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Frankfurt 2015 / Mercedes: SUVs have no more arguments against them

Mark Langenbrinck. Picture courtesy largus.frMark Langenbrinck, President of Mercedes-Benz France

ast of the German brand interviews at the Frankfurt Auto Show, we now speak with Mark Langenbrinck, President of Mercedes-Benz France. As it was the case with Arnaud Barral at Volkswagen, a relaxed interviewee took my questions with bonne humeur and honesty.

BSCB: The A-Class is your best-seller in France but down 3% so far in 2015. Age? Increased competition? Transfer to the CLA sedan?

Mark Langenbrink: We are launching the A-Class facelift just now, so in terms of lifecycle I do think this is a very good performance for a vehicle that started in 2012, and I’m guessing your next question is about the B-Class (BSCB: Yep, -14%) so I will address it straight away: as you know we are not alone in this segment anymore… So even if the -14% today were coming from a “culturally close competitor” (wink), I think we are doing pretty well. Today when we talk to our dealer network, they tell us they are rather surprised at the sales hold of our compact cars given their lifecycle. This to us proves that we did not just launch a fashion with our new designs, these formats really do match a willingness of our customers to look for these formats. Our new models are triggering surprisingly strong traffic in our dealerships given our lack of communication out there except one TV campaign for our new SUV range. For the first time in 3 years, we have a ‘back to school’ period (BSCB note: September is the end of Summer holidays in France) without the “soufflé” effect of sales struggling to shake off the summer torpor.

Mercedes A Class Frankfurt 2015Over half of A-Class customers are new to Mercedes.

BSCB: Staying on the A- and B-Class, where do your customers come from mainly? Are they 100% conquest models?

Mark Langenbrinck: Typically, our customers park outside and come in through the entrance door (deadpan breaks into a grin) and when we analyse where they come from, it varies a little with the model. On the A- and B-Class we have a conquest ratio of 50 to 60%, and this ratio has remained the same since the introduction of the current generations. Where do these new conquests come from if we focus on this figure a little more: around one-third come from the two colleague premium German brands, and the remaining two thirds come from mass market brands, some being quasi-premium. There is a real flux towards our brand and we see it clearly in the evolution of the premium segment on the French market. All three premium German brands show strong growth, us a particularly strong growth (BSCB: +10% vs. +4% for Audi and +15% for BMW), and the weight of the premium segment is getting stronger. This is necessary, as France has the weakest premium ratio in Europe.

Mercedes C Class Germany June 2015. Picture courtesy auto-news.deThe C-Class station wagon is happy Mercedes happy in France.

BSCB: It took only a year for the C-Class to regain the #1 spot in its segment in Europe (#17 overall vs. #25 for the BMW 3 Series and #29 for the Audi A4). What are the reasons behind this tremendous success?

Mark Langenbrinck: We are right where we were hoping to be, which wasn’t a given because the sedan segment is declining in Europe. In China and the United States it is a more accepted, classical segment so its evolution is stable but in Europe it’s down. For us specifically in France, the station wagon is making us extremely happy: for years and year our SW sold around one-third the amount of A4 Avant and BMW 3 Series Touring, but we are now on par.

To explain the C-Class success, what we hear a lot from our dealers is a magnificent compliment but also an ambivalent one for me, responsible for the brand: very often the C-Class is considered as a small S-Class, in terms of comfort, design and quality of materials and finish, positioning itself clearly above its competitors in the segment. Our clients have experience in premium brands – it is very rare to enter the premium segment with the C-Class – and they really appreciate the vehicle’s quality. Typically, one third of our C-Class customers are attracted by the new generation and renewing their previous C-Class, one-third are coming from our compact cars, and a large one-third (not 50% but more than 33%) come from other brands. The success of the C-Class, although being clearly linked to the new model, I must be fair and say it is also partly linked to our two competitors’ lifecycle: the new A4 is coming next year and will be a great challenge for us.

Mercedes CLA France July 2015. Picture courtesy largus.frGreat start for the Mercedes CLA Shooting Brake

BSCB: You just mentioned the success of the C-Class station wagon in France. You recently launched the CLA Shooting Brake. Success?

