Automechanika Frankfurt Director: Show will feature digitalization, put artificial intelligence on center stage

"We want the world to be here," says Olaf Mußhoff.

I recently spoke to Olaf Mußhoff, director of Automechanika Frankfurt, who is well-known around the world for his role in organizing one of the largest automotive aftermarket shows. In this interview, he talks about the direction of the next Automechanika Frankfurt show, which is in 2024. And he solves the mystery of how he gets around the show so efficiently.

Mark Phillips:

You go to multiple events throughout the year as the Director of Automechanika Frankfurt. So what sort of is the reason behind that? Are you sort of an ambassador for the show?

Olaf Mußhoff:

Well, yes, I sometimes feel like a diplomat. I agree. I’m kind of an ambassador for my own show in order to explain to companies, to the market, what Automechanika Frankfurt is. What’s the reason for it, why everybody needs to be here and where everybody comes to be here. But of course, it’s also to see my customers, to find new customers and to learn about what is going on in the markets. When you go there, you get an impression of what is going on in the market. So being an ambassador, as you called me for Automechanika, well, definitely yes. But it’s also good to go and to learn in order to be able to improve my own show and to adapt it to the needs of the market.

Mark Phillips:

You know, when I interviewed you, I think it was at the 2021 edition of Automechanika Frankfurt and that was sort of a rebuilding year. It was during the pandemic. It was a rebuilding year because it was getting people together. The show wasn’t as big but you knew that and you mentioned to me at the time something about spontaneous conversations. There is something very special about a spontaneous conversation because people think of things in the moment that they wouldn’t think about if they had to make a presentation or get up or have a scheduled meeting. I don’t know what it is about the human mind, but those really are very special things. So can you talk a little bit about the spontaneity of the show and just getting people together that makes a show like this special?

Olaf Mußhoff:

Yeah, gladly, do so because this is something I really think that everybody learns. Maybe not during but definitely after the pandemic: how important it is to meet in person and not to do only digital meetings. 

I mean we are doing a digital meeting now, right? So this works perfectly for some issues and there are other occasions in which it is much more important to meet in person because as we said, it is then spontaneous occasions. 

‘I talked with some of the CEOs of Schaeffler and of Continental and ZF and all of them are, of course, dealing with AI regarding customer relations, regarding warehouse logistics, but also discussing about how to promote the production, and as I said before, how to support their own supply chains by AI.’

Olaf Mußhoff, Director of Automechanika Frankfurt

You are going to a show, you’re walking through the aisle, you’re meeting somebody who you never thought of the last 12 months, but you know the person. And because you’re meeting somebody in the aisle and having a personal encounter, you can fix something. Or you do a shortcut through on your way to another meeting. Do a shortcut through the home and see an object (at a booth) or a project you never heard of and think, okay. This is really interesting. You need to come back after waiting and see what these guys are providing and what is their idea behind the products. 

And I’m really very much convinced that these things and these occasions only happen when you go to see a B2B show where you have highly educated people where you have people really there for doing business, for setting up networks to exchange ideas and opinions. And this is what makes every show but of course, especially Automechanika because it is so international and so large, so very special. After the pandemic, I think everybody’s choosing much more carefully than in the past where to go in person and what to do and digitally. And I’m very convinced that attending Automechanika, everybody will choose to come here in person because this is the place where everybody from the industry is meeting.

Mark Phillips:

Absolutely. And it’s such a huge show and it would be hard to imagine that you’re able to pack in more for the next show. But why don’t you give us a flavor of what is to come. What’s new on the agenda for the next edition?

Olaf Mußhoff:

We try to adapt the show each addition according to the needs of the markets or maybe better say of the markets because there are so many industries represented in Automechanika. So we always try to adapt a little and to see what is important. I’m very positive because we opened the possibility to register mid-March and we are even better off now than we have been in 2017 for the 2018 show. So the last pre-pandemic Automechanika. This is no final figure, of course. This is just an impression that the industry wants to be back here in Frankfurt. So this is very positive just from the figure side. 

