SPECIAL REPORT: FRANKFURT AUTO SHOW

September 10, 2003

 SPECIAL REPORT: FRANKFURT AUTO SHOW

by TCC Team and Jens Meiners

Get TCC’s Frankfurt coverage right now:

2003 Frankfurt Show, Part I by TCC Team (9/8/2003)
Mazda3 breaks cover, Volvo gets small with S40, Aston unveils DB9.

2003 Frankfurt Show, Part II by TCC Team (9/9/2003)
A vision from Benz, an estate from Jag, and a wedgie from Mazda.

2003 Frankfurt Show, Part III by Ian Norris (9/9/2003)
Lambo goes racing, the SLR breaks cover, and Audi gets mileage from Le Mans.

2003 Frankfurt Show, Part IV by Chuck Dapoz (9/9/2003)
Ford unveils Visos, Skoda gets a fun minivan, and MINI goes for fashion.

2003 Frankfurt Show, Part V by Jens Meiners (9/9/2003)
Bugatti Veyron, Maserati Quattroporte, BMW 6-Series, and more.

Audi’s Second Take on Le Mans

Audi raised some eyebrows with the two-seat Le Mans supercar it brought to Frankfurt. Not surprising, since it was a thinly-disguised second take on the new Lamborghini Gallardo, the $150,000 performance car that’s supposed to become the centerpiece of the Italian automaker’s lineup. Especially odd was Audi’s decision to show Le Mans with a twin-turbo package even more powerful than Gallardo’s normally aspirated V-10. That convinced many observers there’d be little future for the Le Mans. But a senior Audi official tells TheCarConnection the car will roll into showrooms in two to three years. But look for significantly less, not more, power than offered in the Gallardo. Apparently, that means a range of engines and corresponding price tags of between $80,000 and $120,000. “We want to leave some headroom” between Audi and Lambo, the executive explained, likening it to a “911 strategy,” referring to the range of options offered by Porsche’s flagship sports car.

DCX Sticks with the Smart Set

2004 Smart forfour

2004 Smart forfour

DaimlerChrysler’s Smart is “now a brand,” and not just a product, DCX’s passenger car chief tells TheCarConnection. Over the last several years, Smart has gotten an expanding line-up, including the forfour four-seater unveiled in Frankfurt. Contrary to previous expectations, the forfour will not be coming to the U.S., at least not initially. Instead, American dealers will get what Juergen Hubbert calls “a small SUV” variant based on the forfour platform. It should reach the States by 2007. “We will see if there is interest,” he added, and then consider other models, ranging from the forfour itself to perhaps even the miniscule City Coupe.

Meanwhile, Hubbert firmly countered recent rumors that DCX has scrubbed plans to import its bottom-range Mercedes-Benz A-Class to the U.S. A pair of successors to the current car will roll out in Europe in 2004, he noted, including the crossover-styled CST. It will make the trans-Atlantic journey in late 2005, possibly as an ’06 model.


Delphi In Gear

While it’s still short of its goal of generating 50 percent of sales from customers other than former parent General Motors, Delphi is fast making headway. During a Frankfurt news briefing, the supplier revealed that non-GM business was up around 38 percent during the first half of this year. Meanwhile, it booked $24 billion in new global contracts through July, up from $11 billion during the first seven months of 2002, revealed Volker Barth, President of European, Mideast and African operations. That included $5 billion in new business in Europe, where Delphi is taking advantage of what might be described as an industry technology war. Manufacturers are racing to gain some sort of edge over their competition, and safety, performance, and infotainment systems are high on the list. By 2006, Delphi expects to see its new E-Steer electric steering system show up on seven European platforms, while it expects a new, high-performance “Maximum Torque” brake system to begin generating sales as early as 2006. Suppliers and automakers are embraced in a curious dance, competition forcing more content onto new vehicles, while competitive pressures also require suppliers to trim costs fairly aggressively. Legislation also plays a role, according to Barth. He notes that Delphi’s new piezoelectric fuel injectors are “double to triple” the cost of conventional injectors, but for some products may be the only way to meet increasingly stringent emissions standards.


