It is, perhaps, time to pause for a cup of tea and something small to eat. A chance to rest aching soles of feet and find a replacement notebook. The Frankfurt motor show is physically the biggest in the world, and this year it's been throwing out new models and news to overshadow most if not all of the other big global car events.
Loop, shock and stumble
The show started with a loop, continued with a shock and then had a stumble. When we saw it happen, Jaguar’s record-breaking 19.08-metre loop-the-loop which introduced its new F-Pace crossover to the world in proper production form, looked like a show stunt that simply couldn’t be beaten. Quite apart from being an appropriate way to celebrate the Cat Brand’s 80th birthday, it was also a bravura way to show off the F-Pace, which should go on to become Jaguar’s best-selling model by the end of next year.
Porsche though, trumped it with a simple lift of a dust sheet. We had been expecting some electric news (in both senses of the word) from Porsche, and talk on the sidelines of the show of an all-electric and hybrid 911 sports car seemed to confirm that. We weren't expecting the Mission E though – a 600hp electric super-saloon with a 500kmh range and a super-fast 15-minute charge-up time, thanks to an 800-volt charging system. Breath, taken.
It also looks rather stunning, all curves that have been sucked down to the road by an invisible Dyson, and it bodes well for the styling of Porsche’s upcoming Panamera replacement and its 5-Series-sized saloon. Tesla should be very, very worried.
We were all worried about Harald Krueger – the BMW CEO came on stage at one of the first press conferences of the day, but barely had he introduced the new 7 Series to the crowd than he stumbled and fell, suffering a dizzy spell and had to be helped off stage by colleagues. The show went on, (of course, as it always must) but thankfully news came later that Mr Kruger was well and recovering, and had not suffered anything serious.
BMW’s press conference felt a touch low-key after that, unsurprisingly, but the new Mini Clubman estate looks rather quirkily cool, and Mini people were keen to point out its new-found cabin space as well as its more conventional rear doors.
VW Group dominates as ever
Quite aside from Porsche’s shock reveal of the Mission E, the rest of the mighty Volkswagen Group held its usual sway over Frankfurt. At a massive event the night before the show’s official opening, the sheer breadth of the Group’s talents was hammered home, with new model after new model catwalking before the world’s press. The most significant was probably the most ordinary – the new Volkswagen Tiguan, which goes on sale early next year in petrol, diesel and plugin hybrid forms, as well as multiple wheelbases and sizes for discerning global markets. It’s a hugely important car for VW – a cornerstone of a new push on SUVs and crossovers to try and make good a dismal performance in the US car market.
Speaking of SUVs, if you want to buy a new Bentley Bentayga, you'll have to get in line. Apparently the first full year of production for the 600hp W12-engined behemoth is already sold out, even at its elevated list price of €340-odd-thousand. Bentley will add more model lines to its first ever 4x4 though, including V8 turbo, plugin hybrid and, yes, a diesel too.
Audis e-Tron Quattro concept had been massively trailed in the run up to the show, but it’s still a striking vehicle. Low-slung (well, low-slung compared to the Q7 with which it shares its bone structure) and desirable looking, in any other circumstances its 500km-range all-electric powertrain (with wireless inductive charging) would have snagged all the headlines, especially as it will go on sale, virtually unchanged, in 2018. Pity Porsche had to effectively stolen its electric thunder though…
Thank goodness for Lamborghini though – its Huracan LP610-4 Spyder doesn't have a single volt or amp of electrical assistance in its drivetrain, but its 610hp 5.2-litre V10 petrol engine, four wheel drive, and Satan's-cheese-wedge styling were all we needed to remind ourselves why we fell in love with cars in the first place.
A pity then that Volkswagen's CEO Martin Winterkorn, fresh from his defeat of former VW overlord Ferdinand Piech, had to go and pour a little technological cold water on our ardour – saying that VW"s engineers "are in the process of reinventing Europe's largest automaker, laying the technological, economic and structural foundations. No commitment to electro-mobility can be any clearer than that." Nothing wrong with that, but when he started talking about the convergence between cars and smartphones, we started looking for the off-switch.
Merc’s aero special, Ferrari’s convertible
Across the hall at Mercedes, things were looking a little more interesting. And, above 80kmh, even more interesting again. The IAA concept (Intelligent Aerodynamic Automobile, but IAA is also the official name of the Frankfurt show) is a pretty clear look at the styling and shape, both inside and out, of the next-generation CLS (and the interior will also be seen in next year’s new E-Class) but it has a few more tricks up its sleeve. Well, boot. Above speeds of 80kmh, extra aerodynamic panels extend from the boot and under the front bumper, making it a full 390mm longer to make the car ever-more teardrop in shape, and lower its aerodynamic drag figure to a tiny 0.16Cd. For all its show-car glitz, it actually uses a production drivetrain – the 275hp system from the C350e plugin hybrid. Thanks to the IAA’s clever aero, Mercedes is claiming an electric-only range of 65km and fuel consumption of 191mpg.
Mercedes also had some interesting things to say about current European social issues. CEO Dr Dieter Zetsche said that his firm would match Audi's recent pledge of €1-million to refugee relief programmes, as well as matching any individual employee donations. As the borders closed across Germany, Zetsche sounded a politically positive note at Frankfurt, saying that "In an ideal case, this can help foster another economic miracle. Many examples of successful integration can be found in Silicon Valley." His comments were echoed by VW's Winterkorn, who said that Volkswagen Group would be establishing special programmes to try and train and employ refugees in its factories.
Of more mundane matters, Ferrari brought along its latest convertible to the show, the 488 Spider, which uses the same 660hp turbo 3.9-litre engine as the coupe, and has a folding hard top that's said to be 25kg lighter than a fabric roof. It did feel a touch listless on the Ferrari stand, which rather magnified the lack of new metal coming from Fiat-Chrysler. There was nothing new on the Fiat stand itself, bar the mildly facelifted new 500, while we had already seen the (admittedly gorgeous) new Alfa Romeo Giulia saloon. With word coming that General Motors has rebuffed, once again, Fiat's talk of merger, is the Italian cupboard looking a touch bare?
Profits at Opel, but warnings over China
GM itself was in bullish mood. Global CEO Mary Barra was on hand to launch the new, and rather smart-looking Opel Astra hatchback and estate. It's not the sort of car that's going to blow show-goers away, but it's hugely important – Opel has clawed its way back up to third place in the European sales charts and looks likely to finally break even financially next year. Will profits return to Opel's Frankfurt headquarters at last? With 29 new models due by 2020, it just might happen.
Profits were certainly on a lot of minds on the show floor. For all the gloss and glamour of a motor show, the chilly east winds blowing from the Chinese market will be worrying many. Well-respected analysts Bernstein & Associates were predicting yesterday that at least one major German car maker will have to issue a profits warning on the back of falling Chinese car sales, following the stock market meltdown in Beijing last month.
Although car sales are still up overall this year in China, they're only up by 2.6 per cent and the last three months have seen year-on-year falls. Some makers are still posting robust figures – Mercedes' sales are up a whopping 53 per cent in China so far this year, while Jaguar Land Rover announced that it's sitting on record sales of 500,000 units worldwide, even before the F-Pace gets its feet under the table.
Even so – China has for so long been the great, white hope of the global car industry, but with Chinese buyers staying away or, worse, embracing home-grown brands, what comes after Frankfurt’s party mood? More shock? More stumble?