Mark Langenbrinck: Enormous success. We are very happy with how the Shooting Brake has started. We were not certain whether this type of vehicle would find its public in France given our traditional slight weakness in the station wagon segment. We now have two very good looking station wagons that are each positioned against a specific competitor. So the customer cannot argue anymore on how pricey the Mercedes station wagon is: the CLA Shooting Brake has a very dynamic profile and very young target and its price is a great selling point for us. If you want to go up a segment you can stay with us with the C-Class station wagon which is to me the best-looking C-Class SW we have ever produced.

Mercedes GLC Frankfurt 2015Mercedes unveiled the GLC SUV in Frankfurt

BSCB: To finish let’s talk about your SUV range: with the GLA, GLC and GLE you now have a naming system that I imagine is easier to understand for the consumer…

Mark Langenbrinck: (big laugh) Dunno. There are two sides. On one hand you have people who know Mercedes naming codes and say it’s much better now, with the GL- indicating SUV and a direct link to the corresponding sedan. Other say squarely they couldn’t care less about the name, they come into our showroom, see the vehicles and choose from that. I’d say, “à chacun son plaisir” (To each his/her pleasure). We needed to link our SUVs, and for once we have found a logical way that indicates to people who know our A-, C-, E-, S- logic in which segment our SUVs find themselves.

BSCB: Your new naming works for me – I get it…

Mark Langenbrinck: There you go, but you are an expert – I mean, I won’t compare you with my father but if I ask “Dad? What do you think?” “Pfffft”. See, just yesterday I had a go at doing a radio ad for our SUV range. Now try and imagine the copy: “Now at Mercedes a complete SUV range with the GLA, the GLE, the GLE Coupe and the GLC.” Do you understand a thing? You do, but if you survey people here at the Auto Show… I don’t think they do. So I think it’s very important to have a range segmentation, but in terms of communication we focus more on the vehicle’s abilities. What is really important, you’ve seen it with the GLA and you will see it with the GLC, is that you we have one SUV for each need. We have eagerly waited for this moment – as you know with GLK sales we are now approaching anecdotic level, so with the beast we have in the GLC I think we are onto another hit.

BSCB: Are you able to communicate on GLC orders?

Mark Langenbrinck: What I can tell you is that we are in line with our targets, and as you know Dieter Zetsche has set the aim of being the #1 premium brand worldwide by 2020. I hope that in France we will reach this objective a little faster, and if you look at the growth rates we are achieving you will see that we are right on track. Right now we have one new launch every three months, so it’s all smiles for us.

BSCB: Do you see SUV sales growing further?

Mark Langenbrinck: I do. Because you have all the comfort of a sedan: thanks to hydraulic suspensions you don’t have this “effet paquebot” (liner effect) anymore, you have an elevated driving position that gives a feeling of safety and better orientation in the traffic, and we are in the process of eliminating the last drawback of SUVs with for example our GLE 350 E, a hybrid with only 60g of CO2 emissions. And for the 3% that want to venture in the countryside or the forest, they are still capable of doing so. Today there are no arguments anymore for not buying an SUV.

Frankfurt 2015 / VW: A small SUV could lift us to 10% share in France

Volkswagen France Director Aranaud Barral. Picture courtesy largus.frArnaud Barral

After Audi and BMW, here is the third catchup with a German brand I had the privilege to organise at Frankfurt. Volkswagen may be losing foot in China, but in its European fief volumes are as high as they ever were, with the brand even placing three nameplates within the European Top 4 for the first time in history in August. We meet with Arnaud Barral, Volkswagen Brand Director for France. A very laid back and honest interaction, that started with Arnaud interviewing me…

Arnaud Barral: So what you do with BestSellingCarsBlog is specifically sales data analysis?

BSCB: Yes we cover 190 markets and publish a monthly analysis for roughly 60 countries.

Arnaud Barral: That’s massive! So basically you know sales data better than me…

BSCB: But we’ll only cover France for this interview…

Arnaud Barral: Um yes but still… This is going to be funny…

VW Tiguan Frankfurt 2015bVolkswagen unveiled the new Tiguan in Frankfurt.

BSCB: What is your analysis of Volkswagen France sales performance so far in 2015?