Automakers Going Inside Out

There’s little you can do to compensate for a “butt ugly car,” says Mark Fields, head of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group. But customers in all segments of the market, from entry to ultra-luxury, he says are coming to expect ergonomic, attractive and “enriching” interiors. It takes little more than a quick tour of Frankfurt to see what that means. Automakers are using better materials and more sophisticated production methods to eliminate gaps and the sharp-edged “parting lines” long found on plastic components. Switches are easier to find and operate, providing a more satisfying sound and tactile feel. The intriguing Ice Aqua center console offered on Volvo’s new S40 features a semi-transparent material that lets passengers see the inner workings of climate, audio and other control systems. The switch to electronic, rather than mechanical, controls has a distinct advantage, notes Fields, allowing designers and engineers “more freedom” in the layout of an interior. Automakers speak of the influence of high-line furniture manufacturers, as well as stylish audio systems, such as Bang & Olufson. “I don’t think the interior itself will be the cause of a person to buy a car,” says GM “car czar” Bob Lutz, “but you can lose a sale” if the passenger compartment is shabby, or gain a customer if your interior is better than an otherwise equal competitor’s. That’s why GM hired Martin Smith a few years ago, luring him away from Audi, where he was considered one of the industry’s best interior designers. Upgrading interiors is “a major, major push,” Lutz asserts, with the goal of pushing GM “to the head of the class.” That goes for Europe, as well as the U.S., he says. Most experts insist that the Big Three U.S. automakers seriously lag behind both their European and Japanese competitors. If GM can catch up, ads Lutz, “We will take away the last excuse (many) people have for buying an import.”


DCX Considering Other Options In China

The preliminary deal announced Monday which would have Mercedes-Benz building cars in China may be just the first step, said Juergen Hubbert, director of passenger car operations for DaimlerChrysler. If a final agreement can be reached in the next few months, DCX hopes to begin building E- and C-Class cars in China 15 to 18 months later. Initial plans call for production of 25,000 vehicles annually, while the automaker intends to continue importing products such as the top-line S-Class. While the Chinese will be watching DaimlerChrysler, the automaker will also be watching to see if Chinese workers “can produce cars of Mercedes quality.” If so, that would ease the way for future ventures, possibly including a Chinese Smart car, or production of mainstream Mitsubishi vehicles, Hubbert told TheCarConnection.com.


Mercedes Aiming To Regain Quality Lead

Speaking of Mercedes quality, its U.S. and German workers haven’t done as good a job as expected lately — at least not according to recent studies by J.D. Power and Associates. No other brand saw such a sharp rise in problems after three years of service, revealed the latest Vehicle Dependability Study, putting Mercedes behind a number of less expensive brands. Fixing that is the company’s “top priority and we are working like hell to fix it,” declared passenger car chief Juergen Hubbert. He insisted the Power studies have overplayed some of the problems, since many complaints touched on such things as the size of Mercedes’ cupholders. But Hubbert also acknowledged that “seven out of ten of my problems” are related to electronic systems, such as systems controls, infotainment, and communications devices. The automaker has even approached Microsoft searching for answers, and is rolling out various solutions, including software upgrades that can prevent unexpected — and often hard to diagnose — problems. Meanwhile, Mercedes will “have to make some changes in our portfolio to reflect regional preferences,” said Hubbert. That would be a significant shift away from its one-size-fits-all-markets strategy. So in the future, American buyers might find it possible to comfortably stow their two-liter Big Gulps while driving.


Striking A Balance At PAG

2004 Aston Martin DB9

2004 Aston Martin DB9

The key to success at Ford’s Premier Automotive Group means striking a balance between the rational and the emotional, says PAG director Mark Fields. “At the end of the day, a car is an emotional purchase,” he told TCC, after serving as master-of-ceremonies for the rollout of four new PAG models. But increasingly, even luxury buyers want to prove they’ve made a “smart purchase,” he stressed. Among other things, that means potential customers are demanding more for less money. The new DB9, at around $130,000, will be expected to deliver the comfort, styling, convenience, and most of the performance of the far more expensive Aston Martin Vanquish. So while luxury brands should still be able to deliver far more profits than mainstream cars, Fields stressed that even brands like Aston are coming under some of the pricing pressures felt by high-volume siblings such as Ford.


Siemens, Suppliers Forecasting the Future

If you want to look ahead and see what the OEMs will display at the 2005 or 2007 IAA, look to the suppliers. One of the key players, Siemens VDO, is showing technology that can change today’s and tomorrow’s cars. One of the more visible features is the HUD (Head-Up-Display) now offered in the BMW 5- and 6-Series. HUD systems have been peddled for over a decade, but they needed to move beyond monochromatic speed readouts to capture the industry’s interest again. The Siemens VDO system integrates navigation features, speed readings, and warnings. It operates with four unnatural colors that never appear washed out against any background. Further innovations include sensor technologies for pedestrian impact detection. The Siemens VDO sensor strip uses optical fibers and can detect the resistance of the object. Thus, protective measures are taken only when the object hit is a human being, as opposed to a tree or a road sign. The company is also working on piezoelectronic injection systems, allowing OEMs to take full advantage of gasoline direct injection systems that have so far performed less than satisfactorily. A reduction of up to 20 percent in gas consumption is a realistic target, Siemens CEO Wolfgang Dehen said in Frankfurt.


