Capitalism motors back in Frankfurt

A BMW on its private track
BMW even built its own indoor autobahn for the show... sort of
"The BMW group really took the honours with a Mini 'after-work' party on one side of the hall and an elegant reception with free-flowing Bollinger on the other side at Rolls-Royce"
  • | by Phil Huff

Two days in Frankfurt is usually enough to sap the life out of anyone, the financial hub of Germany being little more than a collection of skyscrapers and parked cars. The cars should be moving, but such are the traffic issues in the city that it's hard to tell which is which.

A city designed to render cars unusable therefore seems like the ideal place to hold the largest European motorshow, and so I flew over to find out just how large it really is.

Unsurprisingly, it really is quite large. I clocked one walk from end to end at close to a mile, something that was repeated throughout my two days at the show.

It's no wonder the manufacturers had laid on electric cars to ferry us from one hall to another, with everything from the BMW i3 to the Mercedes S-Class Hybrid available, all silently zipping around and worrying journalists who were preoccupied writing notes or tapping at iPhones.

Mercedes

Most lavish stand

It's a tough call. BMW set the bar high by having an entire hall to themselves, along with their Mini and Rolls-Royce siblings. Twisting around the stand is a raised 600m test track with all-electric i3 cars silently whizzing by.

Volkswagen took over an entire hall for their brands - setting aside Audi which felt it was necessary to build an entirely new hall. This was filled with a cityscape, suspended upside down from the ceiling and then covered in mirrors. It's no wonder I spent a good hour trying to leave, getting confused about where I was amongst the bright lights and A8s. Or A4s. Or possibly A6s, it's tough to tell.

Audi

The prize must go to Mercedes, though. With the new S-Class and GLA to reveal to the world, the Stuttgart boys pulled out all the stops and found themselves a hall the size of Droitwich. The press conference atmosphere was more like that found at Frankfurt Rovers FC, with a stadium feel to proceedings as journalists lined the stands, floors, bars, restaurants and escalators.

An LCD screen some 10m high that flowed down across the floor provided the backdrop to a series of announcements that one manufacturer told me would have cost more than their entire European marketing budget. If anyone ever says there's no money in motoring, send them to Frankfurt.

Biggest surprise

In a world where manufacturers now send out press releases hours or even days ahead of an unveiling, there's little left to surprise people. The announcement from Jaguar that there will be a 3 Series-rivalling baby Jag will please Autocar, but it didn't appear in the metal so it doesn't count.

Kia revealed the Niro concept car for the first time. Looking like a Juke rival for a rubber fetishist, the main surprise event of the reveal was that the car simply refused to fire up, remaining resolutely stationary in its makeshift garage despite being surrounded by the world's media. Oops.

Kia

Audi's unveiling of the Nanuk concept car drew the most applause, looking every bit the futuristic sports car that concepts should be. It overshadowed the Quattro concept next to it, a car that will cost you £100,000 next year. But the Nanuk may never make production while there's things like safety regulations, crash testing and people taller than five foot to worry about. It managed to excite every grown man in the hall, though, so Audi's doing something right, despite naming the dream motor after a polar bear.

Most fun

The guys at Skoda are doing really well, with some cracking cars coming through. The Octavia edges ahead of the Golf in my eyes, while the Superb is the match of anything the Audi team at Ingolstadt can come up with. The face-lifted Yeti remains excellent, while the Rapid and Fabia are top notch in terms of quality.

It's no surprise that the staff on the stand appear to enjoy their work, especially when that involves playing with toy cars and massive prams and handing out chocolate-filled wafers. As you do.

It's all well and good having fun products and happy staff, but Skoda was trumped by Mini which had a helter-skelter on its stand. Nothing can beat a helter-skelter.

Mini's helter-skelter

Best swag

Gone are the days of lavish gifts being handed out to journalists, even at launches, so swag (Stuff We All Get) just doesn't exist anymore. Now it's all about USB sticks and maybe the occasional pad and pen.

Instead it comes down to hospitality, with Toyota serving a mean veal dish for lunch - oddly, their luxury partners at Lexus had plain old beef. Ford provided massage facilities and fresh coffee for us weary travellers, as well as recharge points for phones which was a nice bonus, something Chevrolet were able to match.

A few manufacturers, notably Nissan, provided desks with comfy seats for working on, but the BMW group really took the honours with a Mini 'after-work' party on one side of the hall and an elegant reception with free-flowing Bollinger on the other side at Rolls-Royce.

If it's a choice between working and partying, there'll only ever be one winner. I chose the Rolls-Royce side of the room, naturally.

Again, if anyone says there's no money in the motoring industry, tell them that they're very, very wrong.

Biggest disappointment

Jaguar finally revealed their SUV, although we're not allowed to call it that, their PR people insisting it's a crossover.

Jaguar

I won't argue too hard, but the difference between a crossover and an SUV is shrinking year by year. The C-X17, as they call it in Gaydon, is a surprisingly good looking car and looks set to be a real rival to the Range Rover Sport - a car that awkwardly shared the same stand.

Unfortunately, Land Rover didn't retaliate by announcing a luxury sporting saloon to rival the XF, which really is an opportunity missed. Or maybe it's just me that would have found that amusing.

Wait, what?

The Lexus LF-NX showed the world that sometimes production cars can look better than the concepts.

Lexus

So that was a very brief look at the other side of the world's biggest motorshow which, by my count, managed something like 67 new cars or concept reveals.

However, there really was no stand-out car, no one model that really made you take notice. It's a mature market out there and coming up with something groundbreaking is getting tougher. The closest we got this year was a handful of love/hate cars from Volvo, BMW, Mercedes and Lexus.

Fortunately the next Frankfurt show won't be for another two years. That gives the designers plenty of time to come up with something spectacular, and gives me plenty of time to save up for a Segway.