Arnaud Barral: The overall French market is at +6%, correct? (BSCB: correct) It is still pulled up mainly by tactical sales however, with private sales starting to recover over the past 3-4 months which is great news. We follow the market at +6% also, and in private sales we are at 8.6% gaining 0.4 point. So our growth is healthy. In terms of financing, LOA (Location avec Option d’Achat – Long-term lease with Purchase option) is growing exponentially and now represents the majority of financed purchases at Volkswagen. We have also noticed that it improves our customers’ loyalty to the brand, so it is very beneficial for us.

The second angle we have is we often do limited offers to boost traffic in our dealerships and to demonstrate that VW is more affordable than you think. We remain very prudent in terms of tactical sales: we don’t do rentals, demo sales or 0km used cars for example, and we want to deliver a stable and profitable performance so we are focusing on company and private sales in the context that they don’t damage our pricing. Our policy is not for a growth at all cost, but a healthy growth protecting our margins. This policy is 4-5 years old, what really has changed recently for us is the LOA surge.

VW Touran Frankfurt 2015VW Touran R-Line and VW Passat Alltrack

BSCB: Getting into the detail by model, which successes are you the most proud of, reversely which models do you think need more work?

Arnaud Barral: Firstly our pillars are doing well: the Polo is going very well (BSCB: +7%) and the Golf is doing correctly while being challenged by a very valuable competitor in the Peugeot 308. We already have 2.000 orders for the new Touran, the Tiguan has a solid end of life for this generation (BSCB: -13%) and the Passat is a full house (BSCB: +76%). On the other hand I believe we could do much better with the Up. We are at 4% market share in that segment, we should aim at 6%. 3 years after launch, the Up is not established yet as a nameplate and we have an average legitimacy in this segment after our past struggles with the Fox. It’s a rather discreet car that doesn’t have the sex-appeal of its competitors, such as the Fiat 500, Mini or the French (new Twingo, C1, 108), however we think it will age gracefully, so we are counting on this durability to improve our performance in the long run.

BSCB: Staying on the Passat success for a bit, in August you outsold the segment leader the Peugeot 508 by 5 units. Is your objective to be first in class with the Passat?

Arnaud Barral: No. It would be pretentious to aim at outselling the French, however we can approach them. To me August sales are irrelevant as this is a very atypical month. In the segment this year, the 508 is at 34% market share and we are at 17%. We are a solid #2, and this suits us very well. For Passat we are at 75% of registrations to companies, and among private sales a lot are LOA as described above.

VW Golf Sportsvan Frankfurt 2015. Picture courtesy of largus.frLittle cannibalisation of Golf sales: the Sportsvan.

BSCB: Now that Golf and Sportsvan sales are separated in official French data, the Golf looks weaker and the Sportsvan excels (#42 in 2015). Do you see Golf cannibalisation by the Sportsvan?

Arnaud Barral: The Sportsvan is particularly successful with private buyers, as a complement to the Touran in our MPV sales. There is probably a little bit of cannibalisation of Golf sales, however Sportsvan volumes are lightyears ahead of what the Golf Plus was doing, and when adding Golf and Sportsvan we are in very positive territory vs. one or two years ago. So the Sportsvan really nails a specific segment of buyers that want an MPV that doesn’t really look like one. If the Golf Plus was a relatively small car without a huge habitability, the Sportsvan is a drastically different vehicle, a true compact MPV: the severance is here and explains the sales surge.

BSCB: What will bring Volkswagen to 10% market share in France?

Arnaud Barral: The answer is crystal clear: a small SUV to compete with the Renault Captur and Peugeot 2008. This segment now represents 14% of the French market, and most importantly customers that buy into this segment have absolutely no hesitation towards it: they want a small crossover, with an elevated position and an adventurer look. We don’t have any. We can therefore not reach them at all.

BSCB: On this, can you confirm a Polo-based SUV will come in 2018?

Arnaud Barral: I cannot confirm this with certainty, what I can say is our product planning eventually ends up with one SUV per segment, including the segments equivalent to the current Polo and Golf.

