September 10, 2003


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

Enlarge Photo
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.”

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