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IAA Munich Motor Show Part Three: The Concepts

Words by Ken Pearson; images by Ken Pearson and Mercedes-Benz Global Media 



Welcome to part three of our great German gallop for the 2023 IAA Mobility Munich motor show. In part one, we marched towards Mercedes-Benz's miniature metropolis of magnificent machines which you can read about here. In part two, we sauntered over to smart for a sniff around the saucy #3 SUV coupé which you can read about here. In our final instalment, we look to the future with some of the concepts on show.


Let's start with the headliner: the Concept CLA Class. You may, quite rightly, be thinking that the CLA already exists and indeed it does. So why make a concept showing a car that you can buy right now? Well, the Concept CLA Class gives a glimpse towards the future of the model name itself but also the technology that will make its way to the next iteration of the compact car range. The Concept CLA Class is visually striking with two light bands that wrap around from door to door - front and rear. The grille is an ocean of illuminated stars with the familiar downturned grille and a small air inlet for cooling. The side profile is instantly recognisable and familiar - it looks like a CLA but not as we know it, right now. Inside, plant-based materials make up the upholstery and the seats feature detailing from the Mercedes-Benz laurel wreath that surrounds the star on the bumper of every Mercedes-Benz model. The dashboard may also look familiar - with a single screen comprising of five displays that is as wide as the dashboard it is mounted on. Mercedes-Benz has a history of producing concept cars that closely preview production cars and I think that this one will be no exception. 


What should also translate to a production version is the technology inside. Images of the interior show five displays that seem to present the ubiquitous Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) software, but the next generation compact cars will run the first infotainment system to be developed in-house by Mercedes-Benz. Called Mercedes-Benz Operating System or MB.OS, this will allow for much quicker bug-fixing, updates and customisation with the in-car app store that will allow for third-party applications to be installed. MBUX was a big step on for in-car software when it made its debut in the A-Class in 2018 and MB.OS should be much the same. The Concept CLA Class is a fully electric four-door coupé and has a claimed range of over 460 miles on a single charge thanks to wind-cheating aerodynamics and a highly efficient drivetrain; a new twin-speed electric motor allows for sparing energy use at urban or motorway speeds. The new platform - called Mercedes-Benz Modular Architecture (MMA) - can accommodate two motors for all-wheel drive and finally opens the door for electric AMG models in the compact range. Rumours are flying around that the model will also be available with petrol or plug-in hybrid drivelines as well as pure electric and this seems to be backed up by a series of prototypes testing without an "E" suffix on their number plates; whilst not mandatory, it is common for vehicles with an electric range above 25 miles to feature a registration ending in E. 


Most excitingly, Mercedes-Benz also confirmed that four compact models will spawn from the MMA platform, namely the CLA Coupé, CLA Shooting Brake, GLA and GLB. This also confirms my long-held suspicion that the A-Class hatch and saloon and the B-Class MPV will not be directly replaced and the new model range from smart will serve as the de-facto entry point into the passenger car range. We can expect to see the next generation CLA in production form at some point in 2024 and my current best estimate is that it will reach the UK market in either late 2024 or early 2025. I'm most excited for the new CLA shooting brake - I've always had a soft spot for the model and body style. 



Next, let's go from a near production concept to a nowhere near production concept with the showstopping Vision One-Eleven. This is a modern interpretation and update of the iconic Mercedes-Benz C111 series of prototypes from the 1970s. The three iterations of C111 were used to test new technologies, drivelines such as Wankel rotary engines and turbodiesels and to set speed and distance records to prove the durability of the brand's engineering. Although many clients and collectors clamoured for the car to be put into production, Mercedes-Benz kept on saying nein and the C111 retained its status of desire as the years passed. If the Vision One-Eleven goes into production, I will eat my hat, and you, dear reader, may hold me to that. So why bother? Well, look under that gorgeous skin and you will see why; much like its spiritual forefather, the Vision One-Eleven serves as a striking showcase of future technologies.


The battery is made up of liquid-cooled cylindrical cells which is a direct technology transfer from Formula 1; temperature is an often neglected factor when it comes to extracting performance from electric drivetrains so the cells being immersed in coolant which can be set to maintain the optimum operating temperature for the batteries can result in maximum energy output and recovery being sustained for much longer. Put it this way - one would not expect a supercar to only be able to use all twelve of its pistons and deliver 1,000 horsepower for just 15 seconds at a time. The batteries are linked up to a new type of electric motor known as an axial flux motor. A traditional radial flux motor looks like a barrel with an inverter and transmission attached to it whereas the axial flux motors are closer to frisbees in their shape. These compact motors are much lighter, efficient and able to put out much more power and torque than their keg-shaped counterparts. These make them ideal for use in high performance models and are set to make their debut in an upcoming all-electric AMG. The motors are developed and built by YASA - a fully owned subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz based in Oxfordshire. Their motors are already in use in high-performance applications such as the Ferrari SF90 and 296 GTB, Koenigsegg Regera, and The Spirit Of Innovation - the world's fastest electric aircraft.