Plastic Omnium Taking the Weight Off

How can weight be taken out of today’s increasingly heavy cars? Besides aluminum, an often costly and complicated solution, composite materials are on the rise. But cars fully made of plastic — like the Pontiac Fiero or the Renault Avantime — are not a realistic scenario, says Plastic Omnium

CEO and president, Laurent Burelle: “Car companies are built around a stamping plant and not a blow-molding machine.” He adds: “We see more opportunities with parts like fenders, front- and rear-end modules, and tailgates.” The French company is a leading supplier for plastic exterior parts and a 50 per cent partner in Inergy, the number one supplier of plastic tanks and fuel systems. Burelle says: “Integration is the key. Front ends will be pre-assembled and can incorporate sensors, crash boxes, light and radar sources, as well as pedestrian protection technology.”


Fiat Panda and Idea

2004 Fiat Panda

2004 Fiat Panda

Fiat’s little MPVs have already been displayed in Geneva this March, but now they have entered the stage of series models. Both cars are crucial to Fiat’s survival as an independent company. It is obvious that the Italians are still searching for a styling identity. The Panda — originally announced as the Fiat Gingo and re-named Panda when Renault threatened to sue because it could be confused with its own Twingo — was penned by Fiat’s own Centro Stile.

2004 Fiat Idea

2004 Fiat Idea

The slightly larger idea was not styled by the stylists at I.D.E.A., as its name might suggest, but by Giugiaro’s Ital Design. These little vans are space-efficient and inexpensive to operate. Fiat is proud of the Multijet diesel engines, and that seems to be the technology that GM is most interested in using.

FROM THE SOURCE headlines from the latest press releases

PRNewswire

Championship Auto Racing Teams, Inc. (NYSE: MPH) and Open Wheel Racing Series LLC today announced they have signed a definitive agreement providing for Open Wheel Racing Series to acquire Championship for cash equivalent to $0.56 per share, based on the number of shares of Championship common stock currently outstanding. Open Wheel Racing Series has previously stated that, if the transaction is completed, it intends to continue to operate the business of Championship, including continuing to sanction the motorsports series currently known as “Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford.”

Hella KG Hueck & Company is presenting a variety of new automotive technologies at this month's Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) in Germany (September 9-21, 2003). The company's electronics division will feature its Lane Departure Warning System (LDW), which gives a warning signal to drivers before they unintentionally depart from their traffic lane.

THE TICKER

Name Symbol Last Chg
AUTOLIV ALV 30.20 -0.73
AUTONATION INC AN 18.43 -0.18
ARVINMERITOR ARM 18.96 -0.15
AMER AXLE & MANU AXL 31.00 -0.43
BALLARD PWR SYS BLDP 12.97 -0.38
BORG WARNER BWA 69.04 -1.45
COLLINS AIKMAN CKC 3.00 -0.04
CUMMINS INC CUM 48.03 -1.72
DANA CORP DCN 15.41 -0.07
DAIMLERCHRYSLER DCX 37.31 -0.93
DELPHI CORP DPH 9.19 -0.23
EATON CORP ETN 90.71 -2.34
FORD MOTOR CO F 11.38 -0.25
GENERAL MOTORS GM 40.89 -0.72
GENTEX CORP GNTX 37.03 -0.74
GOODYEAR TIRE GT 7.45 -0.17
HONDA MOTOR CO HMC 21.45 -0.21
JOHNSON CONTROLS JCI 97.87 -1.12
LEAR CORP LEA 52.45 -1.05
MAGNA INTNL MGA 74.71 -0.29
MOTOROLA INC MOT 10.69 -0.51
NISSAN MOTORS NSANY 22.38 -0.25
SONIC AUTOMOTIVE SAH 27.48 -0.37
TOWER AUTO TWR 4.52 -0.38
TOYOTA MOTOR TM 59.50 -0.53
UNIT AUTO GRP UAG 24.00 -0.90
VISTEON CORP VC 6.41 -0.24

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