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2007 Frankfurt Motor Show: The Color this Fall Was Green


I spent two days crisscrossing the massive Frankfurt auto show, and the focus on reducing emissions and improving fuel economy and “green” solutions could not be missed. Very few manufacturers were not talking about fuel economy gains in their powertrain lineup and many announced hybrid plans or showed hybrid concepts. What we’re seeing here is the culmination of years of research, rather than fiberglass what-if models. Many of these hybrids or other technology-based solutions will be on the roads later this decade.


Mercedes-Benz will, during the 2009CY, offer a hybrid powertrain in the S-Class and the M-Class, while a smart fortwo mild hybrid system goes on sale in October. Porsche gave updated the Cayenne’s diesel for more power but also promises a parallel series hybrid using the existing 3.6L V6 by the end of 2010CY. General Motors took the system shown under the Chevrolet Volt in January, replaced the gasoline engine with a diesel one, and created the Opel Flextreme as well as showing off an Opel Corsa Hybrid. Volvo put a plug-in hybrid into the C30 to create the Recharge concept. Land Rover is adding stop-start systems in 2009CY, and Audi will bring a hybrid to the Q7.

Small cars are more prevalent on international roads and therefore more prevalent at auto shows outside the United States. Toyota brought us the iQ, Volkswagen the up!, and Ford the Verve. Renault’s latest Twingo was on the show floor as well, though this was not its debut.


Notable exceptions to the small and green game were Ferrari and the 430 Scuderia (introduced by Michael Schumacher himself), the Aston Martin DBS (officially introduced at the 2007 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance), the Bentley Continental GTS Speed, the Lamborghini Reventon (of which only twenty will be made, with a price tag around $1.4 million), and Maserati.


Day two of Frankfurt’s show holds most of the supplier press conferences, leaving us a chance to take photos and see some general reaction. Frankfurt’s convention center has 10 halls, with at least seven of them holding the major manufacturers and others holding aftermarket and supplier stands. Walking the full show requires much time and comfortable shows and several hours. Interest was strong in the Mercedes-Benz F700 Concept (previewing the next S-Class), the Audi A4, Opel’s Flextreme, Ford’s Verve and Kuga, and Jaguar’s XF. Peugeot and Citroen concepts, the 308RCZ and the Airscape, saw plenty of attention, as did Nissan’s very odd-looking Mixim.


The Volkswagen Tiguan stand was flocked with people getting a chance to get in and crawl around the new model, with plenty also checking out the up! city car. Interestingly, every time I went through hall 6, home to Italian makes Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lancia, Ferrari, and Maserati as well as Porsche and Hyundai it was completely mobbed. On the other hand, Kia’s Kee coupe concept and BMW’s X6 concepts didn’t seem to grab attendees as much.


While going green may be good for us, hybrid systems and new engine developments don’t make for great pictures or put the enthusiasm into driving that a great-looking design can. Over the coming weeks, we’ll bring you more detailed coverage of many of these. Stay tuned.

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Volkswagen up!: What a New-Century Bug Might Look Like


Small City Car Concept Revives Rear-Engine Layout, Explores the Future of Interior Displays
At an event the evening before the official start of media days of this year’s Frankfurt auto show, Volkswagen revealed their latest city car concept. Small outside and big inside, the up! takes a layout similar to the first Beetle, with a rear-mounted engine (though VW did not specify what engine might be packed in back there).



Cute and clever, VW may consider bringing the up! to the U.S. market in a few years. At less than 136 inches long, up! is about 30 inches longer than the smart fortwo, but about the same length shorter than the current New Beetle. Instead of a traditional center stack, up! offered a seven-inch touch screen that VW called “the way that future human-machine interface will look and operate.” Not only a touch-screen-based system for controlling navigation, climate, audio, and phone, a proximity sensor reacts to hand gestures. Once the element you wanted to control shows up in the menu, a simple wave of the hand brings up the specific control screen. Glad they cleared that up for us! Instead of gauges, there is an eight-inch screen in front of the driver, displaying all the relevant information. This small concept offers seats for four, with all but the driver’s seat removable and stowable. Described as similar to a self-inflating mattress, a valve allows air to be released and the seat adjusted for maximum comfort for any passenger.