Overall, the Vision One-Eleven looks modern yet familiar; the cabin contrasts retro graphic design with the capability to use augmented reality to enhance the driver's time behind the wheel. The cabin is carbon fibre-free, features bucket seats attached to the floor like in a Formula 1 or Le Mans Prototype racer yet there is ample room for luggage to be stored. The contrasting themes of this retrospective look at the future make for a truly fascinating design to behold. It's no wonder it drew and maintained a constant, large crowd around it.


Sticking with high performance concepts, an unannounced concept was hidden in plain sight and was a total surprise to me when I stumbled upon it. Officially dubbed the Mercedes-AMG GT CONCEPT E PERFORMANCE, the V8 plug-in hybrid super sports car appeared to be a near-production prototype wearing a black and red exterior wrap as opposed to the traditional swirly camouflage and fake body panels. The model, when it sheds its wrap, will go into production with an electrified powertrain that can develop over 800 hp and 1,200 nm torque. Having had a taste of this drivetrain in the mighty Mercedes-AMG S 63 E PERFORMANCE I can assure you that the performance on tap is nothing short of explosive. At the rear of the car, a charging socket cover is visible above the right exhaust outlets and the brakes seem to be slightly larger than those found on the non-hybrid GT. It is not yet known when the GT hybrid will be announced, whether it will coincide with the launch of the four-cylinder GT (I've seen it, the front, side and rear design details are different) or if the GT hybrid will launch simultaneously with the long-awaited SL hybrid, but when it does it will usher in the overdue beginning of the hybrid grand trouring era, heralded first by the Polestar 1 of 2019. 



Our final stop for this series is with a car that had been parked in such a way that would've had the owner publicly shamed in the Parked Like A Tw** group on Facebook - it's another near-production prototype which electrifies an off-road icon: the G-Class. Formerly known as the EQG, the model simply referred to as the Electric G-Class was on show to preview the electric future for the model. The camouflage in a black and turquoise design does little to hide what lies underneath. Displayed with one wheel mounted on a very high kerb-like structure, the prototype was inviting people to check out the inner wheel assembly and take a closer look underneath the body. It had been rumoured that the electric G-Class would have a motor in each wheel but this doesn't seem to be the case; closer inspection revealed driveshafts coming out of where the engine would be in a combustion powered model.


The one noticeable exterior change made that could be seen with or without camouflage is what used to be the spare wheel holder on the tailgate. This appears to carry over a feature from the Concept EQG of 2021 which sees external charging cable storage. Having spoken to a development driver for the electric model, it seems that the change in drivetrain allows for much quicker changes to be made to power and torque applications, thus moving the car's already very capable off-road abilities to the next level. The refreshed G-Class range, including piston and electric drivetrains, will launch in 2024. Camouflaged prototypes are starting to show more of their production skin so I would estimate a spring 2024 reveal.


With that, my time exploring Munich came to an end and a return to more familiar shores beckoned. I had some time to check out the latest offerings from other manufacturers like BMW, MINI, Lotus, Polestar, Renault, BYD, Cupra and Volkswagen and I would say that it is a very exciting time to be involved in this industry with the sheer deluge of new products coming from all corners and angles of the market. From one-off concepts to electric hatchbacks, branded surfboards and pretzels to gigantic bulldog heads, the IAA Mobility in Munich had it all. Don't believe the reports that the motor show is dead; the appetite for new technology, new cars, shapes and styles is in rude health - being one of thousands of people traversing the conference centre and city streets proved that to me. Munich holds the biggest and best motor show in Europe on a biannual basis, alternating with Paris who take centre stage for even numbered years. If you want to be the first to get up close and personal with the latest and greatest in the world of automobiles, make sure to get yourself a ticket to Paris next year or Munich in 2025; I can't recommend it enough.


This has been the final part of my report on the IAA Mobility Munich motor show of 2023. Part one featured all the new Mercedes-Benz production models which can be explored herePart two was all about the new model range from smart which can be found here. See you in Paris!