2001 Frankfurt Auto Show II

September 17, 2001

2001 Frankfurt Auto Show Index
Talk about the '01 Frankfurt show here!

SHOW STARTS ON SOMBER NOTE. The bad news traveled fast, taking just minutes to spread across the kilometer-long Frankfurt Motor Show; the terror in New York and Washington quickly brought the events in Germany to a halt. Computer screens meant to display product specifications and prices were quickly converted to news centers, journalists and industry officials crowding around for any word on what was happening half a world away. Germans, Italians, French and Japanese stood side-by-side, finding ways to communicate despite their language barriers. Anyone obviously American was likely to get a hug, a pained smile, and some expression of solidarity. As the terrible Tuesday night drew to a close, Chrysler Group Chairman Dieter Zetsche sat with a flock of U.S. auto writers over dinner. “We were afraid it might not seem appropriate,” he said, clearly pained by the day’s events, “but we thought it would be better to give you a chance to be with your colleagues, rather than sit alone in your hotel rooms all night staring at the same pictures over and over again on CNN.”

 

THE SHOW MUST GO AGAIN—AT LEAST SOME OF IT. This year’s Frankfurt Motor Show was expected to bring an estimated 57 world premieres. But if anyone had the cool composure left to keep count, it fell short in the wake of the terrorist assault on the U.S., as carmakers and suppliers began canceling their news conferences and other media events.  Among the most important no-shows was the long-awaited DaimlerChrysler Maybach. The ultra-luxury brand is expected to move the automaker into the rarified range once controlled by Rolls-Royce and Bentley. It will serve as an all-new marque, rather than an extension of the comparatively mass-market Mercedes-Benz. Now word on when the automaker will now lift the covers on Maybach, but it’s still more than a year away from production. Mercedes also canceled the rollout of an advanced safety concept vehicle designed not only improve a motorist’s chances of surviving an accident, but of avoiding the crash all together.

 

2002 Citroen C3

2002 Citroen C3

COVERING ALL THE BASES. There was quite literally something for everyone in Frankfurt this year, automakers covering all the bases, from ultra-luxury to entry-level minicars. French manufacturer Citroen rolled out its new C3, a surprisingly roomy minicar, aimed at what is quickly becoming the heart of the European auto market. The so-called “B-car” segment now accounts for a third of sales in Western Europe, and 41 percent in France. The tall C3 features a new direct-injection diesel developed as part of a joint venture with Ford Motor Co. Diesels are quickly becoming the hot powertrain in Europe, due to rising fuel prices.

 

2002 Ford Fiesta

2002 Ford Fiesta

FORD FIELDS NEW FIESTA. Promising to “transform the market,” Ford Motor Co. rolled out a stylish new version of its Fiesta mini-compact, a vehicle that will provide a “new foundation” for the company, declared David Thursfield, CEO of Ford of Europe. The new Fiesta is the latest in a string of products Ford has been rolling out in a product offensive design to halt its devastating market share decline. The European market has been shifting directions, moving towards smaller, more fuel-efficient and more personalized products, Thursfield told TheCarConnection.

 

Ford Fusion Concept Frankfurt 2001

Ford Fusion Concept Frankfurt 2001

As a result, Ford intends to use the new Fiesta’s platform as the base for a series of niche vehicles. One to come was given a show car preview in the form of the Fusion Concept. The SUV/tall wagon crossover is intended to be functional and spacious, said European product development chief Martin Leach, but “small and agile enough to cope with every day life in the city.”

 

Opel Signum Concept Frankfurt 2001

Opel Signum Concept Frankfurt 2001

FORM AND FUNCTION AT OPEL. It seems like every European automaker is searching for a way to provide stylish designs that also pack in plenty of room and functionality. Opel’s proposed solution is the Signum concept vehicle. The wagon-like four-door boasts “the stylishness of a coupe,” declared Carl-Peter Forster, head of the General Motors subsidiary. Will it make it from concept to production? “You’re not going to have to wait very long,” Forster hinted.

 

Jaguar R Concept Frankfurt 2001

Jaguar R Concept Frankfurt 2001

THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME? Long considered one of the automotive world’s styling trendsetters, Jaguar has taken some criticism with recent products, such as the X-Type and S-Type. The automaker hopes the new R Coupe concept vehicle will provide a reply to critics, and some hints as to the direction the British subsidiary of Ford Motor Co. will be taking on upcoming models. “It’s important to me that a show car represents something that can be done,” chief designer Ian Callum, suggesting the R Coupe should be thought of as “a road map for the future.” The long, low two-door bears a grille similar to the compact S-Type, but not much more. Its aluminum-intensive body previews the approach Jaguar will take with the next-generation XJ sedan, noted Jaguar chairman Jonathon Browning. Callum said his goal with the R Coupe was to not build a retro car, but move traditional Jaguar designs into the future. “I’m going for a car that is simpler, simpler, simpler, but not simplistic.”

