Porsche chairman Matthias Müller with the Mission E

Porsche chairman Matthias Müller with the Mission E

In the second and final part of this month's management briefing, we take a look at the stand out concepts, production cars and trends seen at the 2015 Frankfurt IAA motor show.

They say a week is a long time in politics. The same now applies to the car industry: who could have imagined the firestorm which would engulf the Volkswagen Group in recent days? And as this is being written, the firm’s management seems unable to contain the conflagration.

It’s too early to say which rivals may benefit from the German OEM’s public disgrace but as my colleague Simon Warburton points out, already some politicians appear to be throwing gazole on the flames. That’s a dangerous game to play, given how interconnected the supply chains of vehicle manufacturers are. Right now, no-one really has the full picture and it’s telling that unlike some people in the government, the head of France’s state owned car maker is keeping quiet.

Against that background, leaders of the various divisions which make up the biggest vehicle manufacturer in Europe will be despairing that their recently revealed new models are already forgotten. So let’s remind ourselves firstly of the significance of what Volkswagen AG showed as world premieres at the IAA Cars 2015.

The Tiguan was the major news for the VW brand. The first generation model is shockingly ancient yet despite that, it still sells well. Its replacement is larger, and there will be an even bigger variant, complete with seven seats, for markets in North America as well as left- and right-hand drive countries in AsiaPac. There is still some uncertainty over what VW has planned for its other future crossover and SUV line-up but it does now seem that this will look as follows:

  • cross up!
  • T-Cross
  • T-Roc
  • Beetle Dune
  • Tiguan
  • Tiguan Coupe
  • Tiguan L
  • ‘CrossBlue’
  • ‘CrossBlue L’
  • Passat Alltrack
  • Touareg

As the dimensions of the CrossBlue and its LWB derivative are yet to be confirmed, it may be that the Touareg replacement is either merged into these models or become larger. The Taigun, which was expected to be a B-SUV for India, Brazil and Argentina is said to have been cancelled, and there are question marks over what will replace the Suran Cross, Saveiro Cross, Cross Fox and CrossPolo built variously in South America and South Africa. Let’s not think about what happens when the market for small-large crossovers and SUVs becomes saturated and people start to wonder if they might want a different kind of vehicle now that everyone else is sitting up just as high. Perhaps convertibles will come back into favour as the new must-have?

If you like open-topped cars then Frankfurt was a show bursting with treats, at least on the stands of OEMs which sell high-priced models. BMW had Rolls-Royce reveal the Dawn, Daimler offered the first official look at the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Cabriolet (as well as the new smart fortwo cabrio), FCA pulled the covers off the Ferrari 488 Spider, and Audi’s Lamborghini division wanted us to believe that its Huracán Spyder is able to manipulate the weather.

The facelifted Golf Cabrio was pretty much it down at the more affordable end of the market, though SsangYong sought to draw attention to the future long-wheelbase Tivoli by showing a concept version of an open-roof derivative. This was odd, as such a model won’t come to Europe. PSA had the Peugeot Fractal and Citroen Cactus M concepts on display but these were probably more to do with the lack of new models for its main brands than any preview of production roadsters or convertibles. Don’t believe me? The roof of the Mehari-inspired Citroen concept doubles as a tent. Clever, but, ultimately, fanciful.

As ever at big shows, it was of course what wasn’t being displayed that mattered as much as what was. So backtracking for a moment, still we wait for a B-segment crossover or SUV from Volkswagen or any of its subsidiaries, and the same applies to Toyota Motor Europe. The adventurously styled C-HR concept from last year’s Paris show gained some rear doors but kept its name. A source within TME has told me that the production version to be revealed at the next Geneva show will be a Juke rival, not a Qashqai-sized car as many have reported.

It’s another measure of how the world has changed that BMW revealed the new X1 at the IAA and no-one seems upset that it’s not rear-wheel drive. Nor will it have an inline six-cylinder petrol engine. Three- and four-cylinder turbocharged units will suffice. Arguably the brand’s most important car at Frankfurt wasn’t new, but just a mid-life update: the 3 Series has been getting hammered by the C-Class in most major markets so the facelift and range of new engines, including the 330e, a PHEV derivative, should breathe some new life into this former best seller.

Mini is being pushed further upscale, and this makes sense for BMW Group, as long as cars such as the new Clubman don’t start eating into sales of models such as the X1 and 2 Series Active Tourer. Executives at the show hinted strongly that Mini is a name, not a size. Next year’s F60, the follow-up to the Countryman, will apparently become a proper SUV in the hope that it can be more successful than the current car and its rarely seen Paceman derivative.

