Live from Mainhattan....

September 12, 2005

Yes, the auto babes are here - and before you get all your Andrea Dworkin up in our face, that's what one of the models called herself when asked (not the one here in a dress made entirely of cut-up smart Visa cards). And of course, there are new cars by the oodles, all manner of Skodas and Audis and Bentleys and Lamborghinis and...wait...that's just the VW Group cars.

But something seems amiss in Frankfurt this year. Possibly it's the doldrums affecting America, after Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast last week. Or maybe it's the continuing difficulty in the auto industry, where real game-changers like Chinese cars and slumping global demand threaten to turn shows like Frankfurt over like toys. Or maybe it's just the combination of a lackluster German economy and the similarly dingy outlook from my window toward the Frankfurt airport and the lukewarm gray skies above.

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The fact is, that there's not much to get excited about this year. Maybe the BMW Z4 Coupe has you tickled - but it's a little after the fact, right? Does the S-Class strike you as a brave new world or as another pawn move in the mad and sometimes funny games of one-upsmanship at work between BMW and Benz?

Granted, it's a far different world than the economically vibrant one we had in 1999, the last year I came to the Festhalle and promptly got lost in the bewildering array of walkways, pavilions and demolition zones that make up the show. The situation's much the same at home, but critically, this past year may have been the most important Detroit auto show in my career. A new Mustang and Corvette showed symbolically at least that the American companies, no matter how badly battered by the competition, still understood their appeal and have an idea of how to spin themselves out of their funk.

Here in Frankfurt, I see lookalike luxosedans and late hybrids still two years away from going on sale. What I don't see much of is inspiration.

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