousine, the new Polo and T-Roc baby SUV from Volkswagen, the new Ferrari Portofino and Jaguar E Pace crossover.
Almost every automaker has a pure-electric in the range or is working on a new one. But experts such as German car guru Professor Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, says the Frankfurt motor show is out of step with the times.
"This year's most important car is not even there," complained Dudenhoeffer. He was referring to the electric Tesla 3 for which the US company has received more than 450,000 pre-orders. Tesla says it is too busy to attend the event.