After a hiatus of six months, the international manufacturers shot back into action for the bi-annual Frankfurt Motorshow; the Internationale Automobil Ausstellung (IAA). In the lengthy ‘summer break’, many new models were released like the Fiat 500 and the BMW M3, but the future production models and concept cars were saved for Frankfurt. This year the world premiers consisted of an interesting mix of environmental friendly machines and no-expense spared high performance sports cars. In a two-day preview all of these debutants were shown to the collected media and industry specialists. Amazingly the biggest hype was created by the arrival of Michael Schumacher on the Ferrari stand to unveil the 430 Scuderia. It got so crowded on the stand that the Ferrari people were forced to clear out the snappers and filmers to make some space. Our photographers took a peak and quickly took off to explore other halls. Their work has been compiled in a 230-shot slideshow
and this brief report on the latest trends, movers and shakers.
Germans go green
Not so long ago, producing environmentally friendly cars was not a priority in Germany, but rising petrol prices and the recent popularity of hybrids have seen especially BMW and Mercedes Benz roll over each other to develop greener products. BMW first endeavored into hydrogen powered machines, but production of these is still a long way away due to physical size of the hydrogen tanks. At Frankfurt the Munchen based company showcased a new X6 Concept, powered by a hybrid engine. Like the Porsche Cayenne Hybrid also on display at Frankfurt, these larger hybrid engined machines are more a product of the marketing department than of a genuine desire to make the world a better place. Sadly the expense involved in cramming in the electric motors and batteries still do not make small hybrids a viable option without the tax-cuts cars like the Toyota Prius rely on.
Taking centre stage at the Mercedes Benz stand was the F700, which was housed the world’s first ‘Diesotto’ engine and also a highly advanced interior, complete with a Sushi-bar. The four cylinder engine was most interesting, which combines the best of the diesel and otto designs; it’s both frugal and powerful. Thanks to a variable compression ratio, the petrol engine uses homogeneous combustion (no spark) except during start-up and at full throttle. It is also the first engine to be equipped with both a two-stage turbo and direct fuel injection. We will have to wait just a little longer before the Diesotto will enter production, but several of its innovations will be fitted to production models as soon as next year. A Mercedes Benz engineer also told us that all engines currently under development are designed with the option of having a hybrid drive added.
Earlier this year, at the NAIAS in Detroit, General Motors showed a very interesting way forward with the Volt concept. Unlike the familiar hybrids, this experimental car no longer uses its petrol engine to drive the wheels; instead it serves only to generate electricity for the electric motors. This allows the engine to run in its most efficient rev-range all the time. Thanks to the batteries charged at home, the engine would not need to run at all for short runs. In Frankfurt Opel released the Flextreme show car, which used the same drive train. Volvo also jumped on the bandwagon this week with the similar C30 ReCharge. To make this setup really interesting and affordable, battery technology needs to be further developed. GM have already requested congress to help fund the battery technology development and maybe the European Union can also help out, instead of just setting stricter emissions limits.
Enough is clearly not enough
Quite in contrast with the aforementioned developments, many of the premium manufacturers continue to bring out ludicrously powerful machines. Really, it wasn’t long ago when a measly 300 bhp was sufficient to bring the kids to school or soccer practice. Clearly not in Audi’s books, who used this occasion to release the new RS6, packed with enough horsepower (580) to reach warp-speed (roads permitting of course). The ‘reason’ the RS6 needs all those horses, is to get competitive performance figures, despite its kerb weight of over two tons. Colin Chapman already explained us many decades ago that the best way to gain more performance is to ‘add less weight’. That’s exactly what Ferrari have done with the 430 Scuderia; considerably lighter and slightly more powerful than the existing F430 Coupe. There is little wrong with the racer for the road Ferrari, except for its name; who wants to take the ‘racing team’ out for a Sunday afternoon spin?
While we were in Monterey for the Pebble Beach week, news reached us through word of mouth that Lamborghini was previewing something very special to a select group of potential customers. At Frankfurt the rumors were proven to be correct as the Italians took the wraps off the ‘Reventon’. Limited to just 20 examples, it takes the Murcielago design two steps further with a wilder exterior, more luxurious interior and 10 extra horses; a Lamborghini in the tradition of the Countach. The new bull’s exclusivity does come at the rather steep price of €1 million.
From the show floor to the show room
The single most important new production car shown at Frankfurt was no doubt the Jaguar XF; the future of the company pretty much relies on the success of the S-Type replacement. Designed by Ian Callum, the four-door sedan is a clear departure of the retro-look of the S-Type and the XJ. The close observer will however detect numerous details that hint back at Jaguar’s rich design heritage. Compared to the similar concept car shown to much acclaim at Detroit in January, there are several changes. That concept car was in fact created after the XF’s design was finalized and Callum explained that in the future more of the concept’s design elements will be used. With its bold design and nice range of engines, the new Jag could be a hit, but it is up against strong competition.
Other noteworthy production debuts included the new Renault Laguna, Peugeot 308 and Mini Clubman.
As mentioned earlier, the IAA was a real mixed bag and it is obvious that the manufacturers are still looking for a balance between the sensible and the outrageous. Hopefully in the future both can be combined, but until then we welcome both. It is an exciting time with manufacturers working seriously on ground-breaking technology for the first time in many years.