Many of Volkswagen’s concepts find their way into production eventually, and VW continues to explore solutions for a low-cost city car that is environmentally friendly, economical, affordable, and still profitable. Whether or not we see up! in the States, a four-door version is likely to find its way into production in a few years.

Sure does remind me of the Mitsubishi i… looks more substantial, but the concept is very similar.
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Ford Verve – Now THAT'S a B-Car!!!!!


Ford today showed off its Ford Verve B-Car concept that will be shown at the Internationale Automobil Ausstellung – better known as the Frankfurt Auto Show – in September. Using cues typical of the greatl looking European Fords, the Verve lives up to its name. Nothing milquetoast about the concept and hopefully nothing milquetoast about the way the vehicle will be introduced.

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Ford Almost Shot Themselves in the Foot Once Again
During one of Alan Mulally’s first outings with the press in early December 2006, Ford showed a slew of future vehicles including their idea of what a B-Car for America would look like. Well, the alternative they showed that day was stomach-turning… maybe vomit-inducing. I think it was called the B419 and it made the first generation Chevrolet Aveo look like a showcar classic. Apparently, this little beauty was designed to be sold in Mexico, China and India – and, oh yeah, USA. Based on the strong NEGATIVE reaction the car got following that reveal, Ford decided that it might be better to adopt the more expressively-styled European B-Car alternative for the USA. Hurray! Someone unwedged their heads.
Will Research Ruin the Verve?
You know the ways these things work, right? We see a great looking concept car and then the car company goes out and does research on the product that neuters the intent of the designers. What was sex on wheels on the show stand becomes a cypher in the showroom. That’s the problem with using research companies that are not passionate about cars and trucks. They just report “the facts” and don’t have the depth to interpret the data… because that’s dangerous.
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So, lets see how Ford – possibly showing more bravado with Alan Mulally giving them a bit more rein – finally implements their B-Car and if they can find a way to bring the same car to the USA that they produce for Europe.
The Ford press release is shown below the fold.
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General Motors Heritage Center – USA Auto History


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General Motors Heritage Center in Warren, Michigan has 180 historic GM vehicles on display at any one time. From a collection of around 800 vehicles stored in four large warehouses in Warren, GM rotates cars and trucks from yesterday in and out of the Heritage Center. In fact General Motors actively manages its collection buying, selling and trading several cars a week.
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First walking into the Heritage Center is a stunning experience. Wall-to-wall cars and trucks all in excellent condition. Some have been completely restored. Some still have vacation stickers in the rear quarter windows. A few have window stickers.
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180 vehicles under the roof… the only problem is that they each can’t get enough display space. I’d like to see the 1957 Chevrolet Nomad from every angle. I’d like to see the 1959 Buick Electra in all of its “beauty”. Unfortunately, there is barely enough space between the cars to walk between them.
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There are separate areas for Chevrolets, Buicks, Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs, Cadilacs, trucks. A display of hood ornaments shows how ornamental cars of the fifties and sixties were. With today’s pedestrian safety standards, hood ornaments probably will never return – they probably shouldn’t because we worked hard to get rid of them. But some are beauties.
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Hats off to General Motors for preserving its heritage in such a spectacular way. You might wonder how a company in financial difficulty can afford to maintain something like this? Heritage is important and GM has tons of it. That is reinforced by its Heritage Center.
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Audi Cross Coupe Quattro Concept: The Face of the Q5?


Audi Chooses Shanghai to Introduce Concept Previewing Upcoming Small Crossover SUV
Audi‘s second SUV is a smaller entry set to go into production next year in Ingolstadt, and will be named Q5 when it reaches dealerships. As the production date gets closer, Audi floated a preview in the form of the Cross Coupe Quattro concept at this year’s Shanghai auto show. Yes, that’s right. Audi gave a worldwide introduction of a major concept at a Chinese auto show. Audi was not alone in making major product news in China this month and we’ll only see more introductions in Shanghai and Beijing as the Chinese market grows.



The Audi Cross Coupe Quattro Concept face embodies Audi’s latest big-mouth grilles and clearly pulls from the Q7. As such, it is likely pretty close to the production Q5’s face, though the concept’s extremely fast rear roofline will get raised for production. A taller rear roofline will also improve the looks, to our way of thinking. Among the interesting features on the Cross Coupe Quattro is a power-folding fabric roof, a la the 2008 Jeep Liberty. The interior shows a new direction for Audi, and the initial photos promise that they haven’t lost their touch for creating great-looking interiors.


