The IAA is organized by the Verband der Automobilindustrie (VDA – Association of the German Automotive Industry) and is scheduled by the Organisation Internationale des Constructeurs d'Automobiles. Currently, the show in Frankfurt occupies twelve buildings.
In 1897 the first IAA was held at the Hotel Bristol in Berlin, with a total of eight motor vehicles on display. As the automobile became more known and accepted, the IAA became a fixed event in Germany, with at least one held every year, usually in Berlin. From 1905-1907, there were two per year, as the production had increased to an industrial level. In the next years the show was suspended due to the ongoing World War I, and was then reinstated in 1921 with 67 automobile manufacturers displaying 90 vehicles under the motto "comfort".
Despite the still perceptible after-effects of the global recession, the 22nd IAA was held in Berlin in 1931, with a total of 295,000 visitors. For the first time the exhibition included front-wheel drive vehicles. In 1939, the 29th installation of the event gathered a total of 825,000 visitors - an all-time record at that time. The new Volkswagen was presented for the first time, which later came to be known as the Beetle. This was the last IAA before it was again suspended during World War II. From 1947-1949, Germany’s automobile and accessories manufacturers took part in the export trade fair in Hanover. The automobile industry’s hall acted like a magnet on the public, with a great number of visitors coming to the show. In 1951 the show was held on the Messe Frankfurt for the first time. The event, which was held in April, attracted a total of 570,000 visitors, with exhibits including the first HGV to have a turbo diesel engine. Just six months later, in September 1951, a second exhibition in Berlin was held, gathering 290,000 visitors. From then on, the German automobile industry bade farewell to its traditional exhibition site in Berlin and relocated the motor show completely to Frankfurt. The IAA was also rescheduled to only take place every other year.
In 1989 the last IAA to feature both passenger cars and commercial vehicles in one show confirmed that the exhibition site in Frankfurt was now too small for this major event. Almost 2,000 exhibitors squeezed onto an exhibition site measuring 252,000 square metres. More than 1.2 million visitors attended the event. Because of the high demand, it was no longer possible to meet exhibitors’ requirements for adequate exhibition stands. In view of this, the VDA decided to split the IAA from now on, with a focus on passenger vehicles in odd years, and a focus on commercial vehicles in even years. The first IAA focused solely on "passenger cars", held in 1991, was a huge success. A total of 1,271 exhibitors from 43 countries displayed their new products and innovations. With more than 935,000 visitors, the IAA Passenger Cars was extremely well attended. In 1992 the first IAA "commercial vehicles" took place in Hanover, Germany. It saw 1,284 exhibitors from 29 countries and gathered 287,000 people, 66 per cent being trade visitors.
In 2001 the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York cast a shadow over the IAA in Frankfurt. The exhibition went ahead all the same. As a mark of solidarity with the victims and their dependants, all show elements and loud music as well as the official opening ceremony with the Federal Chancellor were cancelled. VDA President Gottschalk explained this decision: "Because we could not permit terrorist forces to take away our freedom of action. And because, as a key international sector, we have a responsibility not to allow things to grind to a halt." In an impressive manner, the general public confirmed that this indeed was the right decision to take: More than 800,000 people visited this "quiet IAA".
During the Great Recession, in 2009, the IAA Cars proved to be a magnet for visitors. Around 850,000 people visited the IAA, which greatly exceeded the target of 750,000. This IAA, which took place under the headline "A Moving Experience", showed where the mobility of tomorrow is heading. A huge number of options were presented at the IAA, ranging from the mild hybrid and the plug-in hybrid to the all-electric car, fuel cells and hydrogen power.
In 2011 the 63rd IAA featured the all-new "Hall of Electric Mobility", a first-timer to all Motor Shows worldwide. Additional IAA-premieres included the Electric Mobility Conference as well as the CarIT Conference dealing with the issue of connected driving.