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2003 Frankfurt Show, Part II


2004 Smart forfour

2004 Smart forfour

2003 Frankfurt Auto Show Index by TCC Team (9/8/2003)

Playing a High-Stakes Golf Game

2005 Volkswagen Golf GTI

2005 Volkswagen Golf GTI

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Given the honor of opening this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show, Volkswagen had the opportunity to introduce an all-new version of one of the world’s best-selling products. While Volkswagen has dramatically expanded its product lineup since the launch of the original Golf, a quarter century ago, the nameplate’s newest version will still play a critical role in the automaker’s line-up, according to CEO Bernd Pischetsrieder. “The Golf,” he declared, is “a symbol for Volkswagen,” but one that is going up against an increasingly crowded market in Europe, the U.S., and other world markets. More stylish and better equipped, the ’04 Golf should generate as much as 600,000 sales next year, about fifteen percent of VW’s worldwide total. But don’t be surprised if that dips a bit in the future, Pischetsrieder conceded, because Golf’s traditional market segment “is shrinking.”

Opel's Astra-Nomical Bets

2004 Opel Astra

2004 Opel Astra

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General Motors is betting big on its new Opel Astra, the best-selling model in its fast-growing European lineup. There’s an all-new Astra coming this autumn, including three, four and five-door models. There’ll also be plenty of powertrain options, including five gasoline and three diesel engines covering the horsepower range from 80 to 200. The Opel will be coming up against some tough competition when it reaches dealers early next year, including an all-new Volkswagen Golf, the class sales leader. Opel’s strategy is to emphasize Astra’s more aggressive exterior styling, larger, upgraded interior, and technology, such as bi-xenon headlamps that follow the road’s curves, and the IDS-plus intelligent suspension system. That technology is similar to what’s now in use in the U.S. on vehicles such as the Corvette and Cadillac STS. At “full-tilt,” the Astra, along with platform variants like the Zafira microvan, should account for 15 percent of the segment, predicted Mike Burns, President of GM Europe. Astra alone is expected to rack up sales “pushing 400,000 to 500,000 annually.” The nameplate is just one in a wide range of new products coming from GM’s struggling Opel subsidiary, added Burns, but it will play a “critical” role.

Mercedes’ Vision of the Four-Door Future

2003 Mercedes-Benz CLS concept

2003 Mercedes-Benz CLS concept

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It comes in the form of the Vision CLS, what Mercedes-Benz is billing as a new type of four-door coupe. “We are one coupe generation ahead with the Vision CLS,” says Member of the DaimlerChrysler AG board responsible for the Mercedes Car Group, Professor Juergen Hubbert. The idea of the Vision CLS is to combine the driving excitement of a coupe with the practicality of four-seater space. To achieve it, Mercedes engineers have come up with a 265-hp six-cylinder diesel engine that takes the car from zero to 62 mph in 6.4 seconds and reaches the standard German limited top speed of 155 mph. What the automaker calls an “expressively-styled” show car is actually a thinly disguised production vehicle that will soon rise to the top of Mercedes’ C-Class segment. “It’s a vision for now,” Paul Halata, CEO of Mercedes-Benz U.S., told TheCarConnection. But he quickly confided that it should hit showrooms in “two to three years.” Insiders suggest a gasoline engine would most likely make it into the car before it hits the States, but Mercedes is seriously considering the possibilities of reclaiming the American diesel market – if it can be revived. At one point, Halata recalled, the high-mileage powertrain was shipped in up to 70 percent of the cars Mercedes sold in the U.S. The company will test the waters when it launches a diesel E-Class version in April 2004. “Ask me personally, and I think there’s an opportunity” to grow diesel sales, though never again to the levels Mercedes achieved in the ’80s, Halata added.

More Doors, More Style at Jag

2003 Jaguar RD6 concept

2003 Jaguar RD6 concept

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The Frankfurt show has often provided a background for breakthrough design statements, and this year is no exception. Like Mercedes, Jaguar is exploring the idea of offering coupe-like styling with the convenience of four doors. For now, the RD6 is simply a design study, though the show car’s features are “something we are seriously thinking about,” said Managing Director Mike Wright, “for the future of Jaguar.” He told TCC that the curvaceous prototype is based on a shortened version of the new XJ, and like that sedan, it boasts an aluminum monocoque body. One of the subtle visual elements is the horse-collar-style grille of the mid-range S-Type, which “could be” the new face of Jaguar in years to come. Wright revealed Jaguar intends to closer monitor reaction among both media and consumers and in the months to come, “we have some important decisions to make” about whether to work some of the RD6’s features into future production models. The concept, Wright added, “could very well help us determine the future for Jaguar.”

Actually, there are plenty of questions being asked about the future at Jaguar. For one thing, should the next generation of the mid-range S-Type adopt the aluminum construction of the larger but notably lighter XJ? “We know that the lightest route is the right one for us,” said Jaguar’s global boss. But he declined to confirm speculation on the next S-Type, hinting there are a variety of other ways to shed weight.

Wagons West?

2004 Jaguar X-Type Estate

2004 Jaguar X-Type Estate

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Not if that means the U.S. Several global manufacturers pulled the wraps off wagons in Frankfurt that they said will be pointedly eliminated from the American market. That includes the Jaguar X-Type Estate, which is targeting a favorite niche among young, European luxury buyers. It’s the first time the British marque has ever built this sort of body style, which in the U.K. is often known as a shooting brake. Whatever you call it, the Estate style now accounts for as much as 40 percent of the European market in the segment the X-Type competes in. Unfortunately, Americans seem less than infatuated, and barring a sudden surge in demand for other manufacturers’ luxury wagons, the X-Type Estate won’t make it across the Atlantic.

Chrysler Goes Touring with the 300C

2003 Chrysler 300C Touring conceptt

2003 Chrysler 300C Touring conceptt

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Don’t expect to see a U.S. version of the 300C Touring, either. Yet another way of saying “wagon,” it’s designed primarily for the European market. The Touring shares its basic, tall body and virtually all its underlying components with the 300C sedan, one of the next generation of Chrysler mid-size products. The prototype unveiled in Detroit last January, and reintroduced in Frankfurt, boasts a 300-horsepower, 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. Other powertrains will be added after introduction, and that will likely include a diesel for fuel-conscious European motorists. The Touring should reach the continent by the second half of 2004, said Chrysler Group CEO Dieter Zetsche. “We think this is a vehicle that will cause many European buyers to take a second look at Chrysler products,” Zetsche told his Frankfurt audience.

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