Shock and awe at world’s top motor show
The Frankfurt show proves the motor industry isn’t just surviving — it’s thriving, says Steve Cropley
THERE MAY NEVER be another motor show as action-packed as this year’s extraordinary Frankfurt event. It featured so many important events and new car launches, including a colossal show of strength from the German car makers, that it crossed a vital threshold: you could no longer hope to see the highlights scattered among its 11 exhibition halls in just one day.
Blame the recession. The biennial German event is traditionally Europe’s biggest by far, but for 2011 a large number of new-model programmes, delayed due to the recession, collided with the many that continued as usual. And they were in turn hit from behind by other launches brought forward once their backers discovered, after 2008’s market collapse, that although the recessionary market was bad, it wasn’t bottomless. And that great cars still sell.
This year, foot-borne attendees faced a new hazard: the possibility of being hit from behind themselves by one of the many noiseless, batterypowered Opel Amperas, Citroën DS5 HYbrid4s or Mercedes-Benz B-class F-cells laid on as shuttles to save visitors the kilometrelong trek connecting Hall 2 with Hall 11. Hybrids and battery cars were everywhere, but so were observations among those who know the market that electric cars aren’t selling well, mainly because manufacturers keep achieving ever-lower CO2 figures from conventional cars.
Each of the German prestige marques now has its own huge stand at Frankfurt’s exhibition centre, structures that seem at odds with the financial uncertainties that continue to affect so much of Europe. But BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz have been selling cars and earning profits almost without restraint this past couple of years.
For them, there is no slowdown. Just take Audi. If you counted everything from the A5 coupé’s facelift to its urban mobility concepts, via the revival of the A2 as a baby EV, you had eight or nine new things. The same went for Mercedes and BMW. But undoubtedly the best of the German big three’s products were BMW’s sublime electric i3 and hybrid i8, which not only show what the next generation’s cars will be like, but surely provide reassurance that car lovers will want to own them.
BMWi3,i8 The i3 and i8 will go on sale in 2013 with high prices, but BMW R&D chief Klaus Draeger hinted the i3 would likely to be leased in a deal including limited use of a larger vehicle such as an X5.
PORSCHE 911 The new 991 may be bigger and more refined than the 997, but the new 395bhp Carrera S has already lapped the Nürburgring in 7min 40sec — 13 seconds quicker than its outgoing predecessor.
This year it was terribly difficult to decide whether any single model could be described as a show star. Jaguar and Land Rover provided tremendous interest with well executed, credible and handsome concepts, and both made you proud of the superior design capabilities that still repose in this country. But you couldn’t quite believe how much an international audience seemed to care about a proposal to replace the 63-year-old Defender.
The lovely Jaguar C-X16 attracted even more attention, though it had a serious drawback:
its awkward positioning with the Land Rovers and away from the rest of the Jaguars. JLR seems more and more consumed with a regrettable need to portray itself as “one company, two marques”, even at the cost of giving one of its key models a poor display. There’s even a new JLR logo, which some of us are bound to see as an emblem for distraction at the top.
On the C-X16, I did hear one or two critics saying it struggled a little too hard notto be the E-type replacement, but as you stood and took it in, it looked beautiful and a sure seller.
Aproliferation ofPriuses Toyota launched two new Prius models — the seven-seat Prius+ and the plug-in hybrid — accompanied by a facelift that featured a new front bumper, lights and grille.
Brabus embraces batteries Specialist Mercedes tuner Brabus launched a four-wheel-drive electric E-class at Frankfurt with 429bhp and a whopping 2360lb ft of torque. It’s good for a claimed 217-mile range.
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Big halls, big stands and huge numbers of cars
‘It was terribly difficult to decide whether any single model was a show star’
Opinions seemed divided on the beauty of the six Up concepts, from conventional hot hatch to beach buggy via five-door baby MPV, shown on Volkswagen’s vast stand, but this may have been a factor of the ultra-powerful lighting and all-pervading whiteness of the surroundings, which were clean and modern but somehow oppressive as well.
Hard-pressed Seat and booming Skoda both showed handsome Golf-sized saloons (unhelpfully labelled IBL and MissionL respectively), while Lamborghini showed a model some rather cynically labelled a “hardcore Gallardo run-out ◊
FORDEVOS The Evos concept’s design will next be seen on the new Mondeo at January’s Detroit show.
Bentley’s inside job Bentley accompanied the launch of the new Continental GTC with a Mulsanne Executive Interior Concept. Features included Apple iPads and drop-down LCD TV screens.
Artega makes electric switch Low-volume German sports car maker Artega launched an all-electric version of its mid-engined GT. The SE’s twin electric motors produce 270bhp and it can hit 62mph in 3.9sec.
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