After BMW CEO Harald Krueger collapsed during the very first Press Conference at the Frankfurt Auto Show (he’s okay), the rest of the first Press day went smoothly and I give you my first impressions: what surprised me, what stood out and what disappointed me. If you only have time for 15 Frankfurt tidbits, don’t look further. A selection of 25 photos out of 600 I took today – double the amount of two years ago, so you only get the very best and relevant. Remember to click on any picture to enlarge it.
1. Renault got its mojo back
Last year at the Paris Auto Show, #1 French manufacturer Renault left me frankly disappointed: ill-focused in its obsession with the slow-selling new Espace and miles behind German manufacturers that seemed more excited to be in Paris than the locals (See Paris 2014: Has Renault lost its mojo?). In Shanghai last April, I found Renault presumptuous and fluffy (See Auto Shanghai 2015: The Highlights). But here in Frankfurt it all clicked into place: the all-new Talisman actually looks premium and its station wagon variant, unveiled today, can now play with the big boys in Europe. But it’s the all-new Mégane, also unveiled today, that bluffed me: arriving a few months after the Talisman allows it to look like a ‘small Talisman’ (as opposed to the Talisman looking like a large Megane) and the interior perceived quality is a quantum leap above the previous generation. The Tesla-esque touch screen and eye-level display are elements the all-new Opel Astra can only dream of (see further down). With the Kadjar, Espace, Captur and Twingo, all very current and consistent design-wise, the Renault range is starting to look mean. And I like it.
2. Mercedes still does it best
As it was the case two years ago, Mercedes dominates all other Frankfurt exhibitors head and shoulders with a gigantic 3 level-exhibition hall that could place as a museum. The SUV onslaught is real with the new GLC making its debut, as well as the C-Class Coupe and S-Class Cabriolet. The IAA Concept inaugurates a new design language that I wouldn’t mind seeing on the carmaker’s future models. Top-of-the-range Mercedes-Maybach S600 delivers the goods, the mood is quietly confident and I am impressed once again.
3. Smart sees big
Not satisfied with monopolising the attention with its exhibition hall/museum (see above), Mercedes is also pushing the Smart brand, and not just a little. The second half of its hall dedicated to the two-model brand means its surface is larger than Volkswagen, an outdoor area with animations and a cap-painting artist (?) plus a large area in the Brabant stand displaying “tailor-made Smarts”… All-in-all, I counted no less than 50 Smart Fortwo and Forfour displayed at the Show! Mercedes means business. Smart business.
4. Borgward is still(re)born
The Borgward press conference was packed to the rafters during this first Press Day. Not surprising: Borgward is a German brand initially founded in 1929, forced into liquidation in 1961, but resuscitated by the founder’s grandson Christian Borgward and the financial backing of Chinese truck manufacturer Foton. Yes but. The initial trepidation fast evaporated as soon as the design and the unfinished interior of the BX7 SUV were unveiled. It looks and feels like a Geely, which isn’t such a bad thing anymore (see my coverage of Auto Shanghai 2015 here) but relaunching a German brand in Germany with a Chinese vehicle and a misleading “accessible premium” positioning could only end in tears. How to kill (again) a brand in one day.
5. Opel launches a disappointing Astra
A lot of song-and-dance on the Opel stand with swish black surfaces and colourful, fast-moving and eye-hurting visuals. But the Opel Astra, on top of displaying an evolutionary exterior (as did the Corsa last year), shows unbelievable laziness inside: a part of the central console dislodged itself and stayed in my hand when I touched it (truth – don’t tell anyone, I left it there), and the glovebox is non-existent because Opel had the genius idea to put a… cd-player there? Really Opel? The all-new Mégane is going to eat you alive.
6. Volkswagen recycles
They don’t look bad, but they are starting to look dangerously the same these Volkswagens. A little bit like in China. The all-new Tiguan looks like a bumped up Passat. You have to look twice to distinguish the new Touran from the Sportsvan. The Polo and Golf are starting to fuse with each other (but that’s not new). All looking very powerful and confident, but I am still looking for an ounce of sex-appeal at Volkswagen.
