1999 Frankfurt Show, Part I

September 20, 1999

One only has to look at a map of the Frankfurt Motor Show to get an idea of its importance. The event, which takes place every other year, fills more than a dozen convention halls and sprawls over nearly a square mile. The Motor Show coincides with what is on line to become a record-breaking year for the European auto industry, but a year in which competition has reached record levels of intensity, as well. By one analyst's estimate, European new-car prices have fallen about 2.5 percent this year. That’s putting the squeeze on profits, but in order to gain an advantage, manufacturers are rushing new product to market faster than ever. The 1999 show featured an estimated 51 world premieres, in all about 50 percent more debuts than just two years ago. The show runs through Sept. 26, and is expected to draw nearly 1 million visitors. Here’s a look at some of the hottest products and trends….PAE

Verso 1999 Frankfurt

Verso 1999 Frankfurt


1999 Pininfarina Metro

1999 Pininfarina Metro

THINKING SMALL. The big trend among European automakers this year is really a small one. With European roads growing more crowded than ever, and with continental fuel prices topping $5 a gallon in some markets, buyers are seeking ever more compact products. But there’s a big difference from the minicars of the past. Toyota’s Yaris Verso and the Pininfarina Metro are two good examples of how big things can come in small (exterior) packages. While both are, for the moment, concept vehicles, a version of the Verso is scheduled for production next year. This microvan is based off the same platform as the Yaris minicar that Toyota unveiled a year ago at the Paris Motor Show.

1999 Hyundai Tutti

1999 Hyundai Tutti

Pickups are a rare sight in Europe, but Hyundai’s little Tutti suggests there could be room for a pocket-sized cargo carrier blending functionality with a little bit of flair.

1999 Opel G90

1999 Opel G90

Opel’s G90 concept car is not only tiny but also incredibly fuel-efficient. In European terms, it needs only 3.88 liters of fuel for every 100 kilometers. That’s roughly 60 miles to the gallon for the 1650-pound vehicle, which makes extensive use of aluminum and magnesium. The G90 is powered by a modest 60-hp, three-cylinder engine.

DaimlerChrysler announced in Frankfurt that, over the next three years alone, it intends to spend $48 billion on product development. That will yield more than 30 new products over that time frame, 64

Chrysler Java concept 1999

Chrysler Java concept 1999

vehicles if you stretch out through 2004. For the moment, at least, the tiny Chrysler Java sedan also falls into the prototype category, but likely not for long. "We have a habit of putting our concepts into production," hints DaimlerChrysler Co-Chairman Bob Eaton. Though the Java is nearly 20 inches shorter than the upcoming Chrysler PT Cruiser, it has roughly the same-sized passenger compartment. (It’s a full yard shorter and significantly roomier than DaimlerChrysler’s smallest American model, the Neon.) As with the Verso, Metro, and G90, the key is Java’s tall roof and high seating position — it’s 62 inches tall versus 56 for Neon. If — or, more likely, when — the Java goes into production, it will help kick off a serious effort to establish the Chrysler brand as a significant global competitor. The prototype is powered by a 1.4-liter engine borrowed from the Mercedes-Benz A-Class. In production, it would more likely use one of the tiny Tritec engines Chrysler and BMW are building in a Brazilian joint venture. A version of a Mercedes diesel would also be available.
1999 Audi A2

1999 Audi A2

Audi’s A8 was the first relatively high-volume aluminum vehicle. But the sedan carried a hefty premium, putting it out of reach of all but the market’s most affluent buyers. Moving downsize and down-market with the new A2, Audi may be introducing the first aluminum "car for the masses." Sharing platforms with the VW Polo minicar, the A2 weighs in at just 1970 pounds, about 330 pounds less than comparable cars in its class. Its body is 40 percent lighter than if it were made of steel. The tall roofline provides far more ample space than you’d expect of a car measuring barely 12 feet, bumper to bumper. The "Space Floor Concept" means the rear footwells are lower than those ahead of the front seats, creating even more rear-seat legroom. The A2 is powered by a four-cylinder engine putting out 75 hp and getting about 40 mpg.

THINKING BIG. Like most of Europe’s automakers, VW is pushing "small, smaller, smallest." But Volkswagen Chairman Ferdinand Piech seems equally intent on moving his company up-market.

Volkswagen 1999 concept D

Volkswagen 1999 concept D

Though there could be some subtle styling changes, the Concept D prototype closely resembles the production sedan which, when it starts rolling off a new assembly line in Dresden, Germany, within the next year, will become the largest, most lavish — and the most expensive — automobile ever to wear the VW badge. The Dresden plant has been dubbed the Glass plant, because its glass walls will allow customers to watch their cars being built. Expect a tentative price tag of roughly $35,000. Though the "D" will be launched in Europe, it will make an American debut soon afterwards.
1999 Bugatti Chiron

1999 Bugatti Chiron

Volkswagen’s second high-end product debut was the exotic Bugatti Chiron, named after prewar Grand Prix driver Louis Chiron of France. The exotic blue super coupe is powered by a unique W-18 engine, with its cylinders arranged in a "W" configuration rather than in the traditional "V." Volkswagen acquired Bugatti — along with British ultraluxury marque Bentley — last year.

Ford’s freewheeling Norwegian ecomobile, the TH!NK.

Ford’s freewheeling Norwegian ecomobile, the TH!NK.

TH!NK AGAIN! Ford Motor Co.’s most unusual brand goes into production in Norway next month. The new TH!NK electric vehicle isn’t likely to move the sales needle much for Ford, which only intends to sell about 3000 of the battery-powered minicars a year. Still, that would make TH!NK the world’s best-selling electric vehicle. Ford is betting that there’s a market for "green" vehicles among environmentally conscious European buyers who need something small and nimble to scoot around crowded urban centers. The plastic-bodied two-seater’s nickel-cadmium batteries can hit a top speed of 60 miles an hour and deliver a maximum range of around 50 miles. Longer term, Ford is reportedly set to announce plans to import a version of TH!NK to the United States. A larger vehicle with longer range is likely. Precise details will be revealed at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next January.

1999 Ford FC5

1999 Ford FC5

CLEAN AND GREEN. In recent years, European auto shows have taken on a highly visible "green" theme, and that environmental emphasis continued at this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show. BMW announced plans to launch a pilot fleet of 7-Series sedans using hydrogen-powered internal-combustion engines. DaimlerChrysler officials restated their promise to put a hydrogen fuel-cell car into series production by 2004. Ford unveiled the stylish FC5, it’s "fifth-generation" fuel-cell prototype. Ford also has promised a production fuel cell by 2004. Volkswagen was one of a number of carmakers showing off production vehicles designed to use barely 3.0 liters of fuel per 100 miles of driving, or more than 70 mpg. But despite the TH!NK car’s relatively low-key presence, electric vehicles were in notably short supply when compared to past years.

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