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BMW Concept CS: Bavaria Prepares a New Four-Door Coupe


Sporting Luxury: Four-Door, Four Seat Coupe Blends Sport and Luxury, Emphasis on Sport
As Porsche prepares the Panamera and Aston Martin the Rapide and as Mercedes-Benz saw some success early with the CLS four-door coupe, BMW is developing their own take on this recent sporty, luxurious four-door coupe formula. In an indication of automaker’s growing interest in China, as well as the penchant of China’s wealthiest population for ultra-luxury vehicles and BMW, BMW’s first worldwide concept car introduction in China was of the CS concept at the April 2007 Shanghai auto show. (CS for Coupe Sedan.)



EDITOR’s 2¢: The BMW Concept CS evolves BMW’s sporty flame surfacing to a much more mature and sophisticated look. The car looks taut and serious from the sides. VehicleVoice and AutoPacific see a fundamental problem with the approach being taken by the European carmakers. They are abandoning function for form. Clearly, the CLS, Panamera, Rapide and CS are beautiful cars, but as Mercedes has found with the CLS, they are difficult for a driver to live with. The rear seat in these cars is practically useless. And the rear doors in the 4-door bodystyle are only good for tossing a briefcase in. Our prediction: the buff books will love these cars, they will sell well at first to the Rodeo Drive crowd, but in the long run, they will act like sporty cars – popular for 12 to 18 months before fading out.
BMW’s upcoming four-door, four-seat coupe will go up against the Porsche and the Aston, as well as bridge a bit of the gap between 7-Series and Rolls-Royce. We wouldn’t be surprised to see it called 8-Series when it arrives, though this is not confirmed. The Concept CS is wider than the current 7-Series, though with a similar wheelbase and not quite as much overall length, and larger than the E-Class-based Mercedes CLS. The production car will look to 7-Series components for a platform, but indications are that BMW is planning this car as a low-volume proposition.


More will come as we learn it, but for now we’re happy to bring you the first official photos. The CS evolves the famously controversial BMW flame surfacing, resulting a crisp and dynamic look from the side and rear. The vehicle’s face, however, is simply awful. The kidney grille is much too large, and it looks more or less as though BMW is trying to create a wide-mouth, deep grille look similar to the one Audi is cultivating. The headlights sport a new technology that gives them a hooded look, and we can’t imagine why you’d want your sports tourer to look sleepy. BMW says the huge kidney grille is functional and would serve as the primary air supply to the engine, it just doesn’t work with the traditional BMW kidney grille. (BMW declined to indicate which engine was under this terrifically long hood, only saying that the need for such a large grille was obvious because “a power unit befitting the dynamic character of such a sports saloon most probably requires an ample flow of cooling air.” The long nose and short rear overhangs work well, and the interior does look fabulous.



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2008 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500KR: New York Auto Show


The King of the Road Returns
Though not actually arriving in dealers until spring 2008, Ford used the 2007 New York auto show to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the 1968 Shelby Cobra GT500KR, which was introduced at the 1967 New York auto show. And how best to commemorate the fabled first King of the Road? Build another, of course.


The 2008 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500KR will be the third high-performance result of the current relationship between Mustang and Shelby Automobiles, after the 2007 Shelby GT500 and the GT-H Hertz rental Mustangs, with the example on display in New York a near-production show-car version. Ford is going forward with offering a special edition each year, as 2007 saw the Shelby GT500 and 2008 will see the GT500KR and the Mustang Bullitt. This is easily the best-looking of the Mustang editions shown so far.

Back forty years ago, the 1968 Shelby Cobra GT500KR was the most powerful Mustang yet built, and the 2008 model carries the same distinction, with a 540HP 5.4L supercharged V8. Ford will only offer 1000 examples of the 2008 model, ensuring all will be accounted for before being built and making it more rare than the 1968 model, of which 1053 fastbacks and 517 convertibles were built. The 2008 example will only be offered as a coupe.

More below the fold.

