The former head of Opel, Karl-Thomas Neumann, had a stark message for the Frankfurt auto show: "It is obvious so let's say it explicitly: The #IAA2019 is a huge fail. It's just a sad shadow of what it used to be. There will not be an #IAA2021. End of story," he wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.
Automakers have criticized the show's format and are discussing future ideas to keep its relevance, including taking the event to different German cities, Handelsblatt newspaper reported.
Automakers including Toyota, Fiat Chrysler, Peugeot, Citroen, Kia, Nissan, Fiat and Volvo are absent from this year's show, whose exhibition area has shrunk by 16 percent.
Halls once brimming with automakers were either switched to suppliers or left empty.
Neumann, now working in California on new mobility projects, complained it was "not a representation of the industry like it used to be."
Compounding the problem was that the two busiest halls -- Hall 11, housing BMW, Mini Jaguar Land Rover, Opel and Hyundai; and Hall 3, featuring the VW Group stable -- were a long way apart, so for journalists it remained the same exhausting place to visit as it always has been.
But calling the 2019 IAA a "fail" is too harsh. The place still created enough buzz that even automakers that were not officially there either snuck in, or announced new product debuts to coincide with the event.
Kia hosted journalists at its European headquarters, next to the Frankfurt show trade grounds, and showed the XCeed crossover. Volvo's Polestar performance electric brand had a small stand in the square outside Hall 3, as did McLaren.
Renault had not intended to go, according to one company insider, but realized there would be no show unveil for its new Captur small SUV, so it took space within Mercedes-Benz's traditional IAA home -- the imposing Festhalle center.
Ferrari did not come this year, but chose to unveil two new convertibles at its headquarters in Italy the day before the show opened. Nissan unveiled the new Juke small SUV the week before the show started.
Companies such as Ford (which did go, breaking a run of no-shows at European events) claim one reason they have ducked out of shows previously is because they do not want a new product to be swamped in the news cycle by rival unveilings.
This makes sense, but why then release news around Frankfurt? It might be that the show continues to generate enough interest in the car industry that automakers still want to be part of it.
Elements of this year's show did work well. In 2017, BMW took over all of Hall 11. This year the same hall hosted five brands in the same space and did not feel crowded.
Opel's stand in Hall 11 cost one-third of its display in Hall 8 two years earlier. "It doesn't look cheap and it doesn't prevent us from showing the cars," PSA Group CEO Carlos Tavares told journalists at the event.
In response to criticism, the organizers, the German industry association (VDA), has tweaked its approach. Hall 5 was devoted to new mobility, including traditional suppliers, and also included a conference area.
There were more hands-on activities too, including off-road driving and a Lego go-kart area sponsored by Hyundai.
The success of the show is determined not just by coverage but the number of visitors who come after the press and executives have gone.
The show claimed 810,400 visitors in 2017, down from a record 1 million in 2002, but still substantial.
If numbers hold up this year, the IAA could still retain its relevance for the global auto industry.