CAR reader car4mh’s Frankfurt motor show 2009 blog

Published: 17 September 2009

CAR Online reader Car4mh, aka Mark Hamilton, spent the day blogging alongside the CAR team at the 2009 Frankfurt motor show. Here’s his account of his road trip to Frankfurt (Mark lives in New Zealand. Talk about commitment!) and his behind-the-scenes view of international press day. Come back this weekend to read the thoughts of another CAR blogger, Richard Webber, who won the trip out to Frankfurt with Vauxhall; sadly, owing to a Vauxhall cock-up, they couldn’t get press day tickets and are taking Richard out this weekend instead.

I’m here in Frankfurt after quite a long and entertaining journey.  I see that editor Phil McNamara has been suffering for the team at the hands of Bugatti as he makes his way to Frankfurt.  What have I been up to?  Well, now that you ask…

Departures, arrivals and a car

Departing Auckland last week on one of Air NZ’s Boeing 777s, I made a brief stop in Tokyo before consigning myself to one of Lufthansa’s austere Airbus A340s – home to the only Recaro seat which has not improved my opinion of the vehicle in which it sits.  That list includes the Suzuki Ignis, so you can see that’s a major statement.

Anyway, after 12 hours without the convenience of a personal TV screen, I arrived in Munich to pick up my road test vehicle.  I had a grand plan of roaming about Europe issuing proclamations via Twitter and offering up poorly-produced mobile phone videos in the name of web2.0 greatness for a suitably-hip car maker in their suitably cool car.  Sadly, in spite of Tim Pollard’s best efforts to assist, this was not possible, and so I found myself at the rental car counter collecting what I thought would be another Golf TSI manual to run a durability test on ham-fisted shift scenarios for disoriented foreign drivers.

Imagine my surprise when my Golf keys had a Spanish accent, and I was presented with custodianship of a Seat Leon with the same itty-bitty TSI motor and manual gearbox.  It was hard walking past the Porsche Carreras and sundry German prestige metal to take my Seat, but as we don’t have this branch of the VW Empire sold in NZ it was a novelty nonetheless.  Once I found the appropriate point in the black ‘n silver plastic interior for my iPod to have an intimate conversation with the hi-fi, affixed Mr TomTom’s navigating device and ‘tourist aboard’ warning beacon to the screen of the car and had said the required number of ‘I sit on the left, I drive on the right’ mantra chants, I set off. In fourth gear. With the TomTom in the usual ‘leap of faith’ mode that comes from retrieving a vehicle from a concrete garage where GPS signals fail to penetrate.  A fuller review, perhaps with less self-deprecation about my adapting to shifting right-handed, may follow. 

The stuff in-between then and now

There is a whole story about my subsequent adventures at the home of BMW which will hopefully arrive after the IAA coverage is out of the way. I will spare you the weekend in Vienna with friends (as cars were not involved), and bow my head in shame for not attending the Italian GP in Monza on your behalf.  But given what Ben Barry’s anointed champion Mr. Kubica managed to do to return Mark Webber to the DNF hall of fame on the first lap, I am glad I didn’t shell out the funds to watch it live.

A suitably challenging drive

Today’s adventures started with a straightforward enough task. Drive from Vienna to Frankfurt. In a Seat. That seems a fairly dull thing to blog about, so to make it interesting, I delved into the frustratingly-complex TomTom interface to stitch together a challenge. Drive to Frankfurt via the headquarters of all the major German car makers.

A quick look at the itinerary suggested that’d take 17 hours… Talk about making things complicated! Alright then, all the major German car makers except Volkswagen, since I’m driving one of their vehicles (and Wolfsburg is a very long way away indeed).

What follows is a chronology of the journey, based on my Twitter recollection of events.

Monday 14 September 2009, 11:53am: ‘A motorway rest stop in Austria, the name of which escapes me’

‘To Frankfurt via BMW, Audi, MB, Porsche, Opel home towns.’ It was either that or ‘Austrian motorway rest stop loo looks like prison toilet but impressively clean nonetheless’ and I thought this was a bit off-topic, even for me.

