Marlena Lehman joins the media scrum at the Frankfurt International Motor Show to review the most significant unveilings.
Out to launch
FRANKFURT // Last autumn in Paris, the car show coincided with Fashion Week and the new vehicles reflected the colours of that season's new haute couture. Oranges and greys filled the auto show floor as they did the runway. This year in Frankfurt, the hot new colour for cars is green. Make that electric green. It seems GM's Chevrolet Volt has inspired others to follow suit with their own plug-in vehicles. Both the Europeans and the Asians have jumped on the bandwagon and are touting the plug-in as the next green thing. In Detroit this year, Ford, Mercedes, Audi, Volkswagen, Mini and BMW were all keen to be seen as green, and this trend continued in Frankfurt.
However, there aren't any electric vehicles here from such Japanese car makers as Honda, Nissan/Infiniti and Mitsubishi, who are not in attendance due to budget cuts. But high horsepower is always a big draw at these events. Aston Martin, Bentley, Lamborghini, Maserati, Porsche and Rolls-Royce have bucked the electric car trend with their new offerings, and the exotic unveilings from these car makers certainly did not lack for any buzz. In fact, these car makers, as always, generated some of the longest waits for media kits, not to mention a lot of hangers-on at the stands long after the press conferences ended. Following are some of the highlights, in a neat, alphabetical order:
Amidst all the glitz and flash emerged the Rapide, one of the most understated vehicles unveiled here (it is British, after all). The four-door, rear-wheel drive offering from Aston Martin is neither electric nor what one would consider green in any way, with its 469hp, 6.0L V12. But who needs fuel economy when one can afford this prestigious, powerful beast? It had no shortage of admirers.
The most electrifying launch was indeed an electric vehicle and this reporter's favourite concept. Audi's e-tron plug-in electric sports car concept is an attractive, 313hp two-seater that can be plugged into any household 230V outlet. The charging time is between six and eight hours, Audi says, though a 400V outlet reduces the charging time to 2.5 hours. A wireless version is being developed to make charging more convenient.
But the best part is not its environmentally friendly aspirations, it's the car's appearance. If all electric vehicles were this sexy, car makers wouldn't have so much trouble flogging them to the public. The crowd here certainly seemed pleased. And it was a photographer favourite, with the snappers staying longer to get their shots than at any other electric car unveiling. And there's no shortage of power either. Audi says the e-tron will go from zero to 100kph in just 4.8 seconds. Not bad for an electric car with four electric motors. Another crowd favourite also came from Audi, the new R8 Spyder 5.2 FSI quattro. The stylish Spyder features a 525hp V10 and a zero-to-100-kph time of 4.1 seconds, according to Audi. It has a cloth top weighing just 30kg that keeps the car's weight and centre of gravity low, and it opens and closes in just 19 seconds at speeds up to 50kph.
Bentley's Mulsanne was another contender for the most elegant vehicle unveiled here, with its streamlined body and quiet good looks. But, like the Rapide, the Mulsanne is not lacking for power to go with all the luxury. It has a 6.75L V8 engine mated to an eight-speed automatic, outputting 505hp and, more astoundingly, 1,020Nm of torque at just 1,800 rpm. You could use it to pull stumps out of the ground, were it not so genteel.
Hybrid vehicles do not really get one's heart going - unless they come from BMW. The German car maker showed the ActiveHybrid 7, a mild hybrid that has an electric motor and 4.8L twin-turbo V8 with an eight-speed automatic gearbox. Together, the system has a net output of 458hp and 700Nm of torque. If one cares about fuel economy, it offers 9.7L/100km. The ActiveHybrid X6 is a full hybrid that can run on electricity, petrol or both. Two electric motors and a 4.8L twin-turbo V8 combined produce 478hp and 780Nm of torque. But more horsepower equals less fuel economy - 9.9L/100km.
Finally, the long-awaited replacement for the F430 is here. The slippery 458 Italia looks every bit the Italian supercar it is, and it has the performance to match, according to Ferrari. The mid-engined beauty is powered by a 4.5L V8 that, Ferrari says, gets better fuel economy and has lower emissions than the car it replaces. Though, if you're thinking of buying one, chances are you're more interested in its 562hp, 9,000rpm redline and the 3.4 seconds it takes to race to 100kph.
The numbers do tell the story for the 2010 Lamborghini Reventón Roadster: It has a 660hp, 6.5L V12, propelling the fighter jet-like two-seater to 100 km in just 3.4 seconds and up to a top speed of 330kph. Plenty of journalists crowded the show floor to get a glimpse of this stylish roadster - not to mention the barely clad models standing beside it. But only 20 people lucky people will have a chance to buy the ?1.1-million (Dh5.97m) limited-edition vehicle. Deliveries begin in October.
The four-seat open-top GranCabrio was another Italian hit here, featuring distinctive styling by Pininfarina and another two beautiful Italian models flanking the vehicle. Many of the photographers spent more time ogling and snapping pictures of the models than the cars. Only one journalist (guess who) was brave enough to suffer the wrath of the male reporters and other assorted hangers-on by asking the beautiful models to step aside so she could take a picture of the car, which they were blocking. The women didn't mind, but the men's jaws dropped. The GranCabrio will be available next spring; models not included.
