To say this week’s Frankfurt motor show is about green cars is about as obvious as saying it is about cars with windows and wheels.
The headlong rush by every manufacturer to produce or propose models emitting low – or no – CO2 has become such a ‘given’ over the past four or five international motor shows that you have to look deeper for the real trends.
Frankfurt’s huge car celebration has at least four of them. First, it shows (despite recent British experience) that the big, product-studded motor shows can still be highly relevant, provided it is backed a large, diverse local car industry with a pressing need to publicise new cars. The genre has not gone away.
Second, Frankfurt strongly indicates that most of the big industry players have found ways of coping with a sales downswing comonly described as “between 20 and 50 percent” and now believe we have reached or passed the bottom of the slump.
Third, the show seems to forecast – if the platoons of industry soothsayers present are right – that a recovery to pre-2008 sales levels will take several years (and in some cases will never be reached).
Fourth, it indicates a strong belief that cars of all kinds, which worked before in the market, will work again.
The build up
Take fast, expensive cars. For all the talk of greening, traditional powerful and high-performing cars are everywhere – at least in association with the show if not actually present.
On the way to Frankfurt, many hacks diverted to the launches of a new 200 mph McLaren and a new four-door Bugatti concept (both with the regulation efficiency stories attached) and within the Frankfurt portals they also clapped eyes for the first time on the Mercedes SLS AMG gullwing supercar, and Aston Martin’s Rapide.
All four – costing £150,000-plus – excuse themselves from the alleged economy rush by pointing to useful efficiency improvements and tiny sales volumes that won’t affect overall levels of atmospheric CO2, or make any difference to world fossil fuel levels.
Bentley versus Rolls-Royce
One unmissable big car event is the polite, once-in-a-generation confrontation between a brand new £200k Rolls saloon (the Ghost) and a new £200k Bentley (the Mulsanne). Most observers give the decision narrowly in favour of the Rolls, whose chiselled shape integrates sweetly with the full-size Phantom, but most now see that the Bentley’s design was done done no favours by a set of pre-launch photos which did not show it well.
The battle between these two will be bloody, and Bentley may find a useful advantage in selling engines which can burn alcohol-based E85 fuel as easily as petrol. However, the big point about these huge and powerful cars is that each has confident backers, convinced that rich buyers will still want them now the storm is abating.
New mainstream cars crowd Frankfurt in numbers, many of them illustrating one of the sobering truths of the modern era – that car-makers nowadays spend more time and money on engine calibration than styling.
GM’s new Astra looks competent, without stopping the traffic, and so does Ford’s new C-Max. Renault is showing a mid-sized saloon aimed at Turkey and Russia, called Fluence (a name once applied to the most beautiful of concepts), which looks positively dowdy.
The new Kia Sorento ditches the high successful original model’s sharp shape in favour of something ritzy but anonymous (though this company does redeem itself, against the trend, with a pretty MPV, about the size of a Citroen C3 Picasso, called Venga). At least Seat’s IBZ (near-production Ibiza estate proposal) and Skoda’s Superb estate both looked right, and ready for action.
The concepts and the electrics
Wild concepts are hard to find. VW’s electric Up! concept – confirmed by group boss Martin Winterkorn as production-ready – looks neat and pretty, but curiously unadventurous compared with the original, engine-under-the-seat originals.
Mercedes’ bewildering array of ‘Blue-something’ hybrids and concepts show off the company’s awe-inspiring technical grasp, but say almost nothing about how M-B will get back to making beautiful cars.
Only the French – Citroen with its ‘contemporary’ Revolte, Peugeot with its skeletal four-seat urban ‘pod’ and Renault with its quartet of electric cars – were prepared to take a risk.
Ironically, every one of Renaults improbably-futuristic electric concepts – the bulky Fluence saloon, the jaunty Kangoo van, the enticing Twizy tandem four-wheel, two-seat scooter and the far-out Zoe supermini – will be in production by the beginning of 2012, and Renault, with partners will have devised and sponsored a network of charging stations and plug-in, plug-out battery swap stations. Now you’re talking!
Click the links below to see the top ten stars of the show :
Frankfurt motor show
Frankfurt motor show
Abarth 500 Ferrari, Abarth Grande Punto SuperSport, Alfa Romeo 159s, Alfa Romeo Cloverleaf, Aston Rapide, Audi R8 electric car, Audi R8 Spyder, Audi S5 Sportback, Bentley Mulsanne, BMW Vision ED, BMW X1, BMW X6 Tycoon Evo, BMW hybrids, BMW 3-series ED saloon, Citroen DS3, Citroen C3, Citroen Revolte, Dodge Caliber, Ferrari 458 Italia, Fiat Punto Evo, Fiat Sedici updates, Fiat Qubo Trekking, Ford C-Max, Ford Focus BEV, Ford Ecoboost, Grand Ford C-Max, G-Wiz electric cars, Hyundai ix-metro concept, Hyundai ix35, Hyundai i10 electric, Hyundai Sante Fe, Jaguar XJ, Kia Venga, Kia Cee'd facelift, Kia Sorento, Kia hybrids, Kia round-up, Lamborghini Reventon roadster, Lexus LF-Ch, Lexus IS, Lotus Club racer, Lotus Evora racer, Maserati GranCabrio, Mazda MX-5 Superlight, Mazda CX-7, Mercedes SLS, Mercedes B-class F-cell, Mercedes BlueZero E-cell, 88.3mpg Mercedes S-class, 740bhp Mercedes S600, Electric Mercedes SLS, Mercedes E-class estate, Mini Coupe Concept, Mini Coupe Concept on video, Mini Roadster revealed, Nissan Leaf, Peugeot RCZ, Peugeot BB1 'scooter car', " target="_self">Peugeot 5008 MPV, Peugeot RCZ hybrid, Porsche 911 GT3 Cup race car, Porsche 911 GT3 RS, Limited edition Range Rover Sport, Renault electric concepts, Renault Fluence electric car, RS Megane gets lap timer, Rolls-Royce Ghost, Saab 9-5, Seat Ibz concept shows estate, Seat Leon Cupra R, Skoda Superb estate, Subaru Legacy and Outback, Plug-in Prius, Toyota Auris hybrid, Toyota Land Cruiser, Vauxhall Astra, Vauxhall Insignia Ecoflex ST, Volvo C70, Volvo C30, Volvo C30 R-design, Volvo XC60 R-Design, VW L1 concept, VW Golf R20, VW Polo three-door, VW Polo Bluemotion, VW E-Up, Wiesmann Roadster MF5.