3:12pm: ‘BMW complete, next up is Audi, weather terrible’

What a unique sensation it is to be barrelling along smooth German autobahns at speeds which would have me banned back home, in heavy rain. Perhaps VW had ordered the weather so I could be surprised if not delighted by the clap-hands Seat wipers leaping from the A-pillars.

Getting a photo at BMW is incredibly tricky – the HQ and BMW Welt complex are on a busy intersection, and the ideal place to park (the customer entrance and parking area) is monitored by a staff member who yells at you when you pilot your non-BMW in there.  I waved my cellphone in the international sign for ‘I have a call, and my phone excuses all sins’ and hurriedly snap pictures from the driver’s seat as I put the Leon back into Munich traffic. 

4:05pm: ‘Audi HQ sorted, off to Stuttgart now for the others. Bye Ingolstadt!’

The drive down to Audi-town is accomplished quickly with a minimum of drama, and the route to the Audi HQ complex is thoughtfully signposted once leaving the autobahn.  I manage to grab a car park for the mobility-challenged and hobble convincingly out of the Leon to take photos after nearly six hours behind the wheel.

7:20pm: ‘Made it to M-Benz with just 15km left in the tank. Now for Porsche & Frankfurt’

Ingolstadt to Stuttgart is a long drive, and your genius correspondent got a case of ‘I’ll refuel at the next rest stop.’  As it happened the range shown by the trip computer tumbles remarkably rapidly once into double-digits, and thankfully I found a service station in Unterturkheim to feed the Leon and myself.  Although the energy drinks and junk food were probably not the best bet for an evening meal, given that my brain is still whirring like the Leon’s twin-charged induction system at 3am.

The Mercedes complex is very impressive, and I was able to park quite close to their museum (not open on Mondays, like the others). That the indoor arena down the road (the road being Mercedes-strasse) is prominently sponsored by Porsche must cause no end of laughter up the road at Zuffenhausen. 

7:47pm: ‘Mission Accomplished at Zuffenhausen! Now let’s get to Frankfurt. Big day 2moro’

As with the BMW complex, the Porsche Zentrum and Museum are on a busy intersection, which required a couple of laps to hit a long-enough red light for pictures.  There were plenty of factory gates around also which provided an opportunity to stop though. I saw a couple of Panamerarghs which left a queasy sensation but nonetheless I will inspect the new Porsche at the show tomorrow. 

8:35pm: (no Tweet) 

It was at this time as I was blasting along the autobahn with about an hour to go in the journey that I remembered I had to go to Opel.  At this point I was feeling pretty-much over the whole bahnstorming thing so this wasn’t welcome.

10:15pm: Arrive at hotel

The tweeting phone has gone into hibernation and I am ready to hurl the TomTom at whatever will cause it the most distress.  I have been down dead-end streets, found roads closed for construction, had to ‘turn around as soon as possible’ and been left waiting at a level crossing in the middle of nowhere – yet could not find Opel.  Have their new owners moved the HQ and plant out of town already?  Perhaps the Vaux-blogging Astronaut would know.  Still, four out of five German manufacturers (not counting far-off Wolfsburg) isn’t bad.

>> Click ‘Next’ to read Mark’s press day report from the Frankfurt motor show

Tuesday 15 September 2009: Frankfurt motor show first international press day

6:45am: Réveil
The alarm call an hour ago seemed like entirely too early to be rejoining the land of the blogging, but I managed to summon enough consciousness to seek out coffee and breakfast.  Almost time to depart for the venue – best send this and get going!

