Toyota I-Unit concept. Click image to enlarge
Story and photos by Paul Williams
Frankfurt, Germany – Billing itself as the world’s largest motor show, the 61st Internationale Automobile-Ausstellung (IAA) in Frankfurt features around 1,000 exhibitors from 44 countries spread among 10 huge buildings. This year, approximately 100 new models were scheduled for introduction, along with the full array of updated existing models from Europe, Asia and North America, and a generous helping of concepts from many manufacturers.
The theme this year was “Cars – Pure Fascination,” and indeed there were many fascinating vehicles on display. But there were also some interesting trends, with some of the more obvious being the presence of several Chinese car manufacturers, the numerous convertible cars (many with convertible hardtops) and the increased attention to vehicle and pedestrian safety.
Convertibles continue to appeal, and several manufacturers introduced new open-top versions of their cars. The elegant and all-new Volvo C70 impressed with its three-piece hardtop that folds into the trunk to reveal seating (and legroom) for four adults. The Volvo is also equipped with unique side curtain airbags that deploy upwards from the top of the doors.
Outdoors at the Frankfurt Motor Show
The Volkswagen Eos features a two-piece convertible hardtop that also folds and disappears into the trunk. The Eos replaces the Golf Cabriolet after that car’s run (as Rabbit and Golf) of thirty years. Like the Volvo C70, the Volkswagen Eos is destined for Canada, possibly as a 2007 model.
From Audi, the A4 Cabriolet acquires the exterior design and bold new grille of its sedan siblings. Its soft top can be raised or lowered at speeds up to 30 km/h. Also from Audi, although obviously not a convertible, the Q7 SUV is another variant of the Volkswagen Touareg/Porsche Cayenne, and rounds out the Audi line-up.
Aston Martin is a luxury marque that’s gaining ground, and its Vanquish S V12 attracted attention throughout the show’s press preview days. It’s the fastest road car in the history of Aston Martin, and arrives with a 6.0 litre, 520 horsepower V12 engine, and optimized aerodynamics. The big GT reaches 100 km/h in a shade under 5.0 seconds. Aston Martin also makes a convertible called the Volante, and a V8 Vantage.
Bentley and Lamborghini also unveiled convertible models of the Azure and Gallardo respectively. The Azure was initially shown in Los Angeles as a concept called the Arnage Drophead Coupe. Like the Aston Martin, the Gallardo Spyder generates 520 hp, although from a V10, rather than a V12 engine. It speeds to 100 km/h in 4.3 seconds.
Most consumers won’t be driving exotics, however, and as with North America, Europe receives a new Honda Civic for 2006. However, it’s quite a different-looking model than ours. In Europe the Civic wears a more radical design and is available as a racy four-door hatchback (the rear doors have hidden vertical handles, Nissan Pathfinder-style). The continuous activity and interest in this car at the Honda stand made unobstructed pictures difficult to take, and clearly pleased the assembled Honda executives.
Competitors, journalists and consumers alike are applauding BMW’s success with the MINI brand. Canada is no exception, and sales of over 3,000 per year have quadrupled the company’s initial conservative estimates here. MINI introduced three variants and a concept, including the Mini Checkmate, which we’ll see in Canada. The MINI Checkmate is a sport version that features a chequered flag pattern between the front wheel-well and door, along with special wheels, seats and spoiler.
Several sub-compact cars were featured that we won’t see in Canada, like the Nissan Note, Hyundai Getz and Volkswagen Polo. But one we will receive is the new version of the Toyota Yaris (which is what the Echo Hatchback was called in Europe). It’s grown a little, providing more comfort for passengers in the surprisingly spacious interior, and features a striking new shape. Also from Toyota, the new RAV4 made its debut.
Other launches relevant to our market included the new Saab 9-5, the Kia Magentis and the Lexus SC 430.
Porsche showed its new Caymen S, a fixed roof version of the Boxster that will be powered and priced between the convertible Boxster and the 911 Coupe.
From Jaguar, the big news was the introduction of the all-new XK. Following an enthusiastic introduction from Ford and Jaguar executives, the car, which is now built on the XJ platform, was unveiled to warm (but not enthusiastic, in my view) applause. Jaguar chief designer Ian Callum spoke about Jaguar’s heritage and future, and how the XK embodied the company’s new look. But many in the crowd could be heard suggesting that the new XK was not a significant departure from the XK8 it will replace. Personally, I hoped a two-seat car would be shown, but the XK is another biggish 2+2, with tiny seats in the back that are suitable only for brief cases.
So sadly, still no Boxster fighter from Jaguar, but the company did reintroduce the Daimler nameplate, and will produce (in Europe at least) a model called the Super Eight that appears to be a version of the Jaguar XJ.
A new S-Class Mercedes-Benz is not big news for most consumers, given that it costs up to $200,000, but this is the top line Mercedes, and the company bills the S-Class as the brand’s technological pacesetter for safety, comfort and functionality. Features in cars like these will often point the way for equipment to be found in mainstream cars a few years down the road, so the car ironically has relevance for a broad market.
The new Brake Assist Plus system, for instance, uses radar to monitor vehicles ahead, and issues a warning when they come too close. If a collision threatens, the system calculates the optimum braking power required to avoid it. The seats have extended massage functions, and a night-view assistant uses infrared technology to improve vision for the driver in low-light conditions.
The S500 and flagship S600 vehicles have grown in all dimensions, with engines that yield 26 per cent more power.
Of the concept cars at Frankfurt, some were wild flights of fancy and others were close to production models. The Mazda MX Crossport will become the CX-7, scheduled for production in 2006, while bizarre creations from Peugeot and Toyota can only hint at future vehicles. Likewise, the Dodge Caliber is now close to production in its current form, and the interesting Jeep Compass, Jeep Patriot, and from BMW, the Z4 Coupe concept, are also likely close to production versions. The MINI Traveller Countryman concept may suggest future interpretations of that car.
Speaking of future interpretations, the smart Crosstown concept was a real head-turner that generated a lot of positive comment. It’s a really clever take on the Fortwo structure.
Chinese companies were present in Frankfurt, taking small steps into Europe (and likely into North America), checking out the scene, the competition and the reception.
One company, called Geeley, has a surprising brand called SMA, or Shanghai Maple Automobiles. Its Maple Leaf logo, even though it was blue, looks like something from the True North, as opposed to the Mysterious East.
Other Chinese companies like LandWind, Zhonghua, Chinese Dragon (CD), also presented vehicles at the show.
Finally, an old Canadian favourite (or maybe not), and in the “Whatever happened to…?” category,” the Lada Niva lives. The venerable Niva looks just as it did when it was imported to Canada, and isn’t much changed since its introduction in 1977. The current “Safari” version sports an elephant-bar across its grille, a ladder and a pair of fog lights.
Look at it this way: while some vehicles at Frankfurt may attain classic status sometime in the future, with the purchase of a Niva you don’t have to wait.
The 2005 Frankfurt Motor Show runs from Sept 17-25.