Content-wise we have developed our products a little bit ahead. So we decided, for example, to introduce a new product group — Oil, Oil Lubricants and Fuels because this has always been part of our Repair & Diagnostics. But it is such an important product group that we decided to give them their own branding to make the companies more visible. So this is one and I think also very important the new product group Digital Services and Solutions because digitization is growing. It’s going on everywhere, especially of course also in the automotive aftermarket.

And we would like to point out that there are many companies which deal with data generating, with data analysis and also afterwards with a usage and setting up business cases with the data. And we having already many of these companies spread all over the the venue, starting with TecAlliance — everybody in this field is here and we would just like to give them also more visibility to make clear that digital solutions are key for the future of the industry. As you know for Automechanika, we are arranging our show according to these product groups to make it maybeeasier to find your way and to find the company you would like to see. But we also need to have content and we will provide content for our Automechanika Academy with five new topics. So five major pillar topics for our Academy stages, which are: Innovations, Sustainability, Transformation (which includes digitalization and new drives and alternative drives, eMobility) and the fourth is Training and Education.

And fifth, but not last, is Recruiting. And with around these five key pillars, we will organize and arrange our fringe program and we will also be attracting our exhibitors to kind of donate or bring content from their side to these topics because this is been reflected also in our conversations with the industry with associations that these topics are so important for all the industries in the aftermarket that we will easily have hours and hours to discuss it.

Mark Phillips:

Since the last Automechanika Frankfurt, artificial intelligence has really taken center stage and I just saw a report this morning that an energy company in Great Britain is fielding 44 percent of its customer service inquiries via artificial intelligence. And it’s only been in place for seven weeks.

The Automechanika Frankfurt 2022 CEO Breakfast featured CEOs from leading key players on the first day of the trade fair. In a “fireside chat” format, Formula One professionals Mika Häkkinen and Mark Gallagher supplied fascinating insights for an industry that is changing faster than ever. Photo by Mark Phillips/Aftermarket Intel

What could visitors to Automechanika Frankfurt next year expect to see? What’s the flavor for artificial intelligence at the show?

Olaf Mußhoff:

It’s really interesting that you’re asking this question because we know we have not talked about it before and artificial intelligence is one of the key content factors, which we plan to have for a one-day conference, which is called the Supply Chain Management Day. Artificial intelligence and supply chain — how do they work together? So this will be one of our major focuses in this field for the industry with focus on supply chain management.

So this is quite interesting and I’m really curious to see what is behind it? Because I’m not so deep in the topic, but I’m really curious to see how artificial intelligence will develop within the next 12 months and what will be the consequences for the supply chain and also for the industry. I talked with some of the CEOs of Schaeffler and of Continental and ZF and all of them are, of course, dealing with AI regarding customer relations, regarding warehouse logistics, but also discussing about how to promote the production, and as I said before, how to support their own supply chains by AI. So this is going to be, I think, under the headline of digitalization — this will be one of the key topics.

And from our side it will be it will be on our supply chain management day and I think from exhibitor side at least from the from the big players on the visitors will be able to get information. They can learn a lot about the ideas on how AI is supporting the industry and probably also how AI will be part of autonomous driving on the way to autonomous driving.

Mark Phillips:

The thing is, we’re recording this in late May of 2023 by the time the show rolls around in 2024, artificial intelligence could be in a completely different place than it is now, so we almost have to keep it open-ended and watch it evolve.

Olaf Mußhoff:

I agree. I agree we will. And, for me at least, the development which I perceive is so incredibly fast. Half a year ago, I had never heard of Chat GPT. We’re trying to make Automechanika Frankfurt better and better each edition and we see that there is also a need to not only make it better but also to make it more attractive to participate and join and even in some respects to make it more fun.

