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The Frankfurt Automotive show (IAA 2015), which took place last month, was, once again, the opportunity for a tour de force by the German manufacturers.
At the enormous Frankfurt Messe, almost every building was devoted to a Germanic manufacturer. Even so, the massive Hall 3 was too small for the whole Volkswagen Group, so Audi was forced into a “detached house” in the middle of another building.
Obviously, we hear the derisive spirits that say: “Yes, but that was before…….. However, we will gladly make you a bet. The group VW will rise again. Meet us here in two years and let’s see where they stand….
We are going to begin our overview of the show with the ‘dream’ so let us look at the concept cars.
Our focus is on three studies that we believe are undoubtedly precursors of what our automobile future will be.
To start with, Porsche presented Mission-E, which was, this time, a real surprise and probably the star of the show. Michael MAUER (Porsche Design Director) and his team tried to answer this simple question: “What would a 100% Porsche vehicle look like?”
Technically the layout is very simple, following the example of Tesla with a battery pack located to provide a low center of gravity, feeding two electric motors, one driving each axle. Even though it is natural to compare both vehicles, Porsche takes advantage of its experience with the 918 Spyder and 919 Hybrid and utilizes 800-volt technology (rather than the 400 volts used by the majority of electric cars in production today). The announced performance is stunning: 600 HP, 3.5 seconds from 0 to 100 km/h and 8.5 more seconds to 200 km/h… The range is close to that of Tesla at 500 km.
The design, for a sedan, is ultra-sporty and features strong themes consistent with the marque. The front fenders are dramatic and, as usual for a Stuttgart product, are higher than the hood. The wide shoulders in the back further underline the brand style. The wheels are dramatic and the rear doors are rear hinged eliminating the B-Pillar. The headlights come straight from the Le Mans race car.
The dashboard is pure and simple and unlike present production vehicles, uses screens that respond to gestural rather than tactile orders from the driver. Innovation is just part of the Porsche DNA.
The Panamera replacement will not be derived from this vehicle, because this one will be based on the “MSB” platform developed by Porsche for the VW Group. As we said in the introduction, we will start with the dreams… But we hope that one-day soon we can see this kind of machine on our roads……. Why not by 2020.
Audi, also betting heavily on an electric future, presented the E-Tron Quattro concept.
Adopting a silhouette halfway between an SUV and a station wagon or estate car, this impressive yet elegant new concept is born. Indeed, it continues the styling cues introduced with the recent Prologue study presented at earlier international shows. A lowered, widened and complex radiator grill, sharp and striking lines, all contribute to a masterful design. The interior, drawn by Frenchman Thomas PINEL, presents a dashboard somewhat less abstract than shown in the Prologue. Less abstract and therefore really much closer to production … The instrument panel is directed towards the driver and has a high-tech, yet sporty appearance. The exterior rear-view mirrors have been replaced by cameras and interior display screens using an ‘OLED’ interface (a technology mainly used in rear lights until now). The projections for performance and range are attractive, and once again, Tesla seems to be the competitor in the gun-sight. Production is slated for 2018, but that remains to be seen… In the meantime, Tesla continues to build its market..…
The third striking concept was the Mercedes baptized simply IAA… but for « Intelligent Aerodynamic Automobile ». Presented on the ground floor of one of the most impressive exhibition halls, this concept is jarring at first.
Its general shape reminds one of a smooth pebble with few sharp edges. Indeed, the plan for this Mercedes is to reduce drag (the drag coefficient is 0.19), reduce fuel consumption and thus drive better CO2 emissions.
The very low drag coefficient is made possible thanks to the adoption of moveable body panels. At 80 km/hour, what the company with the three-pointed star calls a » physical transformation » takes place — the back of the car lengthens by approximately fifty centimeters, this together with carefully crafted ‘ailerons’ and other devices combine to reduce drag at highway speeds.
The inside is even more futuristic, flooded with the bright white of science fiction films. A multitude of touch-sensitive screens liven up a dashboard that is punctuated by an aluminum ‘banner’ that extends around the entire cabin with its four individual seats. This concept is not pure electric, but rather a hybrid.
Concept IAA seems to be the precursor for future products and even though this would be a major departure from the present Mercedes universe, nobody doubts that they wanted to introduce a new design direction…
On the subject of pleasant surprises and of dreams, how can we not speak about the Cactus-M concept from Citroën …
Citroën made our mouths water with a concept that revived the spirit of the Mehari. It is based on the C4 Cactus, keeping most of that cars elements, but simplifying them to make this a real Outdoor vehicle. Indeed, the two long doors of the concept are molded plastic, but have features that remind us of the Airbump on the original vehicle. There is no carpet on the inside, but a lot of plastic. Everything is completely washable, including the seat fabric, which is also resistant to salt. The front end is bold and the rear “spoiler” allows surfboards to be carried across the non-existent “roof”. It all conveys a strong message: Let’s go to the beach! The climax of the presentation was the ‘auto-deploying tent’, making a perfect sleeping place for two. In summary, it is a pity that this vehicle is not intended for production, because we can just imagine ourselves turning up the Beach Boys and looking for some big surf …
Peugeot demonstrated its know-how with the sexiest show car: Fractal, is a small electric coupé with a removable roof which accentuates the surround sound effect — often an Achilles’ heel in spite of the efforts of the audio engineers. The Fractal system integrates the very latest acoustic installation incorporating 13 speakers with sub-woofers integrated below every seat. The software and the sound system were developed by Focal StelLab in conjunction with Peugeot. Every detail of the car is designed to minimize the sound signature. For example, the road wheel spokes are dihedral in shape to dampen aerodynamic noise. These spokes were manufactured using 3D printing. In terms of design, the lines exhibit the brand image and are mature enough for series production. The “coupe franche” in the back, which is becoming a Peugeot signature, integrates a special material with a patterned surface, which, according to Gilles VIDAL, Director of the Design, forces the air flowing over the body to ‘stick’ to the surface and reduce aerodynamic drag. The ‘cote de prestige’, that is the distance between the rear edge of the front wheel opening and the front door cut line, has been visually increased, or shall we say ‘optimized’. This positions the cab towards the back of the vehicle, emphasizing the hood and conveying a feeling of power.
