“Soon the concepts will have to move over for the showroom-ready variety, when sales have to be made to real people willing to part with real money. Good luck to the manufacturers with that project.”
Despite all the high-fallutin’ speeches about the environment, sustainability, electrification and new technology, small, cheap cars powered by internal combustion engines dominated the Frankfurt Car Show, led by the Volkswagen Up and Fiat Panda.
There were plenty of ideas for the future about electric cars with concepts from BMW, Audi and Renault, while Ford showed its impressive Evos sports car which won’t be produced, but which points to how its mainstream cars in Europe might look. There were the usual array of dream cars led by the new Ferrari 458 and the unlikely Kia GT, and some ugly ones, with the Mini Coupe vying with the Land Rover Defender for this booby prize. At least the Defender was a design exercise, implying that there is still time for it be changed.
The strangely named VW Up was the most commercially important car at the show, and marks the German market leader’s first serious attempt to attack the city car segment. This has grave implications for Chrysler owner Fiat, currently market leader with about 30 per cent, and other top Europeans like GM’s Opel-Vauxhall-Chevrolet, France’s Peugeot-Citroen and Renault, which have shares of just over 10 per cent in the city car market. One investment bank estimated that moderate success by VW, which will also include versions from its Skoda and SEAT subsdiaries and possibly Audi too, will slash about $500 million from Fiat’s annual operating profit.
Deciding on the name “Up” gives VW marketing operatives the chance to show off their sense of humour, with variants called the “Take Up”, for the entry level car, the “Move Up” with more stuff and the ultimate “High Up” version. The Up will also offer much new technology, with a system that automatically applies the brakes at up to 19 mph if the computer detects a collision (19 mph equates to 30 km/h if you’re wondering why this was speed was selected). It also has Navigon, a cell-phone like gadget which slots into the dashboard and becomes a display screen for navigation, phone, audio and useful information.
Up engines start with a 1.0 liter three-cylinder gasoline motor, and include diesel now and natural gas and electric later. Prices start at $13,600. Don’t expect this car to reach the U.S.
Fiat unveiled its new Panda, which has to be a winner if the threat from VW is to be fought off. The new Panda looks like a curvy and chubbier version of the old one and is a bit longer and wider. It has more leg room in the back and now has a rear seat which slides to either give more passenger space, or trunk room. The interior looks very trendy, and the car is powered by engines including a high-tech TwinAir 900 cc two-cylinder design. Natural gas and diesel versions will follow. This new Panda will be built in Italy, moving from the Poland plant where the retro-Fiat 500 for Europe and the current Panda is now built. No word on price, or if this little car will get to America.
I missed the Hyundai i30 launch during the show, so I’m late in discovering what an absolute gem it is. The styling is beautiful, so attractive that it is one of those rare cars which will sell on its good looks alone. You will see it, fall for it, and buy it. It wil pose a big threat to the new VW Golf, which we can rest assured will look bland, but will of course promise much in terms of reliability, flexibility, but not looks. The new i30 will go on sale in Europe early in 2012 as a five-door hatchback, and made at the company’s factory in Czechistan. You can choose from three petrol and three diesel engines.
Mercedes “B” class
Mercedes made a big deal about its electric pretensions at the show with its huge stand-alone exhibition hall carrying the slogan “electriCity”, and packing the foyer area with electric Smarts. Inside though internal combustion engines dominated, helped occasionally by electric hybrids. The “B” class was Mercedes most important new car at the show and this hatchback has been redesigned to make it more attractive. Given the blandness of the previous model, this must have been relatively easy. The new one is lower and more streamlined-looking and will be powered by four-cylinder gasoline direct-injection engines of 1.6 and 1.8 liters, and 2.0 liter diesels. Stop-start fuel-saving systems are standard, and there’s a seven-speed automatic as well as the six-speed manual gearbox. Mercedes CEO Dieter Zetsche said at the show that for the first time the “B” class, or its slightly smaller “A” class sibling might be sold in the U.S. from 2013. “B” class prices start at around $35,000 here, although Mercedes has given no hint what this might be in the U.S.
This spectacular looking Ford concept car won’t be appearing on European roads any time soon, but some of the design features might. Forget the gull-wing doors, but some of the design cues might show up in the new Ford Mondeo, as well as the plug-in hybrid technology.
Jaguar unveiled its idea for a smaller, cheaper roadster, which looks beautiful, but not very small. The CX-16 concept uses hybrid technology and much aluminum in its construction, and has a special performance button you can push to use the electric motor to give you a sudden, 10-second burst of acceleration.
BMW used the show to headline its electric concept cars, the i3 battery only subcompact due for launch in 2013, and the i8 hybrid supercar which will appear in 2014. BMW unveiled the second-generation I-series and this is longer and wider than the current model, although its design seems almost indistinguishable from the original car. The 1-series is BMW’s third best selling vehicle after the 3 and 5 series. Americans only get the coupe and convertible version of this hatchback, so expect new versions next year sometime, although you might be hard pressed to tell the new ones from the old ones.
Korea's ambitious Kia, looking to almost double sales in Europe to 500,000 by 2015 on the back of sales of its recently launched small cars the Picanto and Rio, showed it has more upmarket pretensions with this handsome new concept sports car, the GT. The GT looks stunning, but Kia wasn't ready to say whether the car will be given the go-ahead.
Fiat owns Maserati and Ferrari as well as Chrysler, and this over-the-top looking SUV is an unlikely design based on the Jeep-Cherokee and Dodge Durango and might be available by 2013. The Kubang would have a 4.7 liter V8 engine.
Renault already has a stable of weird and wonderful electric vehicles with names to match, like the DeZir, Fluence, Twizy and Zoe. Meet the Frendzy, a so-called multipurpose commercial electric vehicle which doubles as a car.
Renault is ahead of the pack with electric vehicles, and the show was full of new ideas, each seemingly more weird than the last. There was the VW Nils, a single seater looking like a covered motorbike but without the motorbike’s advantage of a second seat, an Audi Urban Concept which seats two, but with the passenger slightly behind the driver and the wheels extended beyond the body, and the Opel-Vauxhall Rake electric vehicle. Soon the concepts will have to move over for the showroom-ready variety, when sales have to be made to real people willing to part with real money. Good luck to the manufacturers with that project.
Vying for the title of the show’s ugly duckling, the Coupe is BMW Mini’s first-two seater car, and a sad, deformed-looking little creature it looks. Some of us who have struggled to get into the back of regular Minis will also question the claim that the Coupe is the first two seater.
Land Rover Defender
Another candidate for least pleasing looking debutant, the Land Rover Defender Concept 100 is meant to carry on the tradition of the marque’s original vehicle, which has been a practical and down-to-earth SUV come pick-up truck for about 60 years on farms and deserts across the world. You would think that a replacement would be plain and practical not in-your-face trendy. But there’s still time to go back to the drawing board.
Neil Winton September 20, 2011
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