We decided that we would implement a connection between the automotive aftermarket industry and the gaming industry. There is a connection between two industries which seem to be totally apart. But there are links between these industries. And we can see that bringing gaming, which is always digital in this respect, brings young people closer to the automotive aftermarket

We’ve seen in the past if there is a simulator on a stand of a company you always have a line of people who just want to do racing, and it is fun. I totally agree.

But this is so this is something we would like to put also one focus on. We are cooperating with FIA and with a session in order also to integrate motorsports into Automechanika because also here we see a good connection to have more events inside the show and to make it more fun to join. But also to have serious content because there is, of course, a connection between motorsports and what companies learn from the motorsport and which they then implement into the regular car and in the aftermarket.

So this is another connection. And apart from that we will continue with the new formats we established last year. And I hope you will be part of our CEO breakfast on the first morning. So you need to be an early bird that day. So Tuesday morning, 7 o’clock. We do not know yet who the speaker will be. But the idea is we want to bring together top managers from the industry for more than industries to meet before the show opens.

We will have a keynote speaker which will be interesting — which will be a person who you would really like to meet in your life and start Automechanika on the morning of the first day. Then we will have our networking areas which prove to be very well received from visitors and exhibitors.

So having certain areas in the halls in which you can inform and discuss about one certain topic and this will be e-commerce one more time for sure. There will be something about the workshop of the future. We will have one networking area which is focusing on sustainability. So there will be many of these topics.

And last but not least for those exhibitors who will come and we will have our exhibitor party back for Oktoberfest.

So many reasons to join and especially international people will be here. I’m so convinced that at Automechanika Frankfurt, the entire world will travel again to Frankfurt. Last edition, last year, we had 175 nations visitor-wise and which is as good as in the past and I’m really very positive that it will be the same.

Mark Phillips:

I’m glad you said that. How do you manage all of that? For people who have not been to this show, they shouldn’t feel guilty about not seeing everything because I think it’s impossible. It’s literally impossible to see everything. So I think people should actually give up the notion that they can experience every single aspect. 

Olaf Mußhoff:

We manage that with an international team because we have sales partners covering 100 countries. So we have many locals who are in contact with the visitors and exhibitors. And of course, I have a great team here in Frankfurt. We have great colleagues who manage the venue and literally manage how it works.

And I think it is a lot of intuitive enthusiasm from our side. We really want to have the international audience. And that’s why we invite everybody to come because we are open-minded. We want the world to be here. And I think that’s just the beginning and just the start of it. We are open, we would like to have the world with us. We don’t exclude anybody and I think that’s the start and that’s maybe even the open secret behind it.

Mark Phillips: And just to clarify, you said the word venue, but I really think we should mention, for those who have not been to the show in Frankfurt before, you’re really talking about a city. The fairgrounds, if you want to call them that, they really are a small city. I once took a taxi from one side to the next just to make it to a meeting on time. So could you just talk about the scale of the venue? Use that word, but it’s not really a venue. It’s more like a city.

Olaf Mußhoff:

It is a city, I agree, and with a skyscraper inside even. Yeah, we have 11 halls. I can’t tell you in miles. I can tell you in kilometers the distance when you start in the eastern entrance. And you take the shortest way through the fairground through our internal city to the end of hall nine, you have 1.81 or 1.9 kilometers to walk. So it’s quite a lot and we are covering with Automechanika around 340,000 square meters.

Mark Phillips:

Yes, I remember one year when I was at the show my Apple Watch measured 15 miles for the day and that was all the press tours and booth visits. You can stay very fit going to the show.

Olaf Mußhoff:

I can tell you for me, because I have so many appointments during the show, I always have my electric car for the full duration of the show in order to be able to make my appointments.

Mark Phillips:

Now, you’re not kidding. You really have an electric car?

Olaf Mußhoff:

It’s impossible to do without. 

Learn more about Automechanika Frankfurt at the show website.

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