Within the International Auto Show circuit Frankfurt shares the month of September with Paris. Alternating each year between the two major European cities this major exhibition hosts the representatives of the automotive industry and media alike. Being an odd year, Frankfurt was the host for 2005. To accommodate the many releases scheduled, a third press day was added to the original two. Officially not all stands were open on the first day, which was mainly used by the German manufacturers to launch their new products. Despite Germany’s poor economic situation the focus was primarily on high-end products like convertibles, SUVs and luxury sedans. Another continuing trend of recent motor shows are the alternative fuel systems which of course took centre stage again. With the recent fuel price increases this topic is hotter than ever before.
We were on sight and captured the many unveilings and introductions in words and a 225-shot
To hybrid or not to hybrid?
At first opportunity this question was answered positively by the Japanese manufacturers, but their initial products were not well received. After the Toyota Prius was awarded ‘European car of the year’, many European manufacturers were abruptly woken up. Mercedes Benz, BMW and Audi were among those who introduced ‘hybrid’ concepts. The Audi Q7 ‘Hybrid’ became a controversial subject; instead of using an integrated drive system the electronic engine could only be engaged by the driver and unfortunately produced a minimal amount of power. BMW’s ongoing research in the use of hydrogen was joined by the introduction of an extremely efficient electronic injection system. At the Lexus stand it was business as usual with the introduction of another luxury hybrid; the GS450h.
Coupe, Convertible or both?
With winter on its way in the Northern hemisphere it didn't seem like the ideal time to introduce new convertibles, but in recent years a wonderful solution has arisen; the retractable hard top. Releases from Volkswagen, Nissan and Volvo joined the ever-growing club of schizophrenic two-doors. The lack of luggage space with the roof down and the added weight of the complex construction does not make it an ideal solution. Lamborghini expanded their line with a fourth vehicle; the Gallardo Spyder uses a more traditional (but now seemingly old fashioned) fabric roof. Not that there was any usable luggage space to begin with however.
In contrast, Porsche and BMW turned things around with the introduction of coupe versions of their roadsters. Derived from the Boxster, Porsche’s new tin top is dangerously named Cayman after one of the largest of the crocodile species. Although still in concept form, the Z4 Coupe shown by BMW will almost certainly make it to production. Although both cars were based on previous designs, they were among the most interesting novelties in the show.
Safe, safer, safest
While introducing the all new S-Class, head of the Mercedes Car Group Dieter Zetsche spent most of his time describing all the new safety equipment in detail. These included both active and passive safety, which covers crash prevention and protection respectively. For the former to work flawlessly all other cars on the road should be equipped with similar equipment as well, so let’s hope special care has been given to rear impact protection. Inside and out the built quality of the new Mercedes flagship seemed to be up the levels of the mid 1990s again, so there is little doubt the new S-Class will remain the top seller in its niche segment.
Vive la France!
France has long been known for their fine food and wine, but in recent years the country's auto manufacturers have grown into cutting edge designers. Renault’s Patrick le Quement should be especially commended as under his guidance the company has introduced a full line of exciting vehicles. At Frankfurt the third generation Clio was introduced, which was livened up with the funky Sport Concept. A future move into the SUV market was hinted with the unveiling of the Egeus Concept.
Puegeot have never been shy to construct rather outrageous concept cars and they outdid themselves with the three wheeled 20Cup twins. In addition, the Portuguese winner of Peugeot’s bi-annual design competition saw his design turned into the Moovie Concept.
Some of the finest historic vehicles are those that received custom coachwork. These unique or rare cars are top contenders in concours d’elegance around the world. Mass production, changes in vehicle design and strict safety regulations have made the fine art of customizing almost extinct. The tuners are often regarded as the modern day equivalent, but they concentrate mainly on modifying the details and not the complete car. In Frankfurt the first new coachbuilder of the 21st century introduced itself; Fisker Coachbuild. The company is founded and head by Henrik Fisker, the designer of stylish beauties such as the BMW Z8 and the Aston Martin DB9. Two new cars were shown on the stand, which started out as a BMW and a Mercedes Benz before completely being rebodied. None of the safety features have been disturbed, so despite looking completely different they are still completely road legal, even in the United States. To ensure exclusivity, only 150 examples of each are planned to be produced.
Three hectic days later and a couple of thousand shots richer we have returned from the world’s biggest motor show with mixed feelings. Overall the quality and quantity of introductions was high, but there were no real ‘star cars.’ This might be contributed to the absense of Italian design houses and niche manufacturers. For the first spectators to visit the show on Saturday September 17th there is still more than enough to see in the many car filled halls of the Frankfurt Messe. A preview of what they will see is compiled in our 225-shot slideshow