The cockpit is all about the driver and the other occupants. The steering wheel integrates touch-pads on both spokes that allow the driver to control the functions and equipment of the car. All the features can be controlled by a tactile deck in the central console. This central console is study in simplicity. Using less material, rather than constantly adding more. Rear seat occupants also benefit from this deck to manage their own dedicated atmosphere. After the concept Exalt, which was inspired by the world of the piano, Fractal pulls its origins from the auditorium and the recording studio. Materials, such as the black oak applied to the dashboard, the doors and the seats transport us in the universe of the concert hall. The dramatic sheet of copper across the instrument panel and extending into the doors is intended to be reminiscent of the audio connections in a sound studio.
Gilles VIDAL, explained to us that Fractal was a real laboratory for ideas from the Peugeot studio. Indeed, besides the acoustics, this concept allows for the exploration of things like 3D printing to create forms that are impracticable by any other process. The contribution of digital tools provided a method for the designers to calculate the most efficient way to create the form of every individual component.
When we asked if this vehicle could be produced, I think we saw a smile come to Vidal’s lips..… but then I must admit we really wanted to see a smile there.
Of course we must eventually return to reality, so let’s look now at some of the production vehicles on display.
One word can be used to describe the VW Tiguan II which was presented at the show: Continuity. Even if it is a little more « squared » and totally new, it is stylistically close to the original. This is the first vehicle to use the new MQB platform, which is longer, wider and lower than its predecessor thus it seems more distinguished (thoroughbred) and more sports oriented.
Alfa returns to the center stage with the eagerly awaited Giulia that will replace the flagship 159 which ceased production a few years ago. After many delays, here at last is the return of Alfa with a clear message — “return to basics”. At first glance some people will say that it reminds them of a 3 series BMW, but it does not matter! It is an Alfa. The car is distinguished by great styling details. The hood is long, the front end and grill are bold, the whole car screams heritage. The strong feature line that starts from the air extractor behind the front wheel, just under the cloverleaf badge, the huge intake ducts, the massive cloverleaf wheels exposing ‘dinner plate’ sized discs, everything exudes the emotion and the sporting history. Pure lust.
In Frankfurt, there was a major presentation of the Renault Mégane IV, which is certainly a best-seller in the European C segment dominated by the VW Golf. This latest version is unquestionably more audacious than the predecessor. It maintains all the styling cues of the recent Espace and Talisman, with, for example, the « DLR’s » (Daytime Running Lights), in the front bumper. The grill, which seemed enormous on the Clio, seems better proportioned here and positions this Mégane at the top of range. This horizontal proportion is further emphasized at the rear on some models by large tail lights stretching across the whole width, only briefly interrupted in the middle to allow space for the logo. The vehicle seems to be visually wider and benefits, furthermore, from an extraordinarily strong night time signature. Based on the Renault-Nissan Qashqai (and Kadjar) platform, this automobile benefits from a wheelbase just a little longer than Mégane III and short overhangs. Together with the graphics of the windows and sculptured surfaces, everything combines to improve the status of this next generation Mégane, which is just waiting to hunt down those disaffected Volkswagen owners. Maybe this is the perfect time for new product in this segment.
Two other studies drew our attention. The Hyundai Gran Turismo project and the Honda Project 2&4 Concept. We are speechless … The first one is a study for the Gran Turismo video game and, as with some predecessors (Citroën, Bugatti, etc.), Hyundai is indicating that the brand wants to participate more in the world of motor sport. The second arises from an internal competition at Honda. Inspired by the Formula 1 Honda RA272, winner of Grand Prix of Mexico 1965 It was designed by the motorcycle studio based to Asaka in association with the Wako studio of automobile design. Both these studios are in a suburb of Tokyo. The basic idea is to offer to the best characteristics of the motorcycle and the car, which is why the seat « floats » over the frame allowing the driver to see the road under his legs … The steering wheel (with driver information back-projected on a clear screen) is supported by slim ‘steering column’ that shoots off at a sharp angle towards the center of the car. To the right of the driver there is space for a passenger — after removal of a body panel. As you might expect, the drive train is from a motorcycle. We would like to see the first one of these on the track, but the second one should be in our garage …
It was vintage Frankfurt, with concepts centered on electric or hybrid propulsion and, as expected, a big show of force from all the German manufacturers.
As a final example of the local ‘muscle’, BMW, in presenting the new 7 Series, created a display in a 12,000 m2 hall which integrated a 700 meter test track where we could test drive both the battery-powered and conventional vehicles ….. Yes, you read that correctly, we were able to drive internal combustion-engine vehicles in an enclosed space thanks to a high-tech ventilation system. And, remember, all this was in a display that has a life of just 15 days
Next stop, the Detroit Auto Show in January where we will take another look at the North American market.