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Horsepower to the People
Frank Ebbecke

View of Frankfurt Fairground

RAport. One of the busiest airports in the world. Every day. Frankfurt. “WORLDport”. The busiest automotive hub globally. At least for these few mid-September days. Time for the IAA. The Internationale Automobil Ausstellung. Every second year (alternating with Paris), the executives of the entire world of car makers and suppliers, accompanied by their fan groups, make a pilgrimage to Frankfurt. Hundred of thousands pay homage to everybody’s most beloved object of desire. Everywhere.

And so in 2011. In this year when some European countries were, or still are, close to bankruptcy, the year when even the USA went financially down the drain. Almost. In this year when the People’s Republic of China, starts to fight inflation threats. Nevertheless, Angela Merkel officially opened the doors to the world’s biggest motor show with praise: “The automotive industry is the key driver of the economy.” Everybody showed unbroken optimism.

In this industry nobody seemed to remember the just-survived crisis. Was there one? “The Future Comes as Standard.” The promising, self-confident, motto of the 64th IAA in Frankfurt 2011. 109 world premieres, 49 from German manufacturers alone. More than 20,000 press and audio-visual media journalists from all over. Easy to suffer from 20 kilometres of walking in a day. If willing to grant a short visit of every single vehicle on display. Giganticism. Examples: it has been said that 1000 people in the hall of VW Group alone were busy just keeping their stands up and running. And then the individual “show palaces” of the global premium segment leaders. Space in abundance. Precious building materials. Generous hospitality. Felt like made for eternity. But it was for just 12 days. With the costs for these demonstrations of power and success the German elite pack of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi could have probably paid the debts which have grounded the Saab brand at the same time.

As my home is Moscow, the first personal question certainly was: “Where is Russia?” Avtovaz? “Nyet.” Marussia? Cancelled. But here came the ! Yo’s “New Symbol of Russia” as they claim. A joint project of the ONEXIM Group and the Yarovit Holding. Personally backed by billionaire entrepreneur Mikhail Prokhorov. The “Yo” represents the first hybrid vehicle from Russia. The dual-fuel crossover concept will run on either natural gas or petrol. Promised to consume a mere 3.5 liters of gasoline per 100 kilometers. Resulting in an impressive 700 kilometers range (using both tanks). Ready to pull people out of their outdated Ladas for the fair price of approximately $12,000. And this by mid-next year. Hold it. The stand and the exhibited vehicle itself suggested that all this could be only good will. Poor design of the stage in a remote place of the shiny show. Next to an equally unattractive stand of one of the surprisingly few competitors present from China: Changan. The exhibited car itself looked like quickly handcrafted. The totally blackened-out windows didn’t allow one to get a look inside. I guess, there was no interior to see yet.

Russian Yo Hybrid Concept

At least, the plans for the Yo are heading exactly in the right direction. Alternative power together with more effective emission control was the main theme of the show. More than ever before. The offerings of every major player from everywhere proved that environmentally conscious solutions could be put in mass production as from “tomorrow”. With zero emission. But that seems to be not really realistic. Entry prices are still far too high. Batteries are too big, heavy and expensive. And not feasible: an average range of just over 100 kilometres is a joke. A satisfactory infrastructure for recharging has not been established anywhere. Another problem (as funny as it might sound) is the low noise factor. A running danger for pedestrians, bikers and conventionally powered cars.

It seems that cars powered by Otto and Diesel engines will be on the road for much longer than demanded by politicians, people and nature. Many experts predict that a pool of only 20% of electric vehicles will be whistling their way after 2020. But in fact there’s lots of room for consumption, performance and emission improvement of traditional engines. Further innovations in gearbox technology and lighter body construction and components have to be expected.

But now a selective look to some of the brands: VW Group occupied one huge hall with seven of their brands: Volkswagen, Skoda, SEAT, Bentley, Lamborghini, Bugatti, and even Porsche slipping under the family roof for the first time. Audi as the image leader in design, technology within the family had decided on its own position. Its own piece of futuristic architecture.

VW’s Up!, the tiniest VW family offer ever, made its mark on their stand: “Small is Big”, its claim. But then the new, appealing appearance of the classic Beetle shows up. And Nils, a practical one-seater with a trunk for comfortable, ecological, fancy city cruising (a similar concept shown at GM’s Opel). Audi adds one more seat into the same direction with their Urban Concept. Unconventionally with freestanding wheels and sliding doors opening towards the rear. And there was their new view of the A2.

Mini Coupe

BMW devoted lots of space to their whole new BMWi subbrand line-up. At first glimpse onto the flagship model i8 just says: electric mobility can be so exciting and beautiful.

The Italians? Si, naturalmente! They were there. But kind of quiet. Wait a minute. They still decorated their exhibits with more gorgeous girls in stylish outfits than most of their competitors. Not exactly unexpected. Who drew more attention then? The new Fiat Panda or its lady presenters?! Alfa Romeo (will VW Group try to add this prestigious make to their portfolio soon— a continuing rumour in the industry) launched the 4C. A born sports car in the true, unbeatable Italian design tradition.

Nothing to say about Asians? In the contrary. Who could ignore Hyundai-Kia from Korea. With concentrating on the development of only two brands they have already achieved a global market share of 5.2% (#5) to date (including 75% in their home market). By the end of this year they will have sold 6.5 million cars. They have grown steadily in all major markets on all continents. Ferdinand Piech, the already legendary architect of the VW empire, and his lifelong companion Martin Winterkorn, the almighty boss of VW Group, regard the Korean powerhouse as their biggest threat on a global basis. So do the Toyota bosses. As reported in the trade. The high-up VW-managers, gifted, highly educated car engineers, were both seen disappearing in one of Hyundai’s best-sellers, the i30, for a solid inspection.

VW Nils: 1-Person Electric City Concept

Vicarious for the top managers of the industry, James Muir, Chairman & CEO of SEAT/VW Group, addressed the RF indirectly: “Russia, in particular its vibrant metropolis Moscow, is one of the most dynamic market places in Europe and even worldwide—and so are the drivers as I had the chance to witness myself. Russians today seem just to love the freedom of individual mobility—and so does SEAT, designing cars with built-in Spanish temperament and style as well as the latest state-of-the-art German technology.“

Nowhere else than at IAA does one gets such a complete overview of the global passenger car output, now and in future. In contrast to former shows, 2011 features many more realistic models. Ready for production. Ready for sale. The Mazda CX- 5 lightweight compact SUV. The next Mini derivative, the eyecatcher Mini Coupe. Mercedes M- and B-Class of a new generation. Plus their amazing SLS-AMG Roadster. Toyota re-enters the sports car segment with the sexy FT-86. And “some steps up”: a “firework” of high performance models at Audi (RS&S) and BMW (M). The backbone of Porsche—the new 911 sports classic. The racy Ferrari 458 Spider. All of them just dreams on wheels.

The IAA in Frankfurt. If you missed it. A pity. But don’t worry. Next one coming up: September 2013. Welcome to the whole world of cars.

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