2005 Frankfurt Show: Last Words

September 18, 2005

2005 Frankfurt Auto Show Index by TCC Team (9/5/2005)

 

 

 

 

 

TCC Team

Publisher

 

2005 Ford iosis concept

2005 Ford iosis concept

Best New Concept: Ford’s iosis should actually win two awards: best concept and worst name — though the Yeti came close in the latter category. While iosis sounds like something you need to cure, it could be the fix for a variety of Ford’s problems, starting with the automaker’s seeming addiction to boring design. Though there are derivative elements in the iosis, which remind me of both the new Aston V8 Vantage and Mazda RX-8, Martin Smith’s concept is a visual winner. Honorable mention, by the way, to Mazda’s Sassou, while the Mercedes Bionic Car may have been the show’s oddest entry.

 

Best New Production Car: I’m tempted to give the nod to the new European Honda Civic, which generated a lot of buzz in media circles. But I’m personally quite fond of convertibles and am glad to see the emergence of more mainstream retractable hardtop versions. That said, I had to think about which I preferred most, the new Opel Astra Twin Top or the Volkswagen Eos. I’ll give the nod to the latter because of its trick, dual-purpose roof, which also has a more conventional sunroof mode.

2005 Kia Sedona

2005 Kia Sedona

 

Most Significant Production Vehicle: This is an easy one, and I’ll likely debate my own choice for some time to come, since it’s arguably not the product many of us had hoped for. But there’s little doubt that the new S-Class will remain the industry benchmark for top-end luxury vehicles, despite a number of shortfalls. And ironically, it’s interesting to see Mercedes unabashedly borrow the controversial “Bangle Butt,” the top-heavy deck lid first shown on the 2002 BMW 745i.

 

Best Press Conference: For me, the best was probably among the worst moments Chrysler PR chief Jason Vines has staged in a long career of made-for-TV previews. Often, Chrysler events really are fun, but all too often, you know you’re just there to provide backdrop for the cameras. In the case of the Jeep Compass and Patriot launch, however, things didn’t go quite right, thanks to an anxious crane operator pulling away the prop. The look on CEO Tom LaSorda’s face was priceless, but he proved himself a real trooper and ad-libbed his way through.

 

Worst Press Conference: Good luck getting it right next time, Geely. The automaker’s name literally means, “good luck,” staged the most confusing and incoherent preview I’ve ever attended. Or was it a preview. There were five cars there, but despite every effort to break through the language barrier, company officials never could explain their intentions, except with the cryptic response, “We are not ready to get married yet.”

 

Who’s On Top: Not quite the answer this question calls for, but in one sense, Toyota is on top in Europe right now. Oh, it’s still got a long way to go before catching up with the continent’s biggest players, and unlike the U.S., we can’t foresee a time when it will threaten even the industry’s giant. But the talk of this show was hybrid technology. Love it or hate it, the European powers that be have accepted they have to follow Toyota’s lead.

 

Who’s In The Barrel: Jaguar. It wasn’t that many years ago we were writing about the British maker’s “success story.” But since then, it seems, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. With sales plunging, a plant closing, and its new XJ sedan struggling for sales, a lot depends on the next-generation XK sports car. I think it’s a reasonably handsome vehicle, but it doesn’t have that, “oh, my gosh,” eye-catching quality of the two-door it replaces. So it could be a tough struggle for the Ford subsidiary.

 

Personal Best: I am going to intentionally duck this topic, but only to make a point. I can provide a long list of interesting and intriguing products, including the VW Eos, the Ford iosis, the Astra Twin Top and more, but what was most notable about this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show is that Europe’s premier automotive event really didn’t deliver any hands-down winners. Nothing stood out as a sold trendsetter or breakthrough.

 

Prediction for 2006: With everyone guessing about oil prices and the European economy, it’s hard to feel good about any forecast, but I’d bet the coming year is going to be tougher than 2005. We’re likely to see a continuation of the profitless prosperity companies like VW and Opel are faced with. The one thing I feel comfortable forecasting is that we’ll see a lot more about hybrids.

 

Biggest News Story: And that leads to my wrap-up, the big story in Frankfurt this year was clearly the battle between two fuel-efficient technologies, diesels and hybrids. As Porsche CEO Wendelin Wiedeking admitted to reporters, for the moment, hybrids seem to be winning the battle in the media. Whether they’ll be able to meet consumer needs is another story, and likely to make this an ongoing story for quite some time.

 

 

 

Bengt Halvorson
West Coast Editor/Copy Chief

 

2005 Mitsubishi Concept-Sportback

2005 Mitsubishi Concept-Sportback

Best New Concept: Mitsubishi’s Sportback-Concept looked oh-so-much better in the flesh than in the sketches that have circulated before the show. If this hot five-door can make it to North America intact as a production car, without the clean, sleek shape being turned into a homely sedan, it might be the sales success the Japanese automaker needs to make the rebound.

 

Best New Production Car: Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Though the styling might be controversial, the new S-Class is much more distinctive and special than the conservative, rounded outgoing car. Factor in all the new technology onboard, including more power from each of the powerplants, and the new S is a car to aspire to.

 

Most Significant Production Vehicle: The Audi Q7 is especially significant, as it looks to be an especially well-designed large SUV, unfortunately also one powered by a thirsty V-8 and arriving at a time when there’s a severe gas pinch on both sides of the pond. Will it still sell?

