The 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show saw manufacturers out in defiant positivity to revive the industry from the economic slump.
The Frankfurt Motor Show 2013
Frankfurt Motor Show: the bane of the lives of motoring PR professionals everywhere. I had been warned in the past, so I only have myself to blame, that this is a sprawling mess of an event that has none of the glitz or glamour of the Geneva or Paris shows, held in a drab, industrial city that makes you just want to go home. After just half an hour at 2013’s Frankfurt Motor Show, these words are ringing in my ears and I’ve made up my mind that the only way to actually enjoy a show like this is to view it from your armchair on the internet.
It’s difficult to put a finger on why Frankfurt is such a let-down, but it must be partly because of the fact that it’s housed within many different exhibition halls, most of which appear to be light years apart. At Geneva, everything is displayed in two halls, one above the other, so it’s easy to see and experience everything. Here, I believe, there are 1,090 different exhibitors, but I’m having difficulty finding any of the ones that I actually want to see.
Despite my misgivings about the show and the city that it’s held in, there is a defiant positivity in the air. Manufacturers are out in force, as if the economic woes of recent years never happened, and there’s a firm emphasis not on entirely new models, but more efficient ways of liberating power from burning fossil fuels.
A case in point is Audi’s duo of concept cars. The Audi stand isn’t a stand at all, but a separate, temporary structure that has taken a whole month to construct on one of the exterior plazas. As a show of corporate might, its message is clear: don’t mess with us. Entering the Audi hall, immediately stage left is the bizarre Nanuk concept. In Inuit, the name means “polar bear”, which an Audi insider tells me was chosen because it has no natural predators. I like that kind of arrogance, and I like the car, which is a mishmash of supercar and off-roader, with sleek lines, doors that could have been lifted from a McLaren and huge wheels and tyres that look like they’d get the Nanuk all the way across the Arctic Circle.
It’s highly unlikely that anything like this will see production, but Audi is saying that the styling shows a future direction for the brand, and that the next R8 may well look very similar to this, with a more aggressive and sculptured form. Elsewhere from Audi, there’s a facelifted A8, which has a better-resolved front end but otherwise looks identical to the incumbent. But the Sport Quattro Concept is the star, especially when you consider its vital statistics.
A stunning car to behold, this is actually marked for production, and will sit above the R8 supercar as Audi’s flagship model. It’s three decades since the original Sport Quattro was launched at this very location, but the progress made in design and engineering since then feels like several quantum leaps. This is a V8-engined, 700hp, plug-in hybrid that can reach 305kph and crack 100kph from rest in 3.7 seconds. Oh, and all the while returning an average fuel consumption of 2.5L/100km and emissions of 59g/km. Yes, you read that right, and no, we can’t wait to see it built, either.
As marvellous as this four-ringed beastie is, however, there’s a general feeling that the overall show has been stolen by Jaguar’s C-X17 concept SUV. Without treading toes on its sister Land Rover, this is a concept in name only, as it’s a fairly open secret that pre-production prototypes are already out there being put through their paces and that the model will go on sale in 2015.
It’s a nice looking car, with all the right curves in all the right places, although the nose section seems over-styled. Yes, it’s derivative and there are hints of Infiniti and even Mazda in the mix, but how can anything be described as truly original in this sector nowadays? The rear end, in particular, has echoes of the F-Type and looks incredibly mean, and that’s probably the view most people will get of it, with it being light and powerful like the rest of the Jaguar range.
Perhaps most importantly for the country that it’s going to be made in, Jaguar Land Rover’s continuous expansion has resulted in the announcement that the company is to recruit another 1,700 workers as it invests £1.5 billion (Dh8.66bn) in the new technology required to build this and other new models in the UK. The knock-on effect will be 25,000 extra jobs in the supply chain, which hammers home the point that car manufacture is massively important to a country’s economy. It’s excellent news, and the beaming smiles from all on the JLR stand are quite contagious. In just a few short years, this company has transformed itself from the downtrodden underdog to one of the world’s most dynamic and prestigious brands.