8:00am-3:30pm: Embedded with the troops at the press front lines

Although I hadf thoroughyl enjoyed my day of bahnstorming to Frankfurt yesterday, I find that being a bit caffeine-jittery and tired is not the best condition for the short autobahn commute to the IAA venue.  You get one lane of the Eurovision Lorry Contest to crawl along in, or you need to be prepped for immediate engagement of warp speed in the other two lanes.  Nonetheless, after an accident-free blast to the city centre I’m parked and off to meet Tim Pollard. 

Press-pass received from Tim and lanyard donned, imagine my surprise when I’m asked to join in the official live blog!  Feeling rather pleased with myself, I power up my new-toy iPhone and count my blessings as I am tasked with covering Porsche & Fiat Group press conferences.  Perhaps I should try contacting FHM to see if they want a Girls of the Fiat Group Compound web feature?

The next morning: A Baptism by fire, survived

By the end of day 1 at IAA I was exhausted, as was my phone from trying in vain to find any kind of signal to fire off a proper live comment. After returning to the hotel and thinking I’d file some more reports I sat down on my bed and promptly passed-out for the evening.

Returning to the land of the conscious and internet-connected, I was consoled if not surprised to see that the American blog contingent was scathing over in the twitterverse about the poor wireless coverage, so it was not just me failing to properly manipulate my new-toy iPhone.  I have taken time out this morning to sit and properly compose some commentary before returning to the frontlines over at Messe Frankfurt.

Yesterday afternoon was an interesting one when viewed after a night’s sleep (wondering why I was especially tired? Check the Frankfurt thread in the CAR forums, under ‘non-motoring’).  I went to the Jaguar press conference (pretty-much reprised from the XJ live launch video) and enjoyed some refreshments at their bar (drinks good, turquoise-iced cupcakes unusual-looking but good) – above which an XJ aluminium monocoque is displayed, and a fascinating piece of art it is for those interested in such a thing.  Jaguar fans who liked the look of the launch press kit being offered by CAR to new subscribers will note that the Jaguar press pack at Frankfurt is far less lavish and basically a multimedia CD package.

Lotus had a spokesmodel! (did they have one in Geneva? I thought not hence the surprise).  The funny thing is that while she was lovely she didn’t need to be there because this racing-anorak friendly car company had proper racing car news with their return to GT endurance racing and F1.  Along with their range-extender engine and the well-received Evora road car Lotus looks to have some very good momentum working for it – they’ve had to hire more staff (30% increase in production workers) to keep up with Evora orders!

Going over to Artega afterwards put their car in the shade, but the Artega GT is still an impressive-looking alternative to the Cayman.  I met up with Tim at that point so I’ll return to have another look and learn more later today.

Tim and I roamed the halls comparing notes – I showed him Fiat group’s toytown, he introduced me to Peugeot’s striking RCZ – before arriving at Saab.  There was Christian von Koenigsegg in a long line of interviews.

Tim put his name down for chat with Saab’s new boss and we considered the new 9-5.  I think they’ve done a very good job at creating a modern Saab (the rear 3/4 view is particularly good, as is the interior) so hopefully all the Saabists around the world will buy it and give the firm some funding and momentum to broaden their range.  The car should be a compelling-enough proposition for jilted Saab loyalists, and may well win some new followers too.

Day 1 ended with refreshments at Jaguar’s bar again and a proper look at the XJ’s interior.  It does not take a free drink to tell me that this is a highlight of the car, although once again the artful design of the lighting within the bar area camouflages that controversial rear pillar. I mourn the fact that Jaguar is unlikely to build a compact executive saloon as an alternative to the Munich Mondeo but look forward to seeing their new range expand into sportscars.

Alright, enough from base-camp, time to return to the front!

>> Click ‘Next’ to read Mark’s report from the second press day at the Frankfurt motor show

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Wednesday 16 September 2009: Frankfurt motor show second international press day


Typing Away at the Press Centre (if you must…)

I’m at the oddity which is the IAA press centre.  In Geneva, the press were provided with a giant hall where they could go about the task of busily churning out content for eager readers/viewers/listeners around the globe.  I was quite impressed with it, and imagined all motor shows would have such an easily accessible site to work from.