Not too far from BMW’s giant stand was the multi-level Mercedes-Benz pavilion. This contained one of the show’s surprises, which was a concept that is said to offer a preview of the next CLS-Class’ interior. The exterior of the Concept IAA had moving aerodynamic panels and the wheels could also morph into low-drag designs as the car gathered pace, at least according to a promotional video. I noted the S-Class Cabrio already but the C-Class Coupe was another world premiere. A convertible body style is also on the way - we should see it at either Los Angeles in November or else at Geneva next March.

Daimler’s ever-closer relationship partners Renault and Nissan had a lot to show at Frankfurt. The French firm gave the Laguna-replacing Talisman sedan and estate their public premieres, and the “95%” production ready Alaskan pick-up truck was also there. The big news was the Megane 4, with its Sport Tourer estate derivative soon to follow. The three-door Megane 3 stays in production for a time too, with word being that the high-margin RS variant will be replaced by a five-door hatchback in the fourth quarter of 2016.

Nissan’s stand was mainly about the Gripz concept, which is the company thinking aloud on what direction a replacement for the Fairlady Z/370Z might take. On the production models front, there was nothing new, but the next generation March/Micra is now less than a year away and believe it or not, the Juke is due a successor within 24 months. As noted in the IAA preview, word is we might well see another new model from Nissan Europe in 2017: a small SUV to complement the Juke 2.

GM had a good Frankfurt, with the first reviews of the new Astra breaking as the car appeared at the show. It will take a few months for the whole engine range to be rolled out but the initial media findings seem to be very positive. Let’s see what Mr News Editor Roberts makes of it after he returns from Vauxhall’s press launch later this week.

Mary Barra made the trip to Germany and had encouraging things to say about Opel and Vauxhall’s progress towards sustainable profits - what a contrast to how previous management spoke about these brands. A new SUV is still in the pipeline as the effective replacement for the forgotten Antara but this should be more of an Edge rival in the hope that margins will be juicier in the segment above the Kuga, Tiguan et al.

We’ve looked at BMW and Mercedes-Benz so it would be remiss not to comment on what Audi had at the show. The S4 appeared and was noteworthy for being powered by an engine with six- not eight-cylinders. The RS 4 will follow, as will the allroad version of the basic A4, a car which somehow manages to look anything but all-new, despite being so.

Far more exciting from a tech point of view was the e-tron quattro concept, which is a prototype of the future Q6, as it’s likely to be called. Audi didn’t mention the vehicle’s weight which wasn’t surprising given the claimed 500km range from what is a massive battery pack located between the axles and below the passenger compartment. Like the outgoing Chevy Volt, the e-tron quattro has seating for just four occupants. The production model is due in 2018 and there will likely be variants with combustion engines.

Speaking of German premium brands, Borgward’s first model of modern times appeared at the show. It’s based on the existing Foton Sauvana, a fairly average SUV that’s 4.8m long and competes with the likes of the Mitsubishi Challenger. There weren’t a lot of details announced in Frankfurt, other than that the BX7 and its TS sports derivative should be on sale in China in 2016, with sales in Germany to follow from 2017. Foton makes the Sauvana at its Miyun plant in Beijing so expect the Borgward to be built there too. Given the example of Mercedes-Benz, it’s entirely possible that a company can be a successful maker of both trucks and luxury cars, so for the moment, let’s reserve judgement on the likelihood of Borgward being eventually accepted as a genuine maker of luxury vehicles.

If Foton made a brave move in the homeland of Audi, Benz, and BMW, PSA was being timid at the Frankfurt show when it came to DS. This division really needed to make a splash, but it didn’t, the DS 4 facelift and its Crossback derivative, plus a pretty ordinary concept car being all a bit half hearted. Seen the brand’s sales figures for Europe lately? Not too good. According to ACEA, fewer than 50,000 cars have found owners in the first eight months of this year, that total of 49,323 representing a tumble of 18%, which reflects the fact that PSA has been neglecting the DS 3, which of course makes up almost all of the brand’s volume.

It’s pretty bad for DS in China too, not that anyone seems to have noticed. PSA therefore won’t thank me for drawing your attention to the fact that the brand was even outsold by Fiat in August. Just 1,622 cars were registered in the month, a 33% decline, and for the year to date, the total is only 14,123. What of the DS 5, which PSA and Changan went to great expense to build at a new plant in Shenzhen? Well, maybe it’s best to be polite and say better things are expected for the facelifted model which has just gone into production.

DS had no model in China’s top 100 best selling vehicles list in August. No car made the top 200 either. You have to keep scrolling to finally see one, the 5 LS, a first generation Citroen C4 sedan with a different body, in position 221, just ahead of the Peugeot 508. The numbers for these two are 796 units (-51%) and 786 for the Peugeot (-71%). At the end of the first eight months, 4,092 DS 5LS sedans have been sold and this car is not even 18 months old. It’s an even more alarming story for the DS 6, which, as an SUV, ought to be soaring up the sales charts. In August, a mere 676 cars were registered, and 9,443 for the full year.