As a Bonus Track I give you a selection of snaps from the Berlin Volkswagen Concept Store, courtesy of Guy Thompson:

VW Sport Coupé Concept Berlin 2015VW Sport Coupé Concept

VW NILS Concept Berlin 2015VW NILS Concept

VW XL1 Berlin 2015 VW XL1 Berlin 2015bVW XL1

VW e-Bike Berlin 2015VW e-Bike

Frankfurt 2015 / Dacia: We would love to launch the Kwid in Europe

Renault Kwid Frankfurt 2015Bookings are now open for the Renault Kwid in India. Next: Europe as a Dacia?

After Renaud Pirel (Renault Entry Range Sales & Marketing Director) in Paris a year ago, I had the chance to speak at the Frankfurt Auto Show with François Mariotte, General Manager, Dacia Sales and Marketing, once again thanks to Frédéric Favre, Dacia Press Relations Manager. See also: Paris Auto Show 2014: An exclusive interview with Dacia

BSCB: 2015 is a consolidation year in France for Dacia…

François Mariotte: You are taking the words out of my mouth! I’ll go even further than you: our market share is declining this year in France. So what’s going on? There are very logical explanations. In late 2013 we launched the Duster Phase II which was such a huge success that we actually struggled to keep up with demand. Delivery times got out of hand and we continued to register these new Dusters well into 2014. We’re talking 4.300 additional Dusters ordered in 2013 but delivered during the first half of 2014. We are now seeing the mechanical return to a more ‘normal’ level of Duster sales. The other reason is the fact that currently in France private sales are flat, but fleet, rental and tactical sales are up. We don’t sell to fleet – 85% of our sales are private sales – so we are mechanically penalised in terms of market share. However we have more orders in 2015 than a year ago, so we are not worried for the future. For example, the Duster is still the best-selling SUV in its category above such established models as the Peugeot 3008, Nissan Qashqai or VW Tiguan.

Dacia Sandero France July 2015. Picture courtesy of largus.frA favourite with private buyers: the Sandero.

BSCB: Staying on private sales for a second, will the Sandero be the favourite car for French private buyers in 2015?

François Mariotte: The Sandero is just below the Renault Clio, even if we have ranked #1 for a very short period. It is more logical that the Clio remains above the Sandero in France. What I am specially proud of is the fact that the Sandero outsells the Peugeot 208 in private sales at home. We are also the #4 brand in French private sales below just Renault, Peugeot and Citroen and above Volkswagen. With the limited range that is ours, I believe this is an exceptional performance.

Dacia Duster Israel February 2015. Picture courtesy is labelling its 2015 Israeli launch a success so far.

BSCB: Dacia’s newest market is Israel. How do you analyse your sales performance there?

François Mariotte: I cover the Dacia brand worldwide, we are present in 44 countries mainly in Europe and on the Mediterranean basin up to Israel where Dacia launched this January. We are about to hit 1 percentage point market share or 1.800 registrations there in just 8 months with only one showroom in Tel Aviv and in a market where 75% of sales go to automatic transmissions – something we don’t offer just yet! We are very happy with this start. At Frankfurt we are launching our first-ever automated manual transmission, the Easy-R, fitted with computer-controlled electromechanical actuators that perform a surrogate role for the driver, declutching, changing gear and then re-engaging the clutch. So it’s not exactly an automated gearbox but it offers the convenience of a manual gearbox without a clutch pedal, and the driver can still decide when to select and change gears by selecting the manual mode. This will help us a lot in Israel notably.

BSCB: Why launching a whole new brand, Dacia, in Israel instead of commercialising the range under the Renault brand as you do in Egypt for example?

François Mariotte: We at Dacia tend to enter markets where the Renault brand is strong already, with a well established sales network and significant volume. Israel fit the bill, partly because our importer there Carasso Motors, is I believe the oldest Renault importer in the world! (BSCB note: Renault ranks #10 in Israel with slightly more than 3% market share both in 2014 and 2015 YTD). We have a clear positioning where we do not target the same clientele as Renault, we have very low prices and we do not do discounts – and therefore we don’t sell to fleet or rentals (BSCB: fleet/rental sales represent roughly 40% of the total Israeli market). This makes the Dacia offer a very complementary one to Renault in Israel. And in fact the Dacia Tel Aviv showroom, the only one in the country, is a standalone showroom completely separate to Renault. The result is this year Dacia has not cannibalised Renault sales in Israel.

