A fleet of BMW i3s silently lugged foot-weary hacks from hall to hall at the vast Frankfurt motor show, that biennial techfest that celebrates the global dominance of Germany’s car industry. It’s not often that the most important new car at a show also doubles as journalist taxi.
>> Click here for CAR's A-Z guide to the 2013 Frankfurt motor show
I had my go, impressed by the lack of any intrusive B-post (so easy egress and ingress), the uncluttered son-of-iPad instrumentation, excellent all-round visibility and the usual electric car whisper-quiet whirr and whoosh. The wood trim on ‘my’ car looked a little out of place – can you imagine an iPhone in walnut veneer? – but if there is one car that summed the cutting edge of the global (i.e. German) car industry, 2013, it was the i3.
BMW, Audi, the rest of Volkswagen and the vast Mercedes group all had their own motor shows in their own stands – it would be quite possible never to leave one of these vast edifices and depart sufficiently car sated.
Trends? There were a few. Almost everyone was previewing pure EV, hybrid, plug-in hybrid or some other form of watt car. Nissan-Renault boss Carlos Ghosn, the amp champ, was sticking to his guns that 10 per cent of all cars would be electrically powered by 2020, never mind recent evidence to the contrary.
Carmakers that were electric sceptics just a few years ago were now extolling the sustainability virtues of these silent knights of the road. Plug-in hybrids were especially enthusiastically embraced. They allow petrol car performance (not least range) yet much reduced CO2 figures thanks partly to a quirk in the ‘official’ fuel economy/CO2 test cycle that means no carbon emissions are recorded during their plug-in recharging. Yet in many countries – not least the China and USA – this is mostly done by filthy coal power stations. Sustainability or subterfuge?
Of course, car makers also love plug-in hybrids because they mean they can keep building big, fast (and profitable!) cars that now, magically, boast super-low ‘official’ CO2 figures. To this end, there were many new crossovers and SUVs at Frankfurt, most featuring hybrid (frequently plug-in) power.
Even Jaguar jumps on the SUV gravy train. The C-X17 actually looked quite fetching, a testament to the skills of Jaguar design boss Ian Callum and his crew. There will clearly be a demand for it, as the runaway success of similar BMWs, Audis and Mercs proves. More significant, its aluminium platform will spawn a whole range of new Jaguars, including a 3-series-rivalling compact car.
Elsewhere, the best new production-ready SUV was probably the latest BMW X5, naturally showcased with plug-in drivetrain.
There was no shortage of other star cars. I liked the new i10 Hyundai, which beats the Volkswagen Up! on paper in almost every way and certainly has a better name, if not such a prestigious badge.
The production-ready Alfa 4C was sublime, my personal show favourite. Volvo’s Concept Coupe was clean and elegant, a good first effort by new design boss Thomas Ingenlath (ex-VW), who promised many cues would be carried over to next year’s XC90.
The new Mercedes S-class will almost certainly return to its position as ‘world’s best saloon’, judging from the technology and Mercedes’ track record with previous S-classes. Some new S-classes also plied, back and forth between the Frankfurt halls, as very posh black cabs transporting pampered hacks.
The Ferrari 458 Speciale also looked brilliant, although I’d be quite happy with a normal one, thank you very much.