 

Best Press Conference: While many of the press conferences were drawn-out and cramped, Toyotakept it simple and about twenty minutes long, with plenty of information about the new cars being shown and the company’s market position. They kept the dancers to a minimum, too.

 

Worst Press Conference: Lamborghini, for yielding to some questionable music tastes. As the cars were being revealed, a suave singer offered an excruciatingly extended version of Robbie Williams’ “Let Me Entertain You” over and over. Wait, was that David Hasselhoff? After the conference, the press were completely ignoring the exotics on the small stand, instead pushing and shoving for fear that the automaker would run out of information kits — which probably have good eBay potential.

 

Who’s On Top: Toyota. As executives at German automakers admitted that they’d made some wrong decisions in favoring diesels over hybrids, the automaker reiterated that it plans to provide hybrid powertrains for its entire fleet within the next few years.

 

Who’s In The Barrel: Volkswagen. Everyone seemed to agree that the automaker has some serious reorganization to undertake over the next few years, in terms of products, technology, and customer image. With a radical enough change, they can do it.

 

Personal Best: I kept coming back to the three-wheeled Peugeot 20Cup, which looks like it would be an absolute hoot to drive, with rear-hinged steering, and a 170-hp high-revving four and sequential-shifting six-speed for only 1100 pounds. Fitted for more economical driving, it could be the start of a “smart” like car that might appeal to U.S.city drivers. Among the cars at the show bound (or likely) for production, the new Z4 Coupe is a beauty. I’ve never been a big fan of the roadster’s heavily wrought fender lines and creases, but with the new Coupe’s fastback shape, it all makes sense.

 

Biggest News Story: Gasoline prices throughout parts of Europe and the U.K.soared to the $7-per-gallon range the week of the show, and European news networks reported that in some areas drivers were in a near panic-buying situation, as European lawmakers threatened to intercede with the petroleum companies for relief.

 

 

 

Marty Padgett

Editor and Producer

 

2007 Jaguar XK

2007 Jaguar XK

Best New Concept: Ford iosis. Who couldn’t love this swoopy, fashion-forward four-door? The best details are the sideview cameras that look like high-end lighting fixtures. The pistoning doors are a nice touch, too. But maybe the best feature is its intention — Ford says it’s the shape of things to come, and that would be a very good thing for the company that so tragically defanged the American-market Focus and gave us the Five Hundred instead of a real 427.

 

Best New Production Car: The Jaguar XK, hands down. I do think Jaguar made a mistake by showing only the coupe on the show floor — later in the week Jaguar previewed the convertible for us in Englandand especially from the rear three-quarters, it’s a stunning vehicle. I don’t understand why the XJ has failed to sell better in a market where the patently offensive 7-Series has at least maintained its share. And while the Benz SL and BMW 650i will likely outsell the new XK, there’s no doubt which one is the handsomest of all.

2005 Kia Sedona

2005 Kia Sedona

 

Most Significant Vehicles: A trio of them, actually — the Benz S-Class hybrid, the Audi Q7 hybrid, and the BMW X3 hybrid. It’s taken only ten years, but the Europeans finally have admitted that there is some benefit and some public-relations mileage to be had out of hybrid vehicles. It’s too bad that they aren’t applying the technology to the vehicles that could produce some eye-popping EPA numbers, though. Imagine the selling point of a C-Class with 35-mpg numbers, or an A4 at 40 mpg. Yes, diesels can do the same, but this is a war to fight on all fronts and Americans have cottoned to battery-amplified power. Get over it.

 

Best Press Conference: You just have to love Alfa. No real news going on and yet, they still pass out panini, prosciutto, and pizza. That’s civilization.

 

Worst Press Conference: Where to begin? Frankfurt’s aptly named Messe is a series of interconnected halls segregated mostly by nationality. So it’s not so much bad press conferences as it is a bad physical plan — they seriously need to blow up all the buildings, work out a new set of buildings and then rethink the wisdom of scheduling two press conferences 15 minutes apart when it easily takes 20 minutes to walk between them.

 

Who’s On Top: Toyota seems a trite answer, so let’s go to left field and suggest that both the European and American legislators who are about to usher in a new era of crash and emissions rules that will make our cars even safer and cleaner — but at the same time will increase the regulatory burden on every vehicle sold in those markets, making it less easy to style vehicles distinctively and in the case of diesels, far more expensive to produce and sell.

 

Who’s In The Barrel: Volkswagen. Sure, Jaguar has problems, Paul, but that’s a 100,000-unit brand. VW is responsible for a few percentage points of German GDP. There’s no minivan yet, not enough crossovers, too much development time and labor costs — and the worst is yet to come in terms of plant closures and layoffs and potentially, a massive political battle with whomever is the next Chancellor.

 

Personal Best: The pretzel bread at the Sheraton breakfast buffet. Although the weirdly fluorescent energy drink handed out by Skoda gals simultaneously cured a headache and cleaned a spot out of my tie.

 

Prediction for 2006: I predict there will be no Frankfurt show covered by TCC next year, but that was pretty much a given since it’s biannual for us. A more risky prediction? At least one auto company mentioned in this column will be sold off, shut down, or hustled into bankruptcy court as the car world starts another round of consolidation.

 

Biggest News Story: Car-related story: The Germans jump on the hybrid bandwagon a mere decade after it takes off. Semi-car-related story: More than half the journalists traveling to the show from Americaflew home on bankrupt airlines, in large part because of fuel prices. How does that trickle down to the auto market? We’ll see soon enough.

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