 

Saab 9X Concept Frankfurt 2001

Saab 9X Concept Frankfurt 2001

SAAB’S STORY. Struggling to build its brand identity, Saab took a bold, if quirky, stand with its GT-style 9X concept vehicle. “It has features associated with a coupe, a roadster, a wagon and even a pickup,” noted the Swedish automaker’s CEO, Peter Augustsson. The tapering, wagon-like rear has a removable roof, with a frame-strengthening crossbar that can do double duty as a bike rack. The tailgate can fold down to carry extra cargo, much like a pickup bed. Augustsson suggested, “there are no major technical obstacles to prevent this car from going into production…someday,” though it is not on the schedule anytime soon. Saab hopes to nearly double worldwide sales, to 250,000 annually, by 2006. To get there, the GM subsidiary intends major updates of its core 9-3 and 9-5 lines, and will roll out an array of niche products, as well, Augustsson acknowledged during an interview with TheCarConnection.com

 

BMW PRODUCT BLITZ. “In the next six years,” reveals BMW Chairman Joachim Milberg, the automaker “plans to introduce 20 new models and three new engines. That means we will double our model range.” Expect to see more niche products and some that will stretch the automaker’s range. The new 1-Series will take BMW down-market, while the next-generation 5-Series will push the design envelope, styling chief Chris Bangle revealed to TheCarConnection. Bangle insisted that none of the many spy shots circulating in the media come close to the direction he would take the 5er, but that they are correct in suggesting it will be markedly different from anything BMW has ever produced before. BMW’s policy is to produce “two generations and then take a big step.” Since the 5-Series has an image of being a “businessman’s sport sedan,” Bangle said, it has the most flexibility in its design. Look to the X-Coupe shown in Detroit last January for some hints as to the direction he’ll be taking, Bangle hinted.

 

2002 BMW 760iL

2002 BMW 760iL

LUCKY SEVEN? The newest entry to the BMW lineup is the completely redesigned 7-Series sedan. But will it hit the mark with consumers? It also takes a risk with its design, Bangle acknowledged. Visually, the most unusual feature of the top-line BMW sedan is the bustle-back-style trunk, though there are plenty of unusual touches, including the small “shark fin” on the rear of the roof used to conceal the new 7-Series’ various antennas. BMW’s technical showpiece, the new 7 introduces a breakthrough concept called “I-Drive,” a rotary dial BMW believes will make it easier for motorists to access the array of electronic systems—such as navigation and cell phone—incorporated into the flagship sedan. No word on U.S. pricing, but the big eight-cylinder 745 version will appear on the European market before the end of the year for 71,000 Euros (about $64,000). It will reach the States in January of 2002. The ultra-exclusive 760 12-cylinder model will follow in autumn 2002. It will be powered by a direct-injection, variable-valve engine that, notably, will not require special low-sulfur fuels to operate.

 

AMERICAN SPIRIT, EUROPEAN TECHNOLOGY. Chrysler has struggled to make any significant dent in the European market. But the American subsidiary of DaimlerChrysler is betting it can improve its fortunes with a pair of new engines. The hip, retro PT Cruiser will now get a 1.6-liter diesel, revealed Chrysler Chairman Dieter Zetsche. For larger vehicles, Chrysler is introducing a 2.7-liter common-rail diesel powerful to propel the Jeep Grand Cherokee from 0-100 kph in 11 seconds. That’s 2.5 seconds faster than the diesel it replaces, even though it gets 16 percent better fuel economy. The CRD engine is notable for other reasons, since it is the first serious example of Chrysler borrowing technology from its sibling Mercedes-Benz division. Such a move “will not hurt Mercedes’ uniqueness,” insisted the German marque’s own CEO, Juergen Hubbert, as long as such an engine is tuned to deliver Chrysler-like performance. But is will definitely help Chrysler broaden its appeal, Zetsche emphasized.

 

2002 Mercedes-Benz SL55

2002 Mercedes-Benz SL55

THAT’S “SL” AS IN SLICK. The long-awaited Mercedes-Benz SL roadster got its first formal auto show preview in Frankfurt this week, where one of the stars of the show is the high-performance SL55 AMG performance package. The SL55 will appear in the U.S. in fall '02 as an '03; it will have a 476-hp (Euro-spec, probably 470 hp in U.S. spec) V-8 using a mechanical supercharger similar to the one used on the V-6 in the SLK32 AMG. “We see potential to sell 30,000 (of all SL models) a year, said Mercedes-Benz boss Juergen Hubbert, about 40 percent of them in the U.S. The new V-12 version should account for as much as 15 percent of total sales, but the V-8 will be the most popular package by far, Hubbert predicted. That version, the SL500, features a 306-horsepower package capable of launching from 0 to 100 km/h (0-62.5 mph) in just 6.3 seconds. The SL’s Vario-roof is an updated version of the lower-priced SLK’s retractable hardtop, but it has been designed to yield more usable trunk space, even in convertible mode.

SAVINGS EXCEED EXPECTATIONS. Partners General Motors and Fiat Auto now expect to achieve significantly greater savings than they had originally forecast, says Dan Hancock CEO of Fiat General Motors Powertrain. That’s one of two joint ventures teaming the two companies. When the deal was originally inked last year, Fiat and GM expected to save just over $1 billion through 2007 by combining powertrain operations. They’re now forecasting savings of well over $1.8 billion. Meanwhile, Mike Burns, head of General Motors Europe, told TheCarConnection.com “You will see more efforts” linking Fiat and GM. Not all will take the formal shape of a joint venture, however. Among other things, GM is likely to help Fiat re-launch its Alfa-Romeo brand in the U.S. by 2004. Burns cautioned not to expect his company to acquire Fiat, despite the so-called “put” included in the joint venture agreement. Technically, it could be used by Fiat to force an acquisition.

 

FIAT FORECASTS THIRD-WORLD GROWTH. Though sales have slipped in recent years, Fiat is looking for significant growth before the decade is out, with emerging markets providing most of the momentum. The Italian automaker expects to push sales from about 2.5 million this year to 3 million in 2003, CEO Roberto Testore told TheCarConnection.com. And by 2008, that could reach 4 million. The bulk of that growth is expected to come from the world’s smaller but fast-growing markets, including India, Brazil, Egypt, China and Southeast Asia. Some of that growth will depend on the assistance of General Motors, with which Fiat is linked by two joint ventures. Among other things, production will shortly begin on Fiat’s Alfa 156 model at the new assembly plant GM is running near Bangkok.

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