Err, no.  The IAA press room is inside the Congress Centre, which is a tall office building behind Hall 2 (The World of Mercedes, more later).  There are a couple of rather small conference rooms, and the lobby area to work from.  If approaching from ground level the only way in is via the freight elevator. Thankfully the wireless internet here is free, because a 24hr pass costs 50 Euros (surely eye-watering even for Pound-earning UK readers, much less your correspondent operating on the Kiwi peso).  With that in mind you’d think the press zentrum would be more…err, zentral.  Not that the thousands of journalists and bloggers here are actually trying to share your motor show with the world, or anything.

Minor whine out of the way, back to the cars.

I am happy to report that Mini has regained its hipster mojo with the DJ bar operating in Hall 11 today.  Video screens show happy mini owners, who all look like they shop in trendy streetwear boutiques and work as graphic designers or stylists.  Naturally there is a page on Facebook, and I do recommend you check out the ‘two untamed’ videos if you need two scantily-clad skinny-mini model types growling at the camera to rationalise your liking of the roadster and coupe concepts.  As I’m on record saying both here and on Twitter, I remain intrigued by what amounts to a BMW CRX, but I do have to echo the sentiments of readers who are unhappy with the lack of differentiation in the mini’s bodywork, particularly at the rear.

There is also the issue of that backwards-facing cap of a roof.  Isn’t the trend now for a garish flat-brimmed cap affixed at an angle 30-somethings and older find vaguely ludicrous anyway?  I hope the production car comes with a simpler floating roof panel, or in black.  The Mini JCW glaring at the rotating concepts from across the way still provides a compelling option for mini-racers though.

BMW has also restored my faith, a bit.  This morning a pristine white 507 roadster roared around the Hall 11 track and looked and sounded wonderful.

I contrast the cool kids at Mini with the crew over at Smart.  If I can cross genres and borrow a consumer gadget analogy, Mini is like an iPod and Smart is like a Microsoft Zune in comparison.  What Mini appears to come by effortlessly (and could annoy people by doing so, as Apple does), Smart tries very hard to come by, and yet the feeling is that they’re not quite there.  I used to love the City Coupe/ForTwo, but with pious old Toyota coming along with the iQ it’s been a bit left behind.  Nevertheless their press kit fabric sling bag was cooler than Mini’s trad boutique shopping bag, so just like the Zune they can still score some points.

Over at Mercedes, I have begun an investigation for the forum faithful based around the ‘Ashtrays’ thread in the Design room.  There is something fitting about a strict non-smoker checking out ashtrays, in an age where it seems likely that you’ll find a repurposed storage bin and a 12v power socket.

Nonetheless I am keeping my eyes open, and it gave me something to do in the SLS Gullwing rather than grabbing the wheel and shift paddles and making V8 noises, which was good.  I like that car by the way, it is tough-looking, doesn’t pay too strict homage to the original and I had no problem at 6ft tall either getting comfy behind the wheel or climbing in and out.  Add the theatre of those doors and I think AMG have done well.

Matte metallics are also a big Mercedes & AMG theme, I can’t decide if I want a car which looks like my aluminium laptop but it is intriguing.  At least until you have to care for it.

I also would have inadvertently-scooper the E-Class estate if I’d posted my photo from in front of the Mercedes Museum in realtime.  Never mind.

Anyway, back to the show, and hunting down some of the random weirdness that eludes the mainstream press corps.

So many halls, so little time

Thanks to the power of the internet, savvy pre-arrangement of press information to leading media outlets like CAR and the massed ranks of the
press corps (which Ben Whitworth puts at a staggering 135,000 over the two days) readers at home can get a near-instant, very comprehensive overview of this massive event in a very short time.