Dacia Lodgy Tangier Morocco 2012Dacia just added a third shift in its Tangiers, Morocco factory.

BSCB: What are the next steps in Dacia’s commercial life?

François Mariotte: We are celebrating 10 years of the new Dacia. In that very limited amount of time we have launched in 44 markets seven models including five that have been renewed in the past two years. We sold 3.5 million vehicles – keeping in mind in the first year we only sold 25.000, last year we sold 511.000 (BSCB: for the Dacia brand only, not the Global Access range) and this year we are up 6.5% so far. Are we going to keep growing like this? You were using the word “consolidation” before, and that’s the right word. We are not aiming at enlarging our range indefinitely to, say, 15 models. We have a high volume strategy, not a niche strategy in order to achieve such low prices – a Dacia is at the same price as a high end bike with the best lock available.

Secondly, we are not aiming at becoming a worldwide brand. 50% of the Global Access range is sold under the Dacia brand, the other half is sold internationally (Russia, Brazil, etc.) under the Renault brand and we won’t go there.  However we are constantly improving the technology: this year at Frankfurt we have modernised engines, the EasyR gearbox I spoke about earlier and we added stop and start to our models, protecting our customers from high CO2 emissions sanctions. The success of the Dacia brand means our Romanian factory is used at capacity with 3 daily shifts working 6 days out of 7. Our Moroccan factory is only 3 years-old and we have just added a night shift on September 1 to be able to meet demand. Now, a total of 2.400 vehicles are produced every day: 1.400 in Romania and 1.000 in Morocco. Thanks to this added production capacity, we will have another record year in 2015: so far 19 out of our 44 markets are at all-time high volumes this year.

BSCB: Are you planning to expand into further markets?

François Mariotte: Not immediately. We still have a lot of work to do to establish the Dacia brand which is an extremely young brand. Even in France, there are still people that have never heard of Dacia. We need to change this, continue to improve or notoriety and familiarity.

BSCB: Has the Renault Group position changed on the Kwid – i.e. will we also see it in Europe and in the Mediterranean basin as a Dacia?

Click on “Read more” below for the Full interview.

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Frankfurt 2015 / BMW: No plans to replicate 2 Series Active/Gran Tourer success in our range for now

BMW 7 Series Frankfurt 2015The All-new BMW 7 Series in Frankfurt.

We continue on our Frankfurt Auto Show interview with a decidedly German spin, and it’s time for BMW. The Bavarian manufacturer unveiled an all-new 7 Series filled with technology at the Show that is going to make the Mercedes S-Class life very difficult. It also showed the new, more SUV-like X1 bringing much-needed balance into its SUV range. The BMW building contrasted with the Mercedes and Audi ones with a very quiet, under-stated and polished ambiance. Mini and Rolls-Royce were also exhibiting their new fares, namely the Clubman and Dawn respectively. In Frankfurt I was able to interview Antonia Cecchetti, BMW Group Head of Business and Finance Communications and Kai Lichte, Head of Product Communications.


BMW 7 Series Frankfurt 2015bA plethora of screens in the 7 Series back seats.

BSCB: Despite sales up faster than the market at +8%, BMW has slipped below Mercedes in Europe so far in 2015. How are you planning to reclaim the #2 spot?

Antonia Cecchetti: Every month of 2015 so far has seen the BMW brand set new sales records in Europe. Sales of the BMW brand have developed well in almost all European markets this year, with several countries showing strong double-digit growth (eg. France 34,846 units / +16% and Spain 24,181 units / +18%). Sales in southern Europe in particular are showing consistently strong growth. With refreshed or new-generation versions of some key models (eg. 3 Series, X1, 7 Series) coming to market in the latter half of the year, we are confident that the remaining months of 2015 will continue to see BMW achieving record sales in Europe.

BMW 2 Series Active Tourer Germany July 2015. Picture courtesy

The 2 Series nameplate is now BMW’s best-seller in Europe.

BSCB: The 2 Series was your best-seller in Europe in July (August data pending) and in Germany in both July and August. Are the scores of the past two months reflecting the arrival of the Gran Tourer or is this still solely based on the Active Tourer? What in your view explains this stunning popularity? Are you now planning more Active Tourer variants into your range?

