Briefly, Merc’s people looked like compounding the error with a 6.3-litre AMG version of their R-class monster-wagon, but made a neat recovery by pointing out that the diesel R-class (320 CDi) was more fuel-efficient on the combined cycle than the Lexus RX400h, Europe’s hybrid of the moment.
Lexus had its own hybrid horsepower moment, unwrapping its new petrol-electric performance saloon the GS450h, reputed to have a total of 340bhp on tap with the fuel consumption of a 2.0-litre four. BMW had the tone-it-down message, though. Its terrific Z4 coupe had a mild-mannered 260bhp straight-six.
Wherever you went, the air was full of hybrid talk. Honda had one for the new Civic, Porsche and VW announced plans to co-operate over a series of them. DaimlerChrysler, GM and BMW added flesh to the deal they announced recently. So important was it to have a hybrid car that Smart’s Ulrich Walker revealed one in the Crosstown concept — while also announcing that such power units weren’t much cop in cars so small. Looking back from the end of this decade, Frankfurt 2005 will probably be the show at which car makers got serious about hybrids for production.
Right across the show, manufacturers continued their efforts to make appealing niche models. It’s the same for everyone nowadays: you produce a plethora of alternatives, all to high design and development standards, knowing only some will survive. Sounds wasteful, but it’s business.
Nearly everyone had some kind of mid-sized 4x4 because, despite a recent tabloid-led backlash, industry researchers see no lessening of the strong demand for them. The best and most progressive concepts (Renault Egeus, Opel Antara) showed how designers will deflect future criticism of 4x4s by equipping them with a more curvaceous, slightly lower ‘coupé’ rooflines.
Whether reporter, designer or industry bigwig, everyone went to see the Chinese cars. You couldn’t get into them, and it was just as hard to get your tongue around some of the names (‘I drive a Jiangling Fengshang’). The quality standards were awful, too, but the main thing was that the cars were there at all. Laid-back industry aficionados say it’ll be a decade before the Chinese can make inroads in a place like Frankfurt. Wiser heads know it’ll be a lot sooner.