What is to be done about DS? PSA doesn’t seem to want to spend the money we can all see that it needs to. On what? Properly launching this supposed premium brand, with a range of elegant vehicles, of course. The mini-SUV segment is there for the taking in Europe - not even normally trailblazing Audi has a vehicle on the market in that class but the Q2 arrives in 2016. Models such as the DS 4 Crossback and even the refreshed DS 5 have the whiff of Saab in the Spyker years about them - spend as little as possible and declare some slightly updated cars to be ‘new’. PSA will never compete with the German and Japanese premium brands, plus Volvo, behaving in this way.

By chance, we now come to FCA, and specifically Alfa Romeo. The recent statement by Sergio Marchionne that he can cancel the enormous planned spending on future Alfa vehicles isn’t really what someone tempted to switch out of a BMW wants to read in the financial press. But FCA’s number two is simply protecting the monetary interests of the family which he reports to, so he’s just doing his job. If the Giulia bombs, then the Agnellis may tell him to halt future spending on Alfa.

The first units of an Italian intended rival for the Lexus IS and Jaguar XE - the volumes will be too minimal for the Alfa to be classed with the segment leaders - will be priced at breathtaking levels. A brave punt which worked for Volvo with the XC90 and which always succeeds for Mercedes-Benz, but for Alfa Romeo? To enthusiasts, the Giulia looks and sounds great but at Frankfurt, several months on from the media premiere in the summer, still there were facts about mainstream variants. Powertrain details? No. Now about what follows the sedan - a wagon, a coupe? Who knows. So many people really want the Giulia to succeed, including this writer. No information does make you suspect we won’t be seeing this car in showrooms for a while yet.

A brand which does have a good track record of consistently delivering is Mazda. Ever more models, new engines, facelifts after just two years, four-year replacement cycles - the little company from Hiroshima has really found its niche now. Brand image is soaring, especially across European markets, and the Koeru, a CX-5 sized concept that might be either a future CX-4 or CX-6, or possibly even a preview of 2017’s next CX-5 was thought by many to be one of the most attractive debutantes at the IAA.

Mazda is said to be preparing something special for the Tokyo show in late October. Insiders are hinting that the emissions issues which prevented the Wankel engine from complying with Euro 5 norms and the standards which have more recently come into force have been solved. Does that mean the rotary will appear in a successor to the RX-8 or will it instead be seen under the bonnet of a concept fuelled by hydrogen or maybe even as a range extender for some future small car?

The rumour mongers have been talking for a while now about a ‘new Cosmo’ set to appear at the 2017 Tokyo show, marking the 50th anniversary of the debut of the original model. In just two months’ time we should see some sort of sign of what Mazda is planning for its revival of the rotary. If a business case can be make for a cleaner version of this remarkable engine, then the Japanese firm really should throw a modest amount of resource at it and see if the potential is there to create a premium priced car to be powered by it. Skilfully marketed, it could work.

The reinvention of a brand using technology that’s been around for a long time is something Mazda shares with Porsche. The idea of using multiple electric motors to power a car is more than a hundred years old but the Germany company, along with its rival Audi AG, showed the results of its latest R&D efforts at the IAA. The Mission E concept was one of the most talked about prototype world premieres. Some of that was down to its Imperial Stormtrooper ‘face’. Some of it was instead thanks to the instruments which scan the driver’s eyes and realign themselves to provide a constantly perfect viewing angle. Others were more impressed by the permanent magnet synchronous motors, similar to those in the 919 Hybrid LMP1 racing car.

The thing which really got Google’s algorithms humming on the IAA press day was the recharging time for Porsche’s experimental EV - it was what so many summaries of the show’s highlights chose to highlight. Provided the potential driver could locate an 800V source of electricity, the batteries would supposedly be replenished to 80% of capacity in 15 minutes. Take that, Tesla.

Something inspired by the Mission E is headed for production in 2018, likely sized between the Macan and Cayenne but more of a crossover than an SUV. Sound familiar? Tesla is already there, its much delayed Model X finally set to appear in a few days’ time. It was interesting that the Californian firm chose to hold back its Falcon Winged crossover for a special event on 29 September. Perish the thought but might motor shows be beginning to look like a too-expensive and sometimes irrelevant promotional tool? As ever, Tesla is doing things its own way and while some continue to question the viability of the company’s business model, Germany’s most profitable OEM is following Elon Musk's firm in thinking that electric high performance vehicles might be the next big thing.

A comprehensive list of vehicle world premieres can be found here.

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