From two concepts that are bound for production, to one that definitely isn’t: the Volvo Concept Coupe. And this is a huge shame, because it’s one of the most handsome cars that I’ve seen in recent years. The company was apparently in two minds about it, but the bean counters overruled, claiming that the timing for such a car is simply not right for the company. Accountants always spoil the fun, don’t they? Volvo is, however, insistent that styling cues such as the front grille and other forms will find themselves on future production models, starting with next year’s XC90.
Across the hall from Volvo’s gorgeous supermodel, Infiniti displays its own – the Q30, a concept that is likely to be built in a similar form within the next couple of years. The company is playing down its obvious crossover looks, claiming it’s simply a coupe with really good ground clearance. Which is hilarious. But it’s potentially a really good car, borrowing heavily from the Mercedes-Benz A-Class in key areas, and it should have the effect that Infiniti wants so desperately: to appeal to a younger and more European marketplace.
McLaren is conspicuous by its absence, although I do spot its former boss, Antony Sheriff, on the Porsche stand, checking out the fantastic 918 Spyder, and he’s looking a bit crestfallen, no doubt after hearing that Porsche just used it to obliterate all previous Nurburgring lap records. He needn’t worry too much about that, as he’s reportedly suing McLaren for wrongful dismissal. But the Spyder is epically built and almost impossible to tear your eyeballs away from, especially its monstrous rear end. It looks utterly brutal.
There are plenty of “new” Porsches on display, which look nothing of the sort, but the 50th Anniversary Edition 911s deserve special mention. At first glance, the two cars on display appear to have been given little more than nostalgic paint jobs but, on closer inspection, you realise that the devil really is in the details. The wonderfully evocative houndstooth check trim on the seats, the retro-inspired alloy wheels and the chromed grille that sits above the engine all combine to make a really special homage that pays tribute to the past while cleverly looking to the future.
Lamborghini unveils its new Gallardo. Sorry, make that its umpteenth midlife updated special edition with less weight, a big spoiler and not much else. It’s a pity that, given its own 50th anniversary, it couldn’t have ended the year with more of a bang rather than another derivative of the baby bull, which really does need to be replaced with something entirely new.
Bugatti, on the next stand, unwraps its own special edition in a last-ditch attempt to keep the Veyron in the headlines before production ceases and, next door to them, the Bentley stand erupts into an ear-punishing racket to hail the arrival of the new Continental GT V8S models. Lower, louder, more focused and sportier than ever, Bentley seems to be slowly turning its boulevard cruiser into a bona fide sports car, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Ford, too, is busy trying to reposition itself and gain kudos as a prestige brand with the Mondeo Vignale. Like Infiniti started out as Nissan’s upmarket alter ego, Vignale is to be a sub-brand for Ford owners, but with dedicated dealership facilities and a whole host of feel-good ownership benefits. The Mondeo name won’t be seen anywhere, and the concept here at Frankfurt is lavishly trimmed, with quilted leather covering the seats and door innards, as well as a hide-trimmed instrument panel and centre console. It’s Wi-Fi equipped, too, but will it work for Ford, which has always been seen as the working-class hero? Time will tell, but this direction change has certainly worked for others in the past.
With no BMW M4, no LaFerrari and no showing from Lotus, this year’s Frankfurt show is missing some of the cars that I’d been hoping to see. “We’ve sold them all, so why bother?” is Ferrari’s considered response when I quiz as to its flagship’s whereabouts. That’s a shame, because it’s cars like that that fire the imaginations of young people, who are increasingly difficult to excite when it comes to cars. In 1980, my father took me to my first motor show, and I vividly recall the excitement felt while looking at the incredible sports cars on display. I even ended up buying one in later years, so we shouldn’t forget the effect that shows like this can and do have on the tens of thousands of visitors.
This was always going to be Germany’s show, and you get a proper sense of the scale of the big players here. The VW Group, BMW, Mercedes-Benz – they utterly dominate the industry these days, between them owning dozens of prestigious brands, but they plough twice as much money into research and development as others, and it pays off with a burgeoning selection of cars that continue to define and redefine what motoring is all about.
Until the Dubai show in a couple of months’ time, we’re all motor-showed out. Frankfurt, I’m not sure that I’ll ever beat a path to your door again, but I’m leaving with a feeling that this industry, that we all hold so dearly, and that was recently on its knees, is back on form again, fighting fit.