7. Seat is the cool VAG Group kid
Next door to Volkswagen on the Seat stand, slick southern european deep house music was being blasted by a resident DJ and everyone looked relaxed and happy, including the starlets posing next to the cars. Still searching for a true identity on the European market, Seat found it at the Show. The mood was welcoming, hip and unassuming. Now about the lack of truly new cars… Further along was Skoda, starting to look more and more like a young Volkswagen with a lot of rigidity in the stand layout and the cars exhibited and, surprisingly, a lot of make-up on the starlets. Note I didn’t use the word tarty. Or did I.
8. Alfa Romeo is back
The Giulia is aggressive, good looking and sounds like a leopard with manflu. Finally, Alfa Romeo is back. Looped panoramic video footage surrounding the stand and amping up the engine’s sexy raucous voice, slurry and aloof starlets and fiery colours are all on-brand, but I couldn’t help but thinking this leap forward (remember the Mi.To? Or Giulietta?) may be more on-point in the U.S. than in Europe. Sales will tell the tale very soon.
9. Bugatti reinvents outrageous
If I didn’t have to walk around each and every one of the 11 exhibition halls to take pictures and interview carmakers, I would have gladly stayed on the Bugatti stand, blissfully hypnotised by the Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo – an avant-look to the future Chiron – in its royal blue robe. Every curve, every detail, every look at every turn: perfection has found its car and it’s outrageously beautiful.
10. Bentley aims at China
The Bentley Bentayga SUV is finally here, and it look as out of place on the Bentley stand as the Cayenne did on the Porsche stand back in 2002. Meaning: who cares. As the Cayenne and now Macan has done for Porsche, the Bentayga will lift Bentley into a different sales category, and it looks like Bentley interior designers have their eyes firmly set on China: what’s with the fake-looking wood decoration and orange leather? Me no likey.
All-new Lexus RX
11. Lexus is growing on me
At every Show appearance, the Lexus NX has left me with a nauseous taste in the back of my mouth. It’s therefore with great surprise that I can say I don’t mind the NX-inspired new generation RX. The exterior seems just a tad tamer to be acceptable in comparison (or I really got used to the NX, already common on Sydney streets), and whereas the NX interior is screaming at you to leave the cockpit, the RX is surprisingly cosy. Lexus is growing on me.
12. Peugeot plays the sporty card in Germany
Unveiling of the 308 GTi, looped videos of the 208 Pikes Peak and the 2008 Dakar, dimmed lights, black surfaces and red cars: Peugeot has metamorphosed into a sporty brand for the Frankfurt Auto Show. To try and show the Germans how it’s done? An interesting move.
13. Toyota finally jumps on the small SUV bandwagon…
Where Volkswagen perdures in launching ever more expensive/larger SUVs, Toyota looks like it’s getting ready to unveil a sub-RAV4 compact SUV to battle with the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3 and Nissan Juke. That’s a good idea (an euphemism) because China needs this car yesterday. Make that last year.
14. …but the Mirai is still ugly.
Today is the first time I actually take the time to investigate the Mirai, which I elected the ugliest car in the world this year, as I was too busy covering the Chinese carmakers at Auto Shanghai 2015. Verdict: still ugly. From every angle. Only the interior was ‘interesting’. Not appealing. Just ‘interesting’.
15. Kia improves again
Just as the current generation is gaining an insolent 15% year-on-year in Europe (7 months 2015), Kia unveiled in Frankfurt the new gen Sportage, and the improvements are glaring. The interior is getting smarter, more generous and more sophisticated by the minute and gives off a clear impression of accomplishment. Kia being located in Hall 9 along with a few other Asian carmakers, this was the perfect opportunity to compare interiors as objectively (and quickly) as possible. Notwithstanding the price differences, Kia can be proud to only trail Honda and distance Mazda, Mitsubishi and Suzuki. Explanations: the Honda HR-V surprised me with its refinement and smarts (cup holder becomes bottle holder with a click), the Mazda CX-3 looks the best but is very uneven with a surprisingly cheap clang of the glovebox opening, the Mitsubishi Outlander and ASX (same interiors) betray their recent overhaul by being decidedly unpractical with no room for smart phones for example. Suzuki is a notch below, and deserves clarification: the all-new Baleno unveiled in Frankfurt seems destined solely to India with a very basic interior featuring a show-off oversized touch-screen in a Chinese carmaker fashion.
We finish on a touch of humour, courtesy of French weekly Auto Plus.
Upcoming are interviews with Volkswagen, Audi, Mercedes, BMW, Dacia and Renault, so stay tuned!