This was one of the most exciting and optimistic days for years in the life of the European motor industry. It wasn’t just the fact that car makers rolled out record numbers of new models and concepts on day one that made Frankfurt ’07 so special. It was also the sheer quality and relevance of the exhibits at coping with the two burning issues that challenge all car makers: making cars that people actively desire (nowadays the only true guarantee of sales success) while increasing the depth, capability and affordability of the ‘green’ models that every range now has to contain.
‘Trump Toyota’ seemed to be a persistent theme, even among German and French marques, who up to now have loudly claimed that the Number One manufacturer’s phenomenally successful petrol hybrid cars (spearheaded by the Prius), contained costly and irrelevant technology that could be beaten in the real world by well set-up turbodiesels.
This year, however, well-advanced hybrid concepts were to be found on most major manufacturers’ stands, most prominently inside Mercedes-Benz’s mammoth pavilion, which featured a varied dozen of petrol, turbodiesel and stop-start hybrids. They surrounded the company’s arresting F700 concept, a low-roof, S-class-sized saloon with a huge, elongated cabin but some more mature CLS overtones, powered by a 1.8-litre, four-cylinder ‘DiesOtto’ engine combining the best of petrol and diesel motors to pump out nearly 240bhp while producing only a miserly 126g/km of CO2. Those figures would simply be impossible using today’s technology.
Over at BMW, punters gasped as the wraps came off the firm’s startling X6 4x4 coupé concept, a car for which few of us could imagine a target customer. It was a hybrid, of course, but it had the virtue of introducing a new drive system, dreamed up and pushed through by recently departed technical chief, Burkhard Göschel, which not only splits drive torque variably from front to rear, but also from side to side at the rear, to eliminate the understeer typical of present systems on turn-in on snowy roads.