Interview: The IZB in times of change

An interview with Wendelin Göbel, Spokesman of the Board of Wolfsburg AG, and Josef Schulze Sutthoff, Head of the IZB.

A lot has happened in the industry since the last IZB four years ago, not least the electrification and digitalisation of products and services. Can the IZB 2022 reflect these drastic changes?

Wendelin Göbel: Be it Covid-19, the chip crisis, supply chains, the war in Ukraine or financing issues, the automotive industry has suffered from the general conditions of the past few years like virtually no other sector. These changes will, of course, also be reflected in the trade fair. After all, even though internal combustion vehicles are still being constructed, it is the topics of alternative drive systems and autonomous driving that are now advancing developments. With this in mind, the IZB offers essential added value: no other trade fair welcomes such a multitude of suppliers showcasing their new focuses to the general public for the first time. The main objective of the event is to promote and facilitate direct contact between suppliers and OEMs so that new cooperative partnerships can be formed based on personal exchanges.

What are your plans to further develop the IZB?

Josef Schulze Sutthoff:  We analyse the past trade fairs and observe trends that not only affect the automotive industry but also impact the world of trade fairs, shows and exhibitions. Against this background – and based on our market research findings – we further develop the concept behind the IZB. We then test individual components, for example this year’s hybrid formats. As you would expect, presenting, purchasing and selling products and services remain the central focus of the event. Another increasingly important aspect is its role as an “inspirator”, a source of ideas, in times in which innovation cycles are becoming shorter and shorter, especially in the field of software. At our Software Marketplace, a coworking stand, we offer both appropriate providers and manufacturers such as Volkswagen a stage and a platform for exchanging ideas and experiences.

How do you also want to use digital opportunities to enrich the exhibition landscape of the IZB?

Josef Schulze Sutthoff: Overall, we want to try out new formats and attract exciting input providers to get involved in the trade fair both on location and via virtual channels. We are using a digital platform to broadcast the live stage elements and offering a professional matchmaking service. These formats range from trend talks and pitches to keynote speeches on the key topics of the IZB. By transmitting our content digitally, we improve our coverage and provide valuable content for the global IZB community.

Despite all of these virtual opportunities, one thing remains clear: the IZB is an in-person event at heart. The on-location experience is something truly exclusive and direct. And when it comes to providing this experience, Wolfsburg is a unique location; nowhere else can so many purchasers and developers come into contact and enjoy personal exchanges. After all, it is ultimately the incidental encounters and spontaneous chats on the fringe of the event that open up all kinds of new opportunities for all parties involved. These are the moments that make the IZB so valuable.

The Volkswagen Group, based in Wolfsburg, is one of the global pacesetters of the mobility industry. The suppliers have to keep up with the pace. In your opinion, what challenges and opportunities does this involve?

Wendelin Göbel: Electrified and autonomously driving vehicles are now giving companies from other industries the chance to join the automotive value chain. Processes and products need to be adapted, and new interfaces and cooperative partnerships are being established. Sustainability, “green” products and logistics are also important topics from a long-term perspective. At the same time, changes that affect society as a whole and global crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic or the war in Ukraine affect the vehicle industry too. This in turn has an impact on supply chains, the costs and availability of raw materials, and even customer requirements and safety aspects. Together with the investments arising from the transformation, these factors all lead to significant business challenges for many companies.

Nonetheless, I trust the many years of experience and continuous improvement involved in the interaction between OEMs and suppliers. These form an outstanding foundation for the realisation of new products and production methods – especially in Germany as an automotive location. The past two years have shown just how closely suppliers and manufacturers are intertwined. This is an advantage in such challenging times, in which extremely intensive cooperation is absolutely essential.

What other messages can the IZB send out?

Wendelin Göbel: We want to send out a clear signal: yes, suppliers and OEMs are tackling the challenges together and yes, they will master the future of mobility with new technologies and a sustainable approach – be it in terms of CO2 targets or economical use of valuable resources. This will, however, only work if all parties involved are on the same page. The IZB offers an outstanding platform for fulfilling this requirement.

Josef Schulze Sutthoff: The IZB also broadcasts another message: we always need to remind ourselves that car manufacturing still involves producing a huge device comprised of many different parts. After all, even an electric vehicle usually still has four wheels. The main focus continues to be placed on achieving high levels of quality and safety in each individual part. This means that existing suppliers and hardware suppliers still play an equally important role. They make a significant contribution to the value chain and form the solid foundation that makes electric mobility and further innovations possible in the first place.

