Lifestyle

At Frankfurt, Supercars and Superminis


In addition to the usual head-turning sports cars and micro-cars, this year's Frankfurt auto show offers a slew of new fuel-efficient SUVs

Global automakers vying for the spotlight at this year's Frankfurt auto show, which runs from Sept. 13 to Sept. 23, are all going to be pushing green cars. But just because they are fuel-efficient, don't expect to see pokey little cars that are badly styled or boring to drive. This is Europe, after all.

And fuel-saving technologies won't be the only show-stoppers at the biannual Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung, to give the event its proper German name. Luxury automakers will unveil super sports cars with ever more power, European brands will show a slew of new baby SUVs and crossovers—a booming segment that combines space with fuel economy—and the race is on to build micro-cars for the city as well as low-cost models for emerging markets.

European automakers have always excelled at the two extreme ends of the automotive spectrum—super sports cars with voluptuous lines and extreme power, and innovative small vehicles with benchmark fuel economy. Both segments are expanding as automakers target subsets of buyers with niche vehicles. Even the once-homely midsize sedan is primed for a renaissance in Europe, where automakers such as Ford of Europe and Renault are launching midsize models with design verve, handling, and technology that are not so different from a BMW (BMWG) or Audi (NSUG)—and more fuel-efficient than ever.

Movie Star Cars

Among the dazzling new supercars, Porsche (PSHG_P) will show the 911 GT2 (BusinessWeek.com, 7/19/07), the most powerful 911 ever built, equipped with a 530-horsepower turbocharged engine and innovative engineering that allows up to 15% better fuel mileage than its predecessor. Porsche also ups the horsepower on the new Cayenne GTS, its hot-selling SUV, by 20 to 405.

The pavement-tearing Aston Martin DBS, which starred in the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale, becomes available for normal mortals. Ford (F) will unveil the new Jaguar XF (BusinessWeek.com, 8/28/07), a sporty sedan with a totally new design look—a more aggressive and sensual silhouette than previous Jaguars built under Ford's ownership. The top-of-the-line engine for the Jaguar XF, which goes on sale in September, is a 416-hp V8.

And Audi will give visitors a teaser glimpse of its monster 580-hp, twin-turbocharged, 5.2-liter V10 RS6—the high-performance version of its popular A6 sedan (BusinessWeek.com, 2/1/06), set to go to showrooms in 2009, and with a price tag of around $90,000.

A Crossover Generation

Small is beautiful on the Continent, and European automakers excel at making design-savvy minis, micro-vans, and subcompacts. Volkswagen (VLKPF) will have a concept version of its 2009 "new small car" on display—the platform will be used to make a tony city runabout for Europe and possibly the U.S., and a low-cost version for emerging markets. Ford will show its Verve concept car, foreshadowing the follower for its Fiesta subcompact.

And the much-touted remake of BMW's Mini Clubman (BusinessWeek.com, 7/25/07) will also draw crowds.

Small SUVs and crossovers are the fastest-growing vehicle segment in Europe. With some 5% of the market in 2006, SUV sales could double by 2010, according to forecaster J.D. Power. (Like BusinessWeek.com, J.D. Power is a unit of The McGraw-Hill Companies (MHP).) And in Europe, automakers are pushing smaller utes and crossovers—a mixup of sedans, minivans, and SUVs. BMW will unveil its hotly awaited 2008 X6, a coupe-like crossover version of the X5 (BusinessWeek.com, 4/27/07), which will also be available in a hybrid version.

Volkswagen takes the wraps off its long-awaited Tiguan, baby brother to the large Touareg SUV (BusinessWeek.com, 2/23/07), which will also have a clean-diesel version and be sold in the U.S. And Ford of Europe will spotlight an ice-white Kuga SUV.

Some Big Knockoffs

VW was set to eclipse rivals by unveiling eight new models to the press on Sept. 10, three days ahead of the Frankfurt show's official opening. But Renault-Nissan (NSANY) Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn called a press conference two hours earlier than VW for the same day. Both Renault's Ghosn and PSA Peugeot-Citroën (PEUP) CEO Christian Streiff are throwing the gauntlet down to Volkswagen with new models such as the Peugeot 308 compact and the Renault Laguna sedan, eager to regain market share lost to the resurgent German automaker over the past two years.

German automakers BMW and DaimlerChrsyler (DAI) will be watching closely to see whether German importer China Automobile displays cars that look very similar to the BMW X5 and the Mercedes Smart. Both are exploring possible legal action against Chinese automaker Shuanghuan for violation of intellectual-property rights.

Shuanghuan makes the CEO (which resembles the BMW X5 and has been selling in Italy and Romania) and the Nobel (which resembles the Smart and has been selling in China). German importer Karl Schlôssl, owner of China Automobile, plans to display six cars at the show, and says his models do not resemble the German luxury makes.

Click here to see a roundup of highlights of the 2007 Frankfurt auto show.


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