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Infiniti EX Concept: New York Auto Show


A New Infiniti Is Just Around the Corner
Infiniti‘s EX Concept at the New York auto show previewed a vehicle you’ll find on showroom floors late this year, in plenty of time for the 2008 model year. The concept also previewed some new technology, including the next-generation of Infiniti’s Lane Departure Warning (now upgraded to Lane Departure Prevention) and a system for seeing all exterior views called Around View Monitors.


Infiniti’s FX has found a niche in the crossover SUV world based on its highly styled, coupe profile, but the brand missed the boat on a higher-volume entry like the Lexus RX. Though they weren’t the only ones (witness the Lincoln MKX for 2007MY and the Buick Enclave for 2008MY), and this product should address the issue. Typical of most Infiniti products, the EX offers a stylish exterior and nicely designed interior. The concept highlighted a nicely executed interior design with a simply stunning level of materials that may slip a notch between now and production.

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Concept Hyundai Genesis: New York Auto Show


Next, Hyundai Takes on Luxury Sport Sedans
As VehicleVoice reported earlier (click here), Hyundai revealed an upcoming rear-drive sedan as the Genesis concept at the New York Auto Show, and at what must have been one of the best-attended end-of-day press conferences ever. There was surprisingly little traffic around Genesis the next day during my walkaround. It was more difficult to get post-conference photos of the Infiniti EX or Ford Flex than the Hyundai, and we see the Genesis as one of the most significant introductions at this year’s show. (Click for our posting of Hyundai’s official Genesis photos.)



Genesis, known internally at Hyundai as “BH”, telegraphs Hyundai’s intention to seriously go after rear-drive sports sedans. The exterior design builds on styling credibility Hyundai has been developing, but the interior and the driving dynamics that will make or break this car are still under wraps. A miss on the exterior styling would keep people away, but even with strong styling the car will not make it all the way to consumer driveways if the interior is a disappointment.

Hyundai designers have created a smooth and elegant design, but Genesis does have one risk: It could blend in with the pack. Genesis takes styling cues from luxury brands all over the world (long, thin taillights much like the Lincoln Zephyr concept, though the MKZ production lights are taller; decklid bump from BMW; narrow headlights similar to Acura; lower LED fog lights along the lines of the Audi S6) and shown off on a silver car, created a credible look for their upcoming sports sedan. The wheels are sharp, as is the subtle character line running from front fender, over the door handles, and into the taillights. Though the grille is among the elements that may be revised before production, it is clearly a Hyundai grille and shares some relationship to the Azera.


Hyundai gave no hints as to the interior, but the exterior design is ready to play. There’s a fine, fine line between hitting the mark and going too far. Genesis won’t be accused of moving the needle and does not offer new design elements. But Hyundai is working its way into relatively conservative segments, and Genesis takes the safe route. Luxury sedan buyers look for elegance, simplicity, and style and don’t seem to adapt quickly to dramatic style shifts; witness the brouhaha that surrounded the latest 7-Series introduction. Hyundai is wise to start off with something elegant but that does not push the envelope just yet.

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Vote for Your Future Chevrolet: 2007 New York Auto Show


Will One of These Concepts Be Part of Chevy’s U.S. Future?
The flux of fuel prices and concerns about the environment are keeping fuel-efficient vehicles in the news. With General Motors‘ access to global small-car platforms; the use of the Chevrolet brand worldwide for affordable, reliable mainstream cars; and GM’s efforts to more effectively use their global resources, the potential exists for Chevrolet to add a small car for the States that would slot below the Aveo, though traditionally small cars are not profitable. Chevrolet would like to know if U.S. buyers are ready for the idea, and if they are, what type of vehicle might make the most impact. Check out more pictures and news and vote for your favorite at


In studying this future, Chevrolet showed three dramatically different small-car concepts at the 2007 New York International Auto Show. The idea, as a side benefit, also creates buzz around the Chevrolet brand and can help position them as forward thinkers amongst the youngest demographics. These concepts, Beat, Groove, and Trax, are designed to appeal to younger buyers and each fills a different theme and lifestyle. Each was designed by different designers at GM’s South Korean design studio on the same global mini architecture; the Beat was built in India, but the Groove and Trax built at GM’s Warren, Michigan, Tech Center.

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