Way back in August, Mazda announced it would be showing its MX-5 Superlight concept, a windscreen-less version of one of the best-selling roadsters in the world, so it wasn't exactly news here. However, that didn't stop the crowds from gathering to see the little two-seater show car. It's not scheduled for production; although, if it was produced, it wouldn't be very practical in very hot or cold climates considering it's sans windscreen, air conditioning and heating. But it might make a good track car, if it had more power. The concept, designed at Mazda's Frankfurt studio, features a 126hp, 1.8L engine. The stripped-down Superlight weighs only 995kg and goes from zero to 100 kph in just under nine seconds.
One of the most exciting unveilings here was the SLS AMG, from Mercedes and AMG, the car maker's tuning division. Reporters and photographers swarmed the vehicle to get a better look and catch a glimpse of British racing star Lewis Hamilton, who drove the car on stage. Great-looking car; great-looking bloke. Featuring gullwing doors and an AMG-tuned 6.3L V8 engine, the SLS AMG produces 571hp and 650Nm of torque. It will get from zero-to-100-kph in just 3.8 seconds and has an electronically limited top speed of 317kph.
Another much-anticipated press conference was the launch of the Mini Coupe and Mini Roadster concepts, and they did not disappoint. Thankfully, the Coupe is much more attractive in person than in the teaser photos, where it looked like a hatchet job with the back of an Audi TT coupe pasted on to the front of the Mini. In the flesh, it's not so jarring. But it is, after all, still a concept, so refinements can still be made before it is produced. There is no word on when that will happen yet.
One of the cutest hybrid plug-ins on display was Opel's Ampera, a more stylish version of GM's Volt. The Ampera uses the same battery and flex-fuel engine as the Volt, but it is much less conservative-looking than the nondescript Volt. And speaking of General Motors, the US car maker was virtually invisible at the show. Instead of being situated inside one of the 11 main halls, GM was relegated to a small, sad-looking building in the middle of nowhere. Blink and you'd miss it. There was a lonely Chevy Cruze outside the building, desperately trying to lure journos inside. But not many entered, as there was nothing to see here.
Porsche president and CEO Michael Macht got the crowd buzzing when he hinted that the car maker was working on an electric sports car. "I am ? convinced that one day Porsche will have an electric sports car in its lineup," he said, adding that Porsche engineers were trying to come up with better battery technology "to meet Porsche's strict requirements." "An electric sports car would, therefore, only make sense for Porsche if it offers performance and a cruising range similar to that of current sports cars in the market," he said. "We are, therefore, taking the first step in this direction with a full hybrid ? in the Cayenne, the Panamera and maybe in the not-too-distant future also in a racing car or a production 911. Why not?"
As for its production models, Porsche also hyped up the green angle. The car maker took the wraps off its 2010 911 Turbo, which it says has more power and better fuel efficiency. The car maker claims the new 911 Turbo consumes up to 16 per cent less fuel even though it features an additional 20hp, for a fuel economy of 11.4 L/100 km. It features a twin-turbo, 3.8L six-cylinder boxer engine developing 500hp. Porsche also unveiled its new GT3 RS, which has a 3.8L flat-six engine and 450hp. As well, the wraps came off of a limited-run 911 Sport Classic. Only 250 of these will be produced, excluding North America. The Sport Classic features carbon ceramic brakes, wheels reminiscent of early 1980s Porsches and a ducktail spoiler.
Rolls-Royce unveiled its attractive new Ghost, an understated but powerful vehicle boasting a new 6.6L twin-turbo V12, which is unique to the model. Also unique is its massive torque numbers - like the new Bentley, it has more than 1,000Nm of torque! Is this a car or a tank? Just how many skis does this vehicle need to haul, anyway? And it will get you to the resort in a hurry, despite that heavy load. The Ghost produces 563hp, propelling the vehicle to 100 kph in 4.7 seconds and on to an electronically governed top speed of 250kph.
I was looking for a hint of embarrassment on the executives' faces as Toyota unveiled its own plug-in car, but all I found was smugness. After what seems like years deriding other car makers' green offerings as not being as good as its Prius, the Japanese car maker has jumped on the plug-in bandwagon with its 2010 Prius Plug-in Hybrid Concept.
Toyota says its plug-in combines lithium ion batteries with its very own Hybrid Synergy Drive technology - making it better than everyone else's. OK, maybe those weren't the exact words, but it was certainly implied. (I wasn't the only journalist who thought so.) The Prius Plug-in Hybrid Concept can be recharged from a conventional electrical outlet in just 90 minutes, according to the car maker. Toyota claims the car will reach a top speed of 100kph when driven in EV mode and that it can travel approximately 20km in that mode, while operating like a normal full hybrid during longer distances.
Toyota also unveiled its Auris HSD Full Hybrid Concept, which is derived from its C-segment Auris. The hybrid features solar panels in the roof for ventilation. It also has dash-top mounted solar panels that generate enough power to recharge mobile phones or music players. Now, that's cool. firstname.lastname@example.org