Live report: Frankfurt Motor Show
Dispatches from the floor of the Frankfurt Motor Show on the press day
Tuesday 15 September 2009
A big stand for Kia, who are on a bit of a roll at the moment. Centrepiece was the impressive new Sorento on which we've already reported in detail. The new small Venga was also on show – it should be a powerful new weapon in Kia's arsenal (sorry – it's been a long day).
Over in the enormous Volkswagen hall, there were some new Audis but they all look the same to me so I couldn't pick them out during my quick visit towards the end of the day. Far more interesting among the VW-owned brands were Skoda, with its big new Superb estate, and Bentley which showed its magnificent-looking new top-of-the range Mulsanne – some people say the Mulsane's curvy sides bring to mind the flanks of the old Mark III “Coke bottle” Cortina but I can't really see it myself.
Over at Renault, the most interesting cars weren't badged as Renaults at all. Renault still hasn't got around to importing its Romanian Dacia brand to the UK (very approximately, Dacia is to Renault what Skoda is to Volkswagen). There was a new chunkified version of the little Sandero, called Stepway but my eye was still drawn to the Logan MCV – this has been out for quite a few years now but it's still a fascinating car. Wouldn't you like to be able to buy a small but long economical estate car, available with three rows of seats for just over ten grand?
Overall impressions of this year's show? Perhaps a little less lavish than in the past, with fewer of the elaborate multi-storey stands or outdoor displays, but most of the manufacturers still seem to think its worth the effort. Honda, though, was a significant no-show. Several manufacturers never used to bother with the UK motor shows but it's literally unheard of for a big player not to show at Frankfurt, so some, at least are beginning to question the whole circus and its associated expense.
Lots to see at Mercedes, which as usual occupies the “Festhalle” the oldest part of the Frankfurt exhibition complex. Mercedes is going big on low-emissions vehicles at this year's show; as well as hybrid and other fuel-saving versions of its standard road cars, the company is also showing the Concept Blue Zero low emission concept car, and the F-Cell version of the B-Class which will be made in small numbers and is powered by batteries and a hydrogen fuel cell. I recently had the chance to drive the B-Class F-Cell – more on that in a separate report for the Motoring section of the Indy's website on Mercedes' low emissions initiatives soon.
Two big new model announcements from Mercedes this time; the SLS, which replaces the SLR McLaren in Mercedes' range; in fact it will be a competitor for McLaren's own new road car which should be roughly in the same bracket; it will be interesting how the two cars of the former partners (actually still partners in Formula 1) fare against each other. The other important launch is for the E-Class estate; the saloon and coupe versions of the E-Class introduced earlier this year were very well received, so expect the estate to gather lots of favourable reviews as well.
Finally, something that's not new at all, the G-Wagen is a tough old thing and this year Mercedes' first off-roader celebrates its 30th year in production. Mind you, Land Rover's Defender has a continuous history that goes back about twice as far, so the G still has a bit of catching up to do.
The Koreans are coming - that's one of the big stories of the motor industry at the moment. Sister brands Kia and Hyundai in particular are bringing out impressive new models that match mainstream European and Japanese products every few months now, and, combined, now form the fourth-largest automotive group in the world.
Kia has recently launched the new Sorento SUV – here are two of Hyundai's new 4x4s. First, the ix55, a largish SUV that slots into the Hyundai range above the existing Santa Fe – broadly speaking a Land Rover Discovery competitor. The other new Hyundai SUV is the ix35; this replaces the rather ungainly Tucson as Hyundai's offering in the Freelander bracket. Both Hyundais are predictably handsome designs – Hyundai and Kia are putting a lot of work into making their cars look good – but perhaps lack a bit of character, or what might be called a distinctively "Hyundai" identity.
Now for some sporty German stuff. First up a bit of a curiosity – a Melkus. Melkus was East Germany's only sports car manufacturer.
How it was possible to produce an exotic gull-wing doored racer in a Soviet-style planned economy economy is a bit of a mystery, but a Mr Melkus managed to do it somehow. Now his son and grandson have come up with this new post-Cold War version, which is probably going to be better in just about every way, but which still clearly draws its inspiration from the original.
The main attraction at Porsche's stand is the four-door, four-seater Panamera – it's not entirely new but the Frankfurt Motor Show is probably the first chance most punters will get to see it. Long, low and wide, it looks a bit like a stretched 911. The main competitor for the Panamera is likely to be the Aston Martin Rapide saloon, also launched at the show.
I mentioned Wiesmann - a sort of German TVR - earlier on. This is the rather lurid MF5 version of the company's roadster, which borrows the engine of BMW's M5 super-saloon.