Plans are in place for Wolfsburg to be the manufacturing location for the “Trinity” model, with a completely new, state-of-the-art production facility, from 2026. What impetus do you expect this development to provide for the supplier industry?

Wendelin Göbel: We can look to the future with an extremely positive mindset. In addition to the new production facility, several other future-oriented investments in the Wolfsburg location are also being planned. One of these is the TE Campus, which will offer new working environments for thousands of engineers using state-of-the-art methods and approaches. The Volkswagen software subsidiary CARIAD is also active in the Wolfsburg location. The production of an electric model at the plant and the construction of a manufacturing facility for the “Trinity” model do indeed shine the spotlight on the rapid transformation of the Volkswagen Group into a mobility provider. With its complex innovations, Volkswagen’s future world of vehicle models offers a multitude of opportunities for supplier companies. We are certainly well aware that innovative technologies come from both Volkswagen and its suppliers in equal measure. In the future, the main question will focus on how suppliers in the region can work together with Volkswagen to successfully produce the new products in short cycles. To achieve this, all of the key players offer huge development potential in the fields of autonomous driving, electrification, digitalisation and hardware.

If the speed of the development cycles is rapidly increasing, what does this mean for the exchange of information between manufacturers and suppliers? 

Josef Schulze Sutthoff: The topics mentioned above yet again shine the spotlight on the developments underlined by our market research. A clear trend is emerging and revealing that, in contrast to the past, it is not only suppliers that want to present their products and services at the IZB but also Volkswagen that has a very strong interest in using the event to address supplier companies on as many levels as possible and with as much information as possible at an early stage. As a result, we are experiencing an even stronger development of the IZB from a marketplace to a communication platform. As already mentioned, times in which product cycles are becoming shorter and shorter require all specifications to be shared in full and at an early stage, preferably by both parties. This is one of the reasons why we want to support and promote an exchange of information between supplier companies and Volkswagen on all levels at the IZB.

How can the much-cited “future” of mobility already be experienced in Wolfsburg in the present day?

Wendelin Göbel: We are demonstrating that Volkswagen’s home city already provides an excellent insight into the future of mobility.The mobility of tomorrow is already being actively used and filled with life in many locations here in the present day. In 2016, the city of Wolfsburg and Volkswagen took the extremely forward-looking step of launching the initiative #WolfsburgDigital. As a model city and model region, we demonstrate what, for example, the path towards becoming a “Smart City”, the expansion of a future-oriented infrastructure and networked mobility could look like. These applications, from intelligent traffic light control to an innovative parking guidance system, all fall into the field of expertise of Wolfsburg as a “Test Environment for Digital Mobility”. This test environment is connected to the “Testfeld Niedersachsen” (Testbed of Lower Saxony) project and provides an extremely exciting and interesting setting for the development and testing of networked mobility solutions in an urban context. Here at Wolfsburg AG, we are at the heart of the action and coordinate the activities of the different partners from the worlds of business, administration and science. In fact, visitors to the IZB can also experience examples of the aforementioned activities from Wolfsburg’s real-world laboratories in person at the trade fair.

Let’s pretend that the IZB 2022 has already come to an end. What do you think would indicate that the event was a success?

Josef Schulze Sutthoff: For me, it would be a huge success and represent the ultimate praise if our visitors – be it Volkswagen or supplier companies – were to say: “We’ll come again.” Further evidence of a successful trade fair would be to succeed in firmly anchoring the IZB in the digital realm as well. We want to create additional contact opportunities that go beyond the in-person trade fair and expand our position in the digital sphere. I think that generating valuable content and passing it on to specific target groups both at the event venue and further afield would help all parties involved to progress. Doing so would undoubtedly improve the benefits provided by the trade fair and the frequency of contacts resulting from the event. We will also gain practical experience in this area at the IZB 2022.

Wendelin Göbel: I think we could say that we have hosted an attractive trade fair when the visitors can take away as many ‘wow!’ moments as possible and can make the most of new opportunities for the future arising from the IZB. In my opinion, achieving this would clearly highlight three central aspects at the core of the IZB: 1. Diversity and internationality: These show the wide range of potential available within the automotive industry with regard to future mobility. 2. Sustainability: By focusing on sustainability, we accept the challenges involved in this area and take responsibility for the future because we have the corresponding technologies or will go on to develop them. 3. Transformation: This is connected to the hope that we will secure jobs and wealth in an intelligent process that is actively supported by many people.