The biennial Frankfurt show is traditionally a time for German carmakers to flex their muscles. So it was an unfortunate turn of events when BMW’s new chief executive Harald Krüger collapsed from what is said to be exhaustion as he delivered his keynote speech, bringing the press conference to an abrupt halt. Even more troubling are the VW Group’s issues with alleged emission dodging, an unfolding scandal that threatens the lustre of the country’s entire industry.
Presciently, perhaps, the mood was set for a rather sombre auto show, lacking the spark of recent years and a reflection on lacklustre car sales, especially in the promising future and frontier markets. Carlos Ghosn summed it up. ‘We have to accept that growth cannot be linear,’ said the Renault Nissan boss, noting the significant drop in sales in Russia and Brazil, and ‘disappointing’ developments in China.
The Jaguar F-Pace is a direct response to the economy of car making in this volatile global marketplace. This is the first sports utility vehicle from the marque, a timely product designed to interact with fresh customers. It joins an ever-growing family that includes the latest F-Type sports car and the small saloon XE – and it makes complete business sense given the popularity of such small on-road crossovers in Europe and beyond.
On the eve of the motor show, the F-Pace proved its credentials as the ‘sportiest SUV’ by defying gravity on the largest-ever loop the loop completed by a road car. It was undeniably exhilarating watching stunt driver Terry Grant race the car inside the 19.08m tall, 360-degree circle.
Another marque exploring novel territory is Bentley. The Bentayga is the company’s first SUV and has been in the making for some four years. The production car revealed here is a far cry from the earlier brash concept EXP 9 F presented at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show. Instead this is a studied approach to a luxe off-roader with a distinct Bentley flavour.
We caught up with Sang Yup Lee, head of exterior and advanced design. ‘I feel this is the biggest launch in the Bentley history,’ he said, noting the marque’s recent four doors have largely been interpretations of traditional luxury. ‘This is a representation of modern luxury. We have a great tradition but we must move forward,’ he added candidly.
Rival luxury automobile maker Rolls-Royce revealed the Dawn at Frankfurt. With its restrained sensibility, this sumptuous drop-top smaller Rolls is squarely aimed at younger drivers and markets beyond Europe.
Elsewhere, Mercedes Benz took the wraps off the S-Class Cabriolet, its first full-size convertible car in four decades. The company would like to enjoy a slice of the booming ultra-luxury sector by expanding its pinnacle S range. Earlier this year we saw the 18-foot S-600 Maybach limousine, and Frankfurt was also the stage for the unveiling of the powerful S-63 Cabriolet, a plausible rival to Bentley’s Continental GT Speed Convertible.
On a more conceptual level, Mercedes revealed Intelligent Aerodynamic Automobile, IAA for short. This is a real concept car in the old fashioned sense. Some colleagues joked that it is harking back to the 1950s, yet it was refreshing to be shown an idea that isn’t a production car in soft disguise. Instead this is the latest in a series of studies into future design, active aerodynamics, and alternative powertrains.
Finally, Porsche’s Mission E proved to be one of the only real revelations at Frankfurt. Pre-show digital teasers have taken the surprise element out of these events – a bit of a shame and perhaps an indication that the current motor show format is in need of a review.
Porsche, nonetheless, managed to keep its lips sealed until the press day. This sleek four-door 600bhp-plus electric concept car previews an upcoming ecologically responsible supercar that promises everyday practicality with unrivalled range.
‘We always said that when we do an electric car, it would be a true sports car,’ said head of research and development Wolfgang Hatz. Speed, it seems, is here to stay and it is up to sports car makers like Porsche to preserve the thrill of motoring in the age of electrification.