Being on the ground is another matter. The IAA makes use of 11 exhibition halls at Messe Frankfurt, and while thankfully several of them are given over to events and activities that will be available when the public turns up from Saturday onwards (care for a Probefahrt? You can register for one at Hall 9 if that’s your scene), that still leaves halls 2, 3 4, 5, 6, 8 and 11 to explore in a scant 11 hours each day.  Even with a fleet of eco-friendly German cars offering to ferry you from one end to the other for free while acting as rolling billboards for their CO2 and fuel efficiency
numbers, you’re still going to get delayed, distracted, disoriented or just plain tired. 

Having been revitalised by a night’s proper sleep and a relaxed start to the morning, I was now running behind schedule with some big halls to properly cover.  While gathering information for an upcoming forum-inspired feature on ashtrays, I started the afternoon upstairs in Hall 3, where
Ford/Mazda/Volvo (on neighbouring sites) shared space with the electric army of Renaults, the Korean rising stars at Kia and Suzuki’s merry mix of cars, bikes and outboard motors for powerboats.  This should be a cinch to get around, not much to see here…

Oooh, Ford have got a WRC corner with a driving simulator! And a slot-car set for racing ASBO Orange Focus STs where you can win a prize!  Well I must try these…and eventually manage to win an ST lapel pin and baseball cap for sheer persistance and spectacular tail-out cornering/better-than-Bond-tumblerolling crashes. Yes, I like that better than sympathy after a string of second-places.

Now over to Mazda, where there’s the lightweight MX5.  I do like MX5s, but I have trouble dealing with the ‘girls car’ stigma that most of my friends (funnily enough, even the female car enthusiasts I know) have applied to the world’s favourite roadster.  But here’s one with big wheels and Recaro seats that looks good!  I should ask what the assembled group of women looking at the car with me think…

Moving right along I grab a press kit and head over to Suzuki, who have got motorcycles on display as well as their regular range of small cars –
very cool to see their MotoGP race bike, even if they’re having a poor season in 2009.  Oh look, they’ve also got a juice bar!  Perhaps I’ll get
one of those.

By the time I get to Renault (behold our electric machines! Ignore our – now controversial – F1 car and line-up of RenaultSport hot hatches!) and Kia (immortalising the purveyors of The Barbie Song in your new car is not my idea of a good time, no matter how cool your press kit and how sparkly your spokesmodels’ outfits in the Soul alcove) I am having a very clear realisation that there is not enough time this afternoon to cover everything, so I’ll have to get a move on downstairs to the VW empire and onwards back towards BMW group by the 7pm closing.  That shouldn’t be too difficult, surely…

It’s a blur but from about 4pm to 7 my afternoon went like this.  It was a car-lover’s dream afternoon and a car-blogger’s ticking-clock nightmare all at once:

Lamborghini/Bentley/Skoda/VW/Seat/A trip around the accessory and parts displays of Hall 4 (that’ll be Porsche, Weissman, Brabus, Lotus, Aston Martin, Melkur, Maserati, Ferrari, Abarth, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Hyundai, Opel, Saab, Artega, Helmet-Hartung (where do I begin…), Rolls-Royce and BMW as it was closing. You can imagine from that list where I paused longest, and I want to write to you about them all while
it’s still fresh but I’ve got to pack my bags, get back in the Leon and remain Seated back to Munich for a flight out of here.

To any of you sitting at home feeling that you’re being under-served in the motor show coverage, I suggest you give it a go – even on a public day, just covering a big event in real time.  Perhaps more than Geneva, it’s been a revelation to me how challenging it is to balance a desire to see
everything, with a necessity to write about it with almost no time to compose one’s thoughts and reflect on the events of the day.

There will be more content coming through as time and CAR’s news priorities allow over the next few days, including the forum mission to investigate ashtrays, a round-up of the press pack grab, a look at how to eat and drink on a press day for 5 Euros or less, a stroll through some of the weird and wonderful items at the show and anything else I can come up with before the lights get turned off on this blog page.  In the meantime, stay tuned!

Reader's article

By CAR reader Mark Hamilton