Blog: Dave LeggettSome Frankfurt observations

Dave Leggett | 19 September 2005

By now, a lot of words have been written about Frankfurt and IAA 2005 is fading into history, attention starting to turn to the next big shows in the auto industry’s calendar (Tokyo is next month). I’ll just offer a few final slightly off-the-wall observations, if I may, dressed up in the form of spurious ‘awards’.

Extravagant use of the Earth’s resources award: that award goes to the Maybach Batmobile in the DC hall: the Fulda Exelero Concept Car. Strictly speaking, as a concept, its claim on the Earth’s resources is pretty modest of course, so in a sense I’m being unfair. But it just seems to have a look about it that might be from a parallel universe where oil is plentiful, materials are abundant and environmental worries non-existent. It’s a car from our dreams – slightly nightmarish even.

It’s a very big car, with outlandish lines including a Beetle-esque sweepback reminiscent of the Maybach SW 38 from the 1930s. And it’s fast too (5.9 litre V12, 700bhp) – has been driven at 351 km/h (some kind of record on production tyres). But just absolutely, jaw-droppingly  stunning to look at.

The ‘it’s all our own work, honest’ award: Kia Opirus. As Kia eyes the executive segment, its Opirus sedan is quite simply a wonderfully original design – especially when viewed from the front. Plagiarism doesn't get much more blatant than those E-class headlamps perhaps, but where exactly, in automotive design, does 'influenced by' become 'derivative' become 'plagiarism'?

The ‘our tagline is weird, but then so are our cars’ award: Geely of China for the sublime: ‘I am Geely’. Some of the cars on the stand just looked plain odd. Like they have got some circa 1980s designs and are continually adapting them. Teardrop shaped grilles. Mental. Proton can relax for a little while longer.

The Millwall ‘everybody hates us and we don’t care’ award: AvtoVAZ. The Russian giant was there but not exactly appearing all that keen to engage with journalists, the trade or, I dare say, potential customers. I’m not sure how the company is fixed for exports to western Europe on engine emissions grounds anyway (the GM-AvtoVAZ Chevrolet Niva excepted), but the models on show were pretty uninspiring in appearance. At least the Fiat 124 derived Lada Riva had a brutal, no-messing kind of honesty about it. Classic three-box design that is easy to fix and can survive the harsh Russian winter. The more ‘modern’ designs are simply horrible. But AvtoVAZ still builds 600,000 cars a year because in Russia, they are cheap and there is no shortage of customers.
The ‘shall we put on a bit of a show stand at IAA this year? Oh, go on then…’ award: DaimlerChrysler’s hall, of course – as sumptuous and well designed as ever. On the ground floor you are sucked into an escalator tunnel that sweeps you to the top of the hall and then it’s a gradual one-way descent, past the cars, ending, appropriately enough with the new S-class (which, by the way, looked pretty good to me – though I would like to see it on the road with other traffic to get a true sense of its proportions). How much does it all cost, I wonder? How long to set-up?

The ‘it takes a management consultant to point out these things' award: Glenn Mercer of McKinsey challenged a few aspects of the industry’s conventional wisdom at the conference on Friday. In particular, he pointed to the high performing Tier 2 and Tier 3 suppliers, especially those with process-based business rather than product-based. As the share of revenue taken by the larger supplier firms falls in NA, he maintained that what we actually have is industrial ‘deconsolidation’ and ‘the bottom of the pyramid growing faster than the top’. Mercer also pointed out that Toyota in the US is highly vertically integrated and looking at becoming more so, and that Lear has lately backed off from going the way of the fully integrated modular interior. Maybe outsourcing and scale aren't everything, after all. As ever, things are a bit more complicated.

Airline/Carrier of the Show: that has to be British Airways – esp. out of London Heathrow. There are still issues with the catering subcontractor to BA at Heathrow, Gateway Gourmet, apparently. But why was my return journey out of Frankfurt subject to problems? Just prior to boarding at the Gate, we were each handed a doggy bag containing one ham and cheese baguette (small), a yoghurt carton, orange juice carton and an apple. Took me back to the packed lunches that Youth Hostels here used to offer when I was a teenager on geography field trips looking at the effects of glaciation in Wales. And it was tea, coffee and water only on offer to wash it down. And the flight was delayed an hour. Marvellous.


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