Kai Lichte: We are indeed very happy with the successful market launch of the BMW 2 Series Active and Gran Tourer. They are however not our biggest sellers in Europe / Germany. We sell even more 1 Series and 3 Series Touring. I assume you have added in your approach the figures for the 2 Series Coupe and Convertible. Market Launch for the Gran Tourer was 6 June (Europe) / 13 June (Germany). Since that date this model is included in the sales figures. The crucial reason for their success is that the Active and Gran Tourer uniquely combine functionality with BMW typical dynamics and style. For the time being we are well positioned with our model range. In the 3 and 5 Series we already have spacious vehicle concepts (Touring and Gran Turismo). And the 1 Series is the perfect entry-level model.

BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe Frankfurt 2015BMW: 50% of BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe come from other brands.

BSCB: Setting aside the mechanical sales transfer from the 3 Series Coupe/Cabriolet onto the 4 Series nameplate, are you witnessing a sales transfer from the 3 Series sedan onto the 4 Series Gran Coupe that could at least partially explain the 3 Series’s sales drop?

Antonia Cecchetti: With the 4 Series Gran Coupe we have an additional four-door offer which attracts customers who rather prefer a coupe but due to space requirements (family, hobbies) feel more comfortable with a four door with a large hatchback. We are happy with every customer who moves up from a 3 Series sedan. Even more, we are delighted with customers coming from other brands and this is more or less 50% of 4 Series Gran Coupe customers.

BMW X1 Frankfurt 2015The All-new BMW X1

BSCB: With its new silhouette, the X1 now fights right into the SUV arena, which wasn’t 100% the case with the first generation. Has this been a conquest model for you traditionally?

Antonia Cecchetti: The first generation BMW X1 created the segment of small premium SUVs and, of course, attracted new customers to the BMW brand. After we introduced the first BMW X1 on the market, we had a couple of customers’ studies. One point which came out, was the exterior design of the BMW X1 which wasn’t enough SUV-like for certain customers. Therefore, one of our tasks for the second generation was to make it looks like a true member of the X-Family by bringing some more X-ness into the design.

Frankfurt 2015 / Audi: Stable end-cycle A4 sales validate design strategy

Audi S4 Frankfurt 2015Audi revealed the new generation A4 in Frankfurt

Yesterday I had the privilege to interview Xavier Benoit, Head of Communications at Audi France. As is the tradition on BSCB, the focus was on sales performance and strategies. Here are the best bits:

BSCB: Audi France sales are up 4% so far in 2015 in a market up 6%, and your best-sellers A3 (+2%) and A1 (-5%) are losing market share. How do you explain this year’s evolution?

Xavier Benoit: As far as the A3 is concerned the drop in sales is explained by the 3-door variant, a little older than the Sportsback variant which still represents 80% of A3 registrations and is handling itself a lot better. We also can’t discard the A-Class effect: Mercedes has come from nowhere in a compact premium segment that isn’t growing as fast as it used to, automatically triggering a slight reduction of all other competitors’ sales.

As for the A1, we are getting frontal competition from the new 5-door Mini hatch. Given the majority of our sales happens with the 5-door and that this Mini variant didn’t exist up until last year, the effect has been noticeable. Also, the urban SUV segment is really the one segment taking off at the moment in France and we are seeing this with our A1: buyers are starting to migrate away from the model, upsizing to a Renault Captur or Peugeot 2008. This is one of the reasons we are eagerly anticipating the A1-based Q1 SUV based next year to plug this gap in our range.

Audi e-tron Quattro Concept Frankfurt 2015The Audi e-tron Quattro has been confirmed for 2016 and may be called Q6.

BSCB: Especially given your best-selling SUV, the Q3, is up 19% despite originally launching back in 2011…

Xavier Benoit: This is a clear illustration of the SUV segment continuing to progress in France: the Q3 is not getting out of fashion and continues to be appreciated. We will see how this turns out now that BMW has just launched a more SUV look for the X1, but it’s also true that the 2015 facelift has had an impact on CO2 emissions which has furthered its attractiveness in France. Here, cars are penalised for higher CO2 emissions and SUVs and this reason for consumers to stay away from the segment is now disappearing. It’s also a very important element for companies purchasing fleet, and over our entire range 40% of our sales are to companies – we anticipate 65% for the new generation A4 we unveiled at Frankfurt.

