If you read our F1 post from several days ago, the world known as Formula One was on the brink of becoming CART Wars, PART II. A majority of the teams who race in the international F1 Championship were prepared (so they said), to launch a breakaway series, due in large part to their dissatisfaction with the requirements set forth by the governing body and its president, Max Mosely.
On August 3, I finally returned to one of my favorite summer events, the annual Meadow Brook Concours d’ Elegance. Held the first weekend of August every year since 1979, this Concours is one of the premier events of its type. Not quite as prestigious as the Pebble Beach Concours happening the weekend of August 16 (yes, the same weekend as Detroit’s Woodward Dream Cruise), Meadow Brook has earned a strong reputation. For me, it’s simply a chance to wander among cars from storied brands of today and yesterday. Delahaye, Packard, Auburn, Duesenburg, Pierce-Arrow, Studebaker, Peugeot, Ferrari, Cadillac, Lincoln, Chrysler, Rolls-Royce, the list goes on and on.
As you enter the Concours d’Elegance, the show starts.
Meadow Brook is home to a mansion of the same name built by the widow of John Dodge, one of the two Dodge brothers that helped establish the automotive industry we know today. The home and its property now belongs to Oakland University. Aside from the sheer joy and pleasure of celebrating the automobile as an art from, the event’s purpose is to raise funds for upkeep of the 88,000-square-foot mansion and its grounds. Seems a fitting choice of fundraising event.
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.
The French are a different bunch of people. The 24 Hours of LeMans, run the weekend of June 16, took place in a small industrial city, nearly an hour south of Paris via high-speed train. The town is of little interest to tourists with the exception of the 24 Hour race, which takes place over ordinary town roads. But don’t let the sleepy little town fool you. It takes brass balls to step into the cockpit of a LeMans racer. “Le Mans is quite rightly billed as the hardest race in the world,” said Allan McNish, a former Formula One driver who has raced here seven times and who won in 1998.
“In this 24-hour period, we will average more than 200 kilometers per hour, including all of the pit stops,” he said. “The car will complete nearly 5,200 kilometers – which is the equivalent of a Grand Prix season in one day. It will do that without a change of the engine, without changing the brake pads or discs, without changing the gearbox, without a change in the suspension or anything.”
Though none of these entries are planned for sale in the North American market, each brought something interesting to the show this year. Renault looks to refine a new approach to the luxury segment, as conservative as the Avantime was not, and Citroen and Peugeot explore alternative powertrains in large luxury coupe-looking sedans.
Renault is not expected to build this two-door, four-seat vehicle, though its headlights and grille could appear on future Renaults. Also of interest is the powertrain, a 3.5L twin-turbo V6 delivering 420HP through a seven-speed automatic transmission. The V6 is an evolution of Nissan’s VQ engine family and it is likely that a seven-speed automatic will find its way into Nissan and Renault model lines sooner rather than later.
Definitely one of the best-looking products in all four Paris show halls, the 908RC previews the styling direction for the next iteration of Peugeot flagship, 608. As with Nepta, there’s something interesting about the powertrain. In this case, the 700HP 5.5L V12 diesel is due to be used in Peugeot’s next Le Mans attempt. If Audi can do it, why can’t Peugeot?
Aside from the terrifically deep red paint, which looked far better in person than in photos, this concept felt overdone. Instead of predicting Citroen styling, however, the star is under the hood. Citroen is looking to have a diesel-hybrid in their range in 2010, and the C-Metisse (and Metisse means hybrid in French, by the way) sported a 208HP 3.0L V6 diesel with electric motors supporting it. The motors were at the rear wheels, and good for 20HP each.