2001 Frankfurt Show Preview II

September 10, 2001

2001 Frankfurt Auto Show Index

As Europe’s biggest auto show, the biennial frenzy that is Frankfurt approaches, more manufacturers are lifting the veil on what they will be showing this year. Here’s our second preview of what’s going to be there.

 

Porsche’s new Targa

Porsche added a new word to the automotive vocabulary in 1967 when it introduced its first Targa semi-convertible to the 911 range. The lift-off center section, with a fixed rear screen rather than a folding rear window, brought open air to what was, to all intents and purposes, a coupe when the ‘lid’ was in place. The original Targa avoided the problems of cracks and milkiness that came with the flexible plastic rear screens that were the only answer for convertibles in those days. Things have changed, and Porsche’s new 2002 911 Convertible, that goes on sale in September, is the first such Porsche to feature a glass rear screen that folds with the top. The Targa has progressed too, and Frankfurt will see the arrival of a new Targa, which features a sliding glass roof in place of the lift-off panel of the original. The electrically operated roof slides back to give that open-air feeling, and from pictures issued by Porsche ahead of the launch, it looks great too.

 

Spanish tango

2002 SEAT Tango concept

2002 SEAT Tango concept

Spain’s SEAT is part of the vast VW empire, and it is the company that has the task of bringing some Hispanic emotion into the German conglomerate’s range. Production SEATs are still reminiscent of their VW genealogy, but the company’s designers are working to change that. We have to wait for a mass-market car that moves to the rhythms of the bullfight and the flamenco, but the company has come up with some handsome concept cars that give the impression that the wait will be worthwhile. The teaser at Frankfurt will be the Tango, a sexy little (145 in long, 67.5 in wide and 46.5 in high) open two-seater that’s built on the basis of the tough tubular chassis construction used for SEAT’s rally cars. A 180-hp four-cylinder engine drives the front wheels, and following a trend that’s appeared in other concepts, the driver’s seat is fixed, while the steering wheel, column and pedals all move to provide a perfect fit. Xenon lamps are linked to turn with the front wheels, which is a good idea until you get on to opposite lock – well that’s what happened when Citroen tried it in the 1960s!

 

Skoda Moves on Up

2002 Skoda Superb

2002 Skoda Superb

Another member of the VW group is Skoda, the Czech manufacturer whose history goes back to the early days of the industry. Skoda’s image suffered from its Iron Curtain links in the days when there was an Iron Curtain, but now that it’s in the Wolfsburg clan that image is changing, as the skilled Czech workforce turns out cars that, like those of SEAT, are based on VW designs. The result is that Skoda is earning a reputation for VW quality at East European prices. Now the company is ready to move upmarket, and Frankfurt will mark the launch of the Superb, a car that has a 110-inch wheelbase and is 189 inches long. That’s well into the upper reaches of the European family sedan market. Emphasising Skoda’s heritage, the name Superb is taken from a sedan the company first made back in 1934.

 

GM Ditches the Stick-shift

Could it be the central gearshift is about to become a thing of the past? BMW’s new 7-Series, one of the major new cars to be launched in Frankfurt, has done away with the central gear-shift lever and transferred it to a slim stalk behind the steering wheel. GM’s Signum II concept, a forward-thinking blend of station wagon and coupe, also features a large free space on the floor between the driver and the passenger. The Signum’s power unit, a new 4.3-liter V-8 from GM Powertrain in the U.S., drives through a five-speed auto box that has no need of a centrally mounted stick shift. In fact, few modern gearboxes, even manuals, really need a four (or five, or six) on the floor. But are Europe’s macho drivers ready to give it up? We’ll see.

 

This Supermini’s a Major Model

2002 Ford Fiesta

2002 Ford Fiesta

Ford will take the wraps off a major new model at Frankfurt as part of a program that’s designed to get the sickly Ford of Europe organization back into good financial health again. The newcomer is a brand-new iteration of the Fiesta supermini, which first saw the light of day back in 1976. The supermini class – in U.S. terms, think of a sedan a little larger than a Miata – is commercially very important in Europe, and if Ford is to pull its European operation back from the brink, the Fiesta will have to be a success. It’s backed up by the team that created the Focus, which means that it will be a great drive, and it will be put together to the quality standards that have transformed Jaguar, so there’s hope. The 154-inch five-door (hatchback) will have four four-cylinder engine options – 1297cc, 1388cc and 1596cc gas and a 1399cc diesel – and it will go on sale in early ’02. Ford’s accountants will be waiting to see how it goes.

 

Mitsubishi Moves the Pajero

2002 Mitsubishi Pajero concept

2002 Mitsubishi Pajero concept

Mitsubishi’s popular SUV gets a radical makeover for Frankfurt in the shape of a concept car that has a strong French accent. The tough 4x4 has been shaped by Mitsubishi’s new chief designer, Frenchman Oliver Boulay, and it has been influenced by the Mitsubishis that have been so successful in the toughest trans-continental race in the world, the legendary Paris-Dakar rally. This event was conceived in France, the drivers that know it best are French and French specialists are the best at preparing SUVs for it. A Pajero won the 2001 event, and the concept is designed to give an idea of the kind of Mitsubishis that will be tackling the event in the future.
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