FRANKFURT — You didn't need to look far to spot a metaphor for this year's Frankfurt auto show — and perhaps a European industry.
You just had to look up.
During the afternoon of the first press day last week, with the attending automakers squeezed into four halls (with many more halls dark and empty), the ceiling fell in. Literally.
In one corner of BMW's stand — in a massive structure that the automaker built a decade ago for itself (test track included) but now shares with other brands — the roof of one of the displays caved.
Police were called in. Security investigated for possible terrorism. No one was hurt. But some wondered whether activist German environmentalists were behind a plot to disrupt things. (The fact that it occurred near a full-electric i3 didn't support that theory.)
Still, it was an unfortunate symbol for a once-significant show.
"The IAA2019 is a huge fail," tweeted former Opel CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann. "It's a sad shadow of what it used to be."
Yes, Frankfurt was not Frankfurt this year. And it was a signal that everything is changing in this dynamic automotive world and a clear warning that no tradition is safe.
It was also a siren indicating that the European — and global — environment remains in a state of flux.
Nearly two-thirds of the world's car producers were absent. And word on the German street is that Daimler and Volkswagen Group seriously considered pulling out of the show months before its opening. When pressured by the German car association, they remained.
But, in the end, an awe-dropping 24 brands were absent and the number of exhibitors fell 20 percent. And to cap it off, the head of the German car lobby, which hosts the show, abruptly resigned.