Full speed ahead to lift gloom
CARMAKERS took the wraps off a stream of new models at the Frankfurt Motor Show yesterday as the industry heads into another uncertain year, with Europe's debt crisis and worries about the economic recovery in the US casting a shadow over two major markets.
However, that didn't stop them unveiling some extraordinary-looking models and pushing back fuel economy beyond unprecedented limits.
The mood was upbeat thanks to recent strong profits from BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen and Porsche, but clouded by the European government debt crisis, which has depressed consumer optimism and growth forecasts for the year ahead.
Nonetheless, it was a much more cheerful place than the last show in 2009.
Organisers say 1,007 exhibitors have signed up, compared with 781 last time, and the confidence of the home carmakers is such that VW luxury brand Audi is splashing out for its own test track that winds in and out of the exhibit building.
Prominent new models on display will include a new Porsche 911 Carrera sports car; Volkswagen's Up!, the latest entry in the market for tiny, fuel efficient "city cars"; and BMW's small electric i3, which saves crucial weight with hi-tech, carbon-reinforced plastic.
Fiat has a new, slightly longer version of its Panda small car, a mainstay that has sold six million since 1980, while Toyota has a new take on its familiar Prius, offering a plug-in hybrid version and a Prius+ seven-seater. Daimler AG's Smart brand has an electric version of its tiny two-seater.
Toyota's Prius Plug-in is the first Prius to include a lithium ion battery, giving about 20km of pure electric, zero-emissions driving. Beyond that range, the Prius runs as a conventional hybrid. The lithium battery recharges from a domestic source in just an hour-and-a-half.
The Plug-in will go on sale in the first half of next year.
Ford unveiled a lot of cars, among them the Evos, a concept that won't make it into production but which shows design elements that will appear on Ford's regular models soon. Those could include the car's slender LED headlights.
It also has a new 1-litre EcoBoost Engine, which will debut in the Ford Focus early next year, with the claimed performance of a conventional 1.6-litre engine with lower than 120g/km CO2 emissions thanks to turbo-charging technology and improved twin variable camshaft design.
The new 3-cylinder will drive the C-MAX next year and later the all-new Ford B-MAX. Its high-performance 5dr Focus ST -- on sale next year -- also debuts, as does an ST Wagon for the European market. It will show a Fiesta ST Concept as well.
Kia had three premieres: the GT concept, which signals a new design direction, the 3dr version of the Rio and the heavily revised Soul.
The GT has rear-wheel drive, a 3.3-litre turbocharged Lambda V6 direct-injection petrol engine (395bhp) and an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The front doors and rear-hinged rear doors open at a slight upward angle.
The company's first 3dr hatchback Rio -- here by February -- also made its world premiere. Kia expects it to account for between 20pc to 25pc of Rio sales.
Styling improvements give the Soul a wider appearance, while the cabin benefits from a revised centre console and lots of other touches and improvements.
Honda's new 5dr Civic will be of huge interest to Irish buyers, especially as this is the 'most European' of them all. It will have the renowned 2.2-litre diesel, as well as 1.8- and 1.4-litre petrols.
Honda says ride and handling have been vastly improved, and there's lots of cabin and boot space.
Six-speed manual gearboxes, Idle Stop and Hill Start Assist are standard, and it will reach European showrooms in early 2012.
Subaru unveiled its new XV 'Urban Adventure' motor. Driving it will be the new-generation 1.6-litre and 2-litre Boxer engines, introduced last year.
Don't worry, there is going to be a diesel and that is the one most likely to arrive here.
Land Rover showed off its DC100 and DC100 Sport concepts -- effectively the shape of Defender things to come in 2015. Both share the 100in wheelbase.
Lexus unveiled the new GS 450h full hybrid. It's completely new outside and in. It has a new, energy-saving air-conditioning system and 'nano' technologies and a second-generation Remote Touch Interface (RTI).
The marque claims it is the world's first premium performance saloon to have a V6 Atkinson cycle petrol engine with a two-motor hybrid system, in a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive vehicle.
The CT 200h F-Sport version, based on the CT 200h, also debuted at Frankfurt.
Mazda showed off its new CX-5 crossover as well as a '3' facelift.
The Mercedes-Benz B-Class also debuted -- it gets here in December.
Mercedes claims that there have never been as many new developments at the same time in any of its new models over the years.
Among them are two new turbo-charged, four-cylinder petrol engines (1.6-litre/122bhp and 2-litre/156bhp).
There's a new 7G dual-clutch transmission from the German firm as well.