Not strictly German (in fact it owes a lot to Lotus) is the Tesla Roadster, probably the only electric car produced so far that a real enthusiast could be happy to own. There is a German link, though; Mercedes recently took a shareholding in Tesla as part of its push into low-emissions technology. The Roadster is a known quantity but Tesla also showed its sleek Model S, the largish saloon car it expects to sell to customers from 2012.
Land Rover is showing the impressive 2010 upgrades to its four-car range, which we've already covered at some length.
The Discovery and Range Rover Sport have been given particularly heavy makeovers which give them a much more luxurious feel and far more poised bahaviour on the road. The V6 diesel engine that most buyers of those cars opt for has been given a big power boost too. The mainstream Range Rover has been given a bit of a revamp too.
Jaguar has its new XJ saloon on show, although that was also under a sheet awaiting its unveiling when I made it to the stand this morning.
Lotus is displaying its new Evora. This is positioned as a competitor for the Porsche Cayman and takes Lotus into market territory it hasn't attempted to conquer since it discontinued the Esprit several years ago. Looks great – but will that be enough?
It's only a few months since Fiat joined with Chrysler of the US and now at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the two manufacturers are sharing a hall.
Chrysler stands to win a great deal by tapping Fiat's expertise in small cars and diesel engines, but it's probably too early to tell whether the Americans will make the most of that opportunity.
Neither Fiat nor Chrysler seemed to have a lot of new stuff but Maserati and Ferrari, the luxury brands associated with Fiat more than made up for that. Ferrari was showing the 458 Italia, the car that everyone's drooling over at the moment, while Maserati had its new GranTurismo. That was lurking under a sheet awaiting its official unveiling when I went past but we've previously shown photos of it in the Motoring News, so I can still tell you that it looks pretty good.
Two other cars in the Fiat hall that weren't new but will still be unfamiliar to UK car buyers – the Polo-sized Lancia Ypsilon and the Golf-sized Lancia Delta. Fiat's up-market car brand stopped selling its products in the UK years ago, so this is a chance to see what you're missing.
Still haven't heard from the man at Rolls-Royce, so no more details on the Ghost yet.
BMW is showing its dramatic Vision EfficentDynamics concept which we featured as a news item yesterday.
This caused such a stir that when I went through BMW's hall shortly after the show opened its doors, I couldn't actually get a glimpse of it, because of the crowds. Despite the dramatic styling, it's what's under the skin of the Vision EfficientDynamics that's really important – in particular the hybrid drive system with its three-cylinder diesel engine and electric motors.
The new Rolls Royce Ghost
Elsewhere on the BMW stand there was a chance to see the new 5-Series Gran Turismo, an odd hatch/estate crossover, which I fear is aimed at a niche Mercedes has already proved doesn't exist with the R-Class. That said, it does look a bit sleeker in the metal than I'd expected it to. It also has a clever tailgate that can be opened either as a normal boot-lid or as a full hatch – but Skoda got there first with its slightly simpler Twindoor system.
Also in the BMW group hall is the handsome new Rolls-Royce Ghost. I'm afraid I can't tell you anything about that as Rolls-Royce wouldn't give me a press pack for bureaucratic reasons that are too boring to go into here. I've emailed a man at Rolls and we'll see if he can fix this by the end of the day. I was able to get a few snaps of it, though.
BMW's 5-series Gran Turismo
Perhaps the most important launch of the entire show is that of the Vauxhall/Opel Astra. The German government has just pulled off a much-criticised rescue of GM's European operations and the future of Vauxhall and Opel now depends heavily on how the new Astra performs in the market. Vauxhall's Ellesmere Port plant on Merseyside is the lead plant for the new car, so lots of jobs are at stake here in the UK. The new Astra looks fine but as ever the real test will be how it performs on the road.
Next, a curiosity. The UK used to rule the roost where low-volume sports car manufacture was concerned but now there are a few German companies who are doing the same sort of thing. One is Wiesmann, which makes a sort of German TVR. Another is Artega which produces this attractive mid-engined sports car – it's a Cayman competitor, I suppose. The engine is a VW/Audi V6.
A highlight at the Citroen stand is the new C3. This example has the new “Zenith” windscreen that extends into the roof, providing front seat occupants with 80% more visibility, it is claimed. This isn't an entirely new idea but the results are still striking.
The new Opel Astra
Peugeot is showing the new 3008, a crossover SUV/people-carrier that is closest in concept to Nissan's Qashqai and Skoda's new Yeti. Peugeot has struggled a bit in recent years to invest its cars with the sort of zip that models such as the 205 and 405 displayed, but at least it's making an effort.
Subaru is showing its new Mondeo-sized Legacy saloon and estate. I think the Legacy's looks represent an advance over those of the outgoing model but as ever with Subaru, it's the mechanical bits – in particular, the boxer engine and the “symmetrical” all-wheel drive system – that are going to get the true fans excited. I'll be driving the new Legacy in a few weeks' time and will provide a full report then.
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