Optimism in the air at Frankfurt Motor Show

Europe’s largest motoring showcase opens amid small signs of recovery

Visitors pass a display of Volkswagen Golf cars at the 65th Frankfurt International Motor Show in Frankfurt, Germany, yesterdat.  Photograph: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Visitors pass a display of Volkswagen Golf cars at the 65th Frankfurt International Motor Show in Frankfurt, Germany, yesterdat. Photograph: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Wed, Sep 11, 2013, 09:25

Whisper it quietly, but there is an air of optimism gently wafting through the enormous halls of the Frankfurt auto show, which opens this week. Europe’s largest motoring showcase - and the world’s largest auto show by square metres - is a bellwether for the state of the giant lumbering auto giants. And the mood is surprisingly upbeat.

In terms of new metal there is perhaps a dearth of road-ready production cars, but that’s partly down to several years of tight budgets and spending restraints. However the talk amongst executives is of the collapse in European car sales coming to an end. “We are at bottom,” Stephen Odell, Ford’s European head, said during the first press day of the Frankfurt Motor Show. “There are no major signs of uptick but it does feel like we’re running along the bottom.” The American car giant has been losing money in Europe for the last few years but now predicts to report full-year profits from its operations here by 2015.

Meanwhile at Mercedes chief executive Dieter Zetsche told reporters: “We have a luxury problem. We have a shortage of capacity and cannot fully satisfy global demand.” That’s not the sort of statement many have heard from a car executive since 2007. Admittedly luxury brands have weathered the recession relatively well but supply problems are not a common complaint amongst car firms these days.

Of the new metal on show, while much of the focus remains on eco-friendly and green variants, with hybrids and electric cars aplenty, the SUV clearly refuses to die or become regarded as some boomtime fad. From the Nissan Qashqai to the Opel Mokka and recent Renault Captur, there seems a ready market for small beefy supermini-sized SUVs. And the trend is in all areas from bargain brands to the premium players. Concepts like the Lexus LF-NX show the direction car firms are looking to go.

New models like the Mercedes GLA and the Ford Ecosport - small SUVs built on the same platform as a car firm’s hatchback models - are proving the hot ticket this year. And in this case popularity is likely to equal profitability. Early mover advantage is key as there is little point in developing a new model that merely eats into your customer base. But the simple fact that car firms are looking to develop new products for European consumers is a breath of fresh air in itself.