Sunday, September 17, 2017

Surprises and Shortcomings: My Take On the 2017 IAA




Alexander Carabitses



The 2017 IAA (Frankfurt Auto Show) is supposed to be one of the two biggest auto shows on the global auto show calendar, but it didn't feel that way in the slightest.  Normally, I'd blame something like this on the automakers' urges to launch their debuts months in advance of the show, which kills off the surprise factor of the show, but this time around, I can't say that this was not the case at all, as there were plenty of surprises and exciting debuts that took place during press days alone.  The real problem was the fact that ten automakers (Peugeot, DS, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Jeep, Rolls Royce, and Volvo) decided to skip the show.  This decision was based on the fact that the brands either A) had no new products to show or B) felt their marketing dollars could be better spent elsewhere.  While it is true that the cost for participation at an auto show like Frankfurt is quite expensive, the bottom line is that auto shows provide critical customer engagement opportunities that are hard to achieve elsewhere, but I digress.

Another thing that legitimately sucked about this year's show was the Volkswagen Group preview night.  While normally held in an indoor arena, Volkswagen decided to hold it on a small stage within the company's own exhibit hall, a move which was clearly made to save the brand some valuable cash that could be used elsewhere, either for marketing or R&D.  Of course, Volkswagen Group tried to spin this as a philosophical marketing move that I didn't buy for a minute, given the circumstances, and that the excuse itself didn't make any sense.  The press conference was also an hour shorter than normal, but offered a lot of valuable information regarding the company's commitment to invest 20 billion euros on zero emissions vehicles and have 80 electric vehicles in the corporate portfolio by 2025.  This is obviously an enormous commitment, and although a lot of this is a forced effort in the aftermath of Dieselgate, it will be very interesting to see how successful the company will be in its efforts, and more importantly, how much money it makes (or loses) in the process.

While from a business point of view, things weren't quite as upbeat, there was a lot to get excited about with regards to product, so let's jump right into some of the vehicles that are more forgettable from the get-go.  First, we have Toyota, which released an updated version of the European Land Cruiser (a vehicle that is known to US buyers as the Lexus GX), a fiftieth anniversary Hilux, the limited-edition Auris Sport Freestyle (a pathetic looking "off-road" vehicle that hardly features any body cladding), and the CH-R Hy-Power Concept (a concept for a high output CH-R hybrid). I'm going to be straight forward and say that none of this excites me or concerns me, given that none of these specific models are sold here in the US. Now it's quite possible that the refreshed Land Cruiser could preview an updated GX, but as of two years ago, the future of said model was supposedly in doubt, and with a 7-passenger version of the RX right around the corner, I'd say the chances of seeing a refreshed GX are fifty-fifty.
(Image credited to Toyota)
(Image credited to Toyota)
(Image credited to Toyota)
(Image credited to Toyota)


There were two star French cars at the show that we had not seen in advance.  The first was the Renault Symbioz Concept, an autonomous vehicle that can actually be used as living room furniture if one so chooses.  Then there's the more realistic and exhilarating, 276 horsepower 2019 Renault Megane RS.  The British brands also had a pair of surprises in store.  First, Jaguar pulled the wraps off of the I-PACE eTROPHY, which is supposed to actually go racing next year, as part of a support series for the FIA Formula E championship.  While Jaguar pandered to race fans, Land rover went a bit more old school with the 2019 Land Rover Discovery SVX.  This vehicle is meant of be a hard-core off-road version of the new Discovery, and its appearance is enough to make a case for this point. In addition to its styling, the vehicle features a beefed-up off road suspension and a 5.0-liter V8 engine that produces 525 PS and 461 lb-ft of torque.
(Image credited to Renault)
(Image credited to Renault)
(Image credited to Jaguar)
(Image credited to Land Rover)


Honda's electric mini-car concept, the Urban EV Concept, was one of the most intriguing concepts of the show, mostly due to its retro exterior design.  I will be the first to admit that I like this vehicle a lot, so I am especially pleased that a production version will go on sale in Europe by 2019.   We now move on to a vehicle whose potential has been self-inflated beyond belief, as the Chinese automaker, Chery, launched its first European market vehicle in the form of the 2019 Exeed TX.  While the vehicle looks nice enough, the unfortunate problem is that it is entering a crowded segment that features many competently styled vehicles, meaning that it is just average, right off the bat.  For a Chinese automaker that's entering one of the biggest and most demanding automotive markets in the world (where fellow Chinese brand, Qoros, has already failed), showing up with something that's just another entry in a crowded segment is not a good idea, as the results could be devastating.
(Image credited to Honda)
(Image credited to Exeed)


