Optimism Shines at Frankfurt's 2011 Motor Show


Sophie Doran | October 10, 2011

Whether one was looking for a zero-emission mobility solution or a high-performance fuel-thirsty way to spend €1.6 million, the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show had vehicles for the guilty, the greedy and the green

Whilst many hands have forced change in the automotive industry in recent years, these new and diverse demands seemed never more realised than in a conflicting series of big name launches. High performance luxury drives were just as frequently unveiled as electrics and hybrids, while the makers of unashamedly fossil-fuelled supercars, launched forums in which to discuss the future of transport in our increasingly populated planet.

In their round up of the event, Wallpaper went so far to describe the industry showcase as a ‘surreal experience’, with the German-dominated group of luxury automakers exhibiting a hugely contrasting collection of vehicles.

“On the one hand, they gave us wonderfully innovative mobility solutions for the megacities of the future; on the other, a host of ultra high horsepower performance cars. Yes, there was plenty of clean urban mobility thinking on display, but ultimately it felt like a battle of European superpowers.”

“ 1,012 exhibitors welcomed over 900,000 visitors and launched 183 world premieres ”

Not that such a dichotomy should fill us with surprise; even brands like McDonald’s have diversified to offer a range of ‘healthy options’, alongside a 900-calorie Quarter Pounder with Cheese. But the dual arrival of unashamedly fossil-fuelled S7 & S8 models, alongside five electric and hybrid concepts, both from Audi, strongly demonstrated just how complex and challenging auto consumers have become.

In turn it begged the question, which models will be best placed to deal with potential economic uncertainty, sustainability gripes and the current appetite for unadulterated luxury?

Common thinking suggests it will be a flock of models – often contradictory in nature – that will arm luxury car manufacturers with the ammunition necessary to survive the demands of the economy and consumers. The quest for a balanced product portfolio was clear at Maserati, as the brand launched its first SUV to rival the Porsche Cayenne. CEO, Harald Wester revealed ambitious intentions to produce 20,000 per year, in a bid to boost Maserati’s worldwide sales to 40,000 by 2014, from 6,400 in 2010.

Similarly, Lamborghini CEO, Stephan Winkelmann, expressed confidence the brand would return to its pre-crisis peak by early 2013 but acknowledged the need to widen its appeal. More specifically it will launch an everyday car, expanding its model line from two to three.

BMW’s i8 Concept, an innovative plug-in hybrid sports car, the next step in the evolution of BMW Vision Efficient Dynamics

“The third car is important … because you will be less dependent on the super sports car segment, which is very sensitive to ups and downs and to emotions,” remarked the CEO “Even a small manufacturer has to see that if you want to continue to create dreams, you have to create a chain of values.”

The launch of Aston Martin’s luxury compact, Maserati’s concept SUV and the new hardtop Ferrari 458 Spider, championed the theme of optimism. As did the news that Lamborghini will manufacture 20 of its limited edition Sesto Elemento, each worth a whopping €1.6 million.

IHS Automotive analyst, Ian Fletcher, remarked to CBS News that automakers were doing nothing but quietly ignoring austerity measures blooming across Europe. Whether it is indeed a case of ignorance as bliss or an innocent decision to remain upbeat, this year’s 64th International Motor Show was significantly more cheerful than its 2009 predecessor, which took place in the heart of the recession.

“ People are talking too much about crisis ”

Organisers confirmed 1,012 exhibitors – up from 781 in 2009 – who welcomed over 900,000 visitors and launched 183 world premieres.

Matthias Wissmann, President of the German Association of the Automotive Industry, confirmed an increase of almost 10% in attendance since 2009, a level of interest that far exceeded expectations. “The result of people ‘voting with their feet’ clearly indicates – in contrast to some statements by so-called experts – that the ‘fascination of the car’ is very strong, especially among young people.”

“Precisely in these times of turbulence on the finance markets, the IAA has sent out strong signals of stability in manufacturing and of automotive growth. It has become visible and comprehensible, just how strong the manufacturing sector is, and the innovative drive for the future that characterises this industry."

Audi executives unveil the electric Spyder Concept, designed to be capable of racing in the middle of dense urban traffic

Audi’s chief executive, Rupert Stadler, may have said it best when he made the comment; “People are talking too much about crisis.” Refusing to engage the debate, the CEO instead revealed expectations for double-digit growth in the US and a likelihood that Audi will overtake Mercedes this year, achieving sales of 1.3 million units.

Audi sales chief, Peter Schwarzenbauer, may have been more willing to speculate, but remained equally unfazed. “There are two early warning signals: one is fleet sales, the other used car sales, and in neither we currently recognise any headwinds.” And if the 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show is any climatic indicator, it could remain smooth sailing in the auto market for a little while longer.