Automotive Testing Expo Europe launched in Hamburg, Germany, in 1999, and moved to Stuttgart two years later. It’s not hard to understand why: Stuttgart is considered the birthplace of the automobile. It’s where Karl Benz invented the first gasoline-powered car in 1886, and where Mercedes-Benz and Porsche are both headquartered, along with automotive-parts giants like Bosch and Mahle. Attendees seemed to approve. The show has sold out Messe Stuttgart for the last three years — a venue that offers 1.5 million square feet of exhibition space, and is building more.
The expo is produced by UKIP Media & Events, and this year was co-located with four other UKIP programs: Autonomous Vehicle Test & Development Symposium, Automotive Interiors Expo, Engine Expo, and Global Automotive Components and Suppliers Expo. All together, the events — held on May 31–June 2 — drew more than 12,000 attendees and more than 600 exhibitors. Convene was there, too, hosted by the Stuttgart Convention Bureau. A few weeks later, we followed up with an interview with Graham Johnson, UKIP’s managing director:
Who are your attendees? They are automotive engineers, automotive-testing engineers, automotive research and development engineers, data-analysis engineers. They are from car manufacturers. They are from Tier 1 and Tier 2 and Tier 3 suppliers. Ninety-five percent of our visitors are OEMs [original equipment manufacturers], Tier 1’s, 2’s, and 3’s.
What is the goal of the show? Automotive Testing Expo can be summed up in one simple sentence: It’s about preventing product failure. Toyota Prius about three years ago had a big recall on brakes, and you’ll recall, blimey, maybe about 10 years ago, that Firestone tire issue that Ford had on the Explorer [actually 16 years ago, in 2000]. These are product failures. Product failures come around because it wasn’t caught in the development process of the vehicle. Automotive Testing Expo is all about finding these product failures. It’s about proving a product, putting it through an accelerated life cycle, and seeing what problems, if any, occur. It’s about testing the performance and efficiency of the product, too, but the simplest way to sum it up is, it’s about preventing product failure.
Why an expo to achieve that goal? As you can probably imagine, there are thousands of components in every single vehicle. Proving out those components, optimizing their performance, is a very difficult task. If you look up how reliable and safe and efficient cars are today versus how they were even just 20 odd years ago — we’re now at a stage with our cars where we just assume they will start when we get in them. And that’s done through technology. By putting all of this technology under one roof, it just gets better and better and better.
How do you take full advantage of Stuttgart’s connection to the automotive industry? We have amazing relationships with Daimler [Mercedes-Benz’s parent company], with Audi, with BMW, and with Porsche, but also with the Tier 1’s and 2’s and 3’s that are surrounding them. And don’t forget, we publish Automotive Testing Technology International magazine. We have somewhere in the region of 130,000 subscribers to that magazine, and in terms of Stuttgart, there is somewhere in the region of 25,000 people subscribing to our magazine. So if you want to see why we’re in Stuttgart, the magazine graphically illustrates it. The demand that is coming out of that area.
What are the challenges of mounting the expo? These days it’s easy. We’ve been there a long time. We know the venue inside out. The venue knows us inside out. I tongue-in-cheek said it’s easy, but you know what, it is easy these days. It’s a great venue to work with. It’s next to the airport. It’s got a great hotel infrastructure around it, and they’re building another hotel close to it. They’ve got great conference facilities next to the exhibition halls. I can think of no challenges in working in that venue. I suppose we currently need a bigger hall and they don’t have it, but they’re building it up.
Did you introduce any new elements this year that you were particularly excited about? It has to be autonomous-vehicle stuff. It’s such exciting technology. There were so many questions. There were so many exhibitors at the Auto Testing Expo that were bringing our really clever technology that will enable manufacturers and Tier 1’s to prove out this stuff. There were lots of companies now that have proving grounds that are just for autonomous vehicles, because at the moment, testing out autonomous vehicles around other vehicles is not always the best option. I used to be a motoring journalist, and I remember vividly doing an event with Bosch, and they were teaching for the first time an intelligent braking system that would spot obstacles in front of it. It failed and it drove straight into the obstacle. The technologies now that are being shown at the Automotive Testing Expo mean that doesn’t happen.
On a personal level, as a car enthusiast, it’s great to walk around the show and see all these technologies that people are creating to help develop and bring autonomous vehicles to market. That to me is what’s most exciting. Sometimes I forget that I’m there to work, and actually I just enjoy it.