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Mighty Frankfurt uber alles


UPS AND DOWNS: German Chancellor Angela Merkel tries out the Volkswagen eco Up!

UPS AND DOWNS: German Chancellor Angela Merkel tries out the Volkswagen eco Up!

UPS AND DOWNS: German Chancellor Angela Merkel tries out the Volkswagen eco Up!

IN the land of the Frankfurter, the German car industry takes out its manhood, lays it on the table and frightens the sheep.

There's nothing subtle about the biennial motor show in the German financial capital. Volkswagen, Audi, Mercedes and BMW have massive cathedrals to their products while the Italian, Japanese and Korean marques are relegated to the equivalent of the garden shed.

The Frankfurt Motor Show is enormous and needs serious commitment in terms of time and shoe leather. But that is my problem, not yours. And while there is very little that is not well-leaked beforehand, the show serves as a real barometer of where the car market is heading. Stand still for long and you are likely to be knocked over by electric-powered skateboards, scooters, bikes and courtesy cars. Nearly every manufacturer has electric or hybrid vehicles being launched in the very near future. However, the embarrassingly poor take-up this year of the Nissan Leaf here could be a pointer for many other markets unless things really get moving on a lot of fronts.

Frankfurt gives you a chance to meet brands that you have hardly heard of and to sit in the super cars with which this economy will have very little truck in the near future. However, it is great to see marques such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Bentley and Rolls Royce attract great crowds even if some of those were accompanying people with strong Russian wallets and accents. There was just a hint that, for some, the meters were running.

Size isn't everything and one of the most interesting launches was Volkswagen's lovely little four-seater, which is rather ridiculously called Up!. It is surprisingly roomy and while it won't be available here until next March -- and then only as three-door version until the summer -- it could be a car to hold out for. There is a solid class about it and it should appeal to younger women in particular. Bearing that in mind, a proper spare wheel is included.

Volkswagen was also showing the new Beetle which seems longer and lower and harks strongly back to a Porsche-like profile.

Talking of the latter marque, we were treated to a new version of the Porsche 911 after the previous six generations of the model had been driven onto the stage. There were only very slight changes over the years which goes to show that when you have a good brand, it is worth sticking to it. Across from Volkswagen, its Czech cousin Skoda was launching the Mission L Concept on the Golf platform. It is an attractive liftback family car which will fit in between the Fabia and the next generation Octavia which will be considerably bigger. It should take sales from the VW Jetta, which I really do not like.

Elsewhere, the very attractive Ford concept car with its gull-wing doors promised an exciting future and across at Land Rover, it was trying to do things with the 60-year-old Defender that would give many a hill farmer apoplexy. On the stand next door there was a beautiful Jaguar C-X16 concept which is a return to two-seater E-type days. Suzuki had a really nice Sports version of the Swift displayed while Mazda's CX5 looked a lovely crossover. Hyundai launched the updated i30 and was also showing its saloon version of the wonderful i40.

In its corner, Honda was getting very excited about all sorts of new technologies but of more immediate concern was the new Civic which did seem awfully like the present one. However, it has extra backseat room and is far more economical and clean.

The Chinese were out in force at Frankfurt, photographing everything at all conceivable angles. It is the area where many of the big German marques see their future. It was a massively confident show, yet, like so much of the present world financial markets, its underpinnings could be weak.

Sunday Independent