Moving on to the German brands, we start off with BMW.  Now for those who don't remember, BMW had already showed most of its debuts, such as the 2018 M5, the 2018 6-Series GT, the 2018 X3, the 2018 i3, and the X7 iPerformance Concept in advance, but they still brought two additional models. The first is the BMW M8 GTE, which will compete in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship in 2018.  Race cars like this tend to feature many key production car aesthetics, such as the grille shape and headlights; if this racer is any indication, the production version of the 8-Series won't look anything like the stunning concept car that they showed earlier this summer, which is a massive disappointment.  Even worse is the BMW i Vision Dynamics, a concept car that previews BMW's impending Tesla Model 3 competitor.  While the proportions of the vehicle look to be quite nice and dynamic, it is also quite aesthetically challenged.  My biggest gripe in this regard is the new kidney grille, which is now connected in the center.  Between this model and the aforementioned X7 Concept, it's become apparent that little by little, the brand is forgetting how to style a proper kidney grille.  For those who don't understand why the grille's center connection is a problem, I think it may help if I liken it to the controversial change that Chevrolet made to the Corvette when its taillights went from being circular to rectangular.  Now that we're on the topic, I feel I should take back my harsh words on the M8 GTE, because at least this car has a proper kidney grille.
(Image credited to BMW)
(Image credited to BMW)


The product offerings from the Volkswagen Group were eclectic as always.  Bugatti showed its record setting 0-400-km/h-0 Record Car, while Audi showed the limited edition 2019 R8 V10 Rear-Wheel Series, the CNG-powered 2019 A4/A5 G-Tron models, and the 450 horsepower 2019 RS4 Avant.  Additionally, Porsche showed the 442 horsepower, 2019 Cayenne Turbo alongside the standard model (which I covered previously) and the 2019 911 GT3 Touring Package, which is a more maturely styled version of the regular GT3.  In order to reinforce the company's commitment to electric technology, VW Group's three electric concepts from Shanghai were back in the form of the Volkswagen I.D. Crozz II (now in red), the slightly revised Skoda Vision E, and Audi Elaine SUV Concept, which only differs from the E-Tron Sportback in that it features autonomous capability.  Speaking of which, the VW Sedric was back and it will apparently spawn a family of similar vehicles.  Lastly, there was the stunning Audi Aicon Concept, which showcases what a Level 5 autonomous car from Audi may look like.  It was honestly the best looking vehicle of the show, and of all the autonomous concepts that were shown in Frankfurt, it's the one the most clearly points to a bright future for personal ownership in the autonomous car age.  I'm sorry Renault, but as much as I love my car, I don't want it wot be used as living room furniture.
(Image credited to Bugatti)
(Image credited to Audi)
(Image credited to Audi)
(Image credited to Audi)
(Image credited to Porsche)
(Image credited to Porsche)
(Image credited to Volkswagen)
(Image credited to Skoda)
(Image credited to Audi)
(Image credited to Volkswagen)
(Image credited to Audi)



Finally, we have Mercedes which showed three new vehicles for the first time in Frankfurt.  First, there's the GLC F-Cell, a preproduction variant of the GLC that features a dual powertrain setup (electric and hydrogen fuel-cell) that has a combined range of 272 miles.  It is quite likely that this vehicle will be shockingly expensive, and even at that price, the likelihood of Daimler making a profit on this vehicle is slim.  Then there's the odd-looking Mercedes EQA Concept.  Although it may look like the beloved Volkswagen Scirocco, it is not that by any means, as this concept features a 60 kWh lithium-ion battery pack that gets up to 248 miles of range.  The front end, which features a lot of unique lighting technology is also another feature that could potentially take a lot of time to get used to, and that is obviously not a good thing.  What won't take any getting used to is the stunning Mercedes-AMG Project One, a vehicle that I have already described as the highlight of the auto show season.  Although it looks a lot like a Koenigsegg, this vehicle is unique, as it features a legitimate Formula 1 powertrain under the hood that delvers 1,000 horsepower and can get from 0-124 mph in six seconds flat. The interior is also pure race car, in terms of the seats, steering wheel mounted controls, and the shape of the wheel itself.  I'm already looking forward to the inevitable drag race between this fiftieth anniversary special and the Bugatti Chiron, but we unfortunately have to wait until early 2019, (that's right, 2019) until the first of the already sold 275 examples rolls off of the assembly line.
(Image credited to Mercedes-Benz)
(Image credited to Mercedes-Benz)
(Image credited to Mercedes-Benz)



So that's the 2017 Frankfurt Auto Show in a nutshell.  Electrification was obviously the biggest theme of the show, mostly due to the strong plans of European cities to ban gas and diesel