BSCB: In France the A4 is declining (-12%) but European and worldwide A4 sales are still up even though the new generation has’t hit dealerships yet…

Xavier Benoit: This validates our strategic decision to slowly evolve our design from one generation to the next. Despite its age, and despite the fact we revealed shots of the new model in June, we are not seeing drastic drops of company purchases awaiting the next model. We have calculated that our remaining stock of the ongoing model will have exactly dried out by the time we launch the new generation in end October. We are not seeing

Audi Q7 e-tron Quattro Frankfurt 2015Audi Q7 e-tron quattro

BSCB: Along with the Q1 slated for 2016, will your SUV offensive also include a Q2 or Q4 to the range in the next year or so?

Xavier Benoit: We have a confirmed Q1 launch for 2016 as well as a Q8 launch. The e-tron Quattro we are showing in Frankfurt as a concept has also been confirmed. Many call it Q6, but we can’t confirm its name yet.

BSCB: Lastly worldwide, you have just been passed by Mercedes in the luxury race and now rank third below also BMW. Disappointed?

Xavier Benoit: Honestly when you see how tight the race is worldwide (1.21m for BMW, 1.19m for Mercedes and 1.18m for Audi after 8 months), chances are the ranking will change relatively often. We are not worried if our competitors want to stress the fact they have passed us. We know where we are with the A4 product cycle and this model is still our worldwide best-seller. So we are happy with the sales performance this year as global sales are not dropping for this nameplate even though its replacement is imminent. We don’t want to be Number 1 for the sake of being Number 1. We want profitable sales.

BSCB: Are you worried about the current situation in China?

Xavier Benoit: The weight of China in our worldwide sales remains inferior to Europe, and even if at the moment we are seeing a clear slowdown, there is no panic. What prevents us from being Number 1 in the world is the U.S. market but we are catching up fast with sales up 12% so far this year. (BSCB: vs. +6% for BMW and +8% for Mercedes).

Frankfurt Auto Show 2015: First Impressions

Renault Megane Frankfurt 2015bThe All-new Renault Mégane at Frankfurt.

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.

Mercedes IAA Concept Frankfurt 2015Aptly named Mercedes IAA Concept

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.

Smart Fortwo Cabrio Frankfurt 2015Smart Fortwo Cabrio

Smart Forfour Frankfurt 2015Ambitous? Advertised cargo for a Smart Forfour…

Disco Smart Fortwo Frankfurt 2015Disco Fortwo. That’s an idea…

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.

Borgward BX7 Frankfurt 2015Borgward BX7

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.

Opel Astra Frankfurt 2015aMuch ado about nothing: the all-new Opel Astra.

Opel Astra Martin Winterkom Frankfurt 2015Poker-faced Martin Winterkorn inspecting the new Opel Astra

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.

VW Tiguan GTE Frankfurt 2015Or not.

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.

Seat Cross Sport Frankfurt 2015Seat Cross Sport Concept, a happy model and a happy DJ

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.

Alfa Romeo Frankfurt 2015

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.

Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo Frankfurt 2015a“Look into my eyes, not around the eyes…”  Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo Frankfurt 2015bIndecent proposal  Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo Frankfurt 2015cFrench origins and initials tattooed on the body.

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.

Bentley Bentayga Frankfurt 2015bBentayga eyes 

Bentley Bentayga Frankfurt 2015aA decidedly China-friendly interior

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.

Lexus RX Frankfurt 2015bAll-new Lexus RX

Lexus RX Frankfurt 2015aSurprisingly cosy: Lexus RX interior

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.

Peugeot Fractal Frankfurt 2015Peugeot Fractal

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.

Toyota C-HR Concept Frankfurt 2015Toyota C-HR Concept

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.

Toyota Mirai Frankfurt 2015That look…

Toyota Mirai Interior Frankfurt 2015Toyota Mira interior

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’.

Kia Sportage Frankfurt 2015

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.

New Sausage Frankfurt Auto Show. Picture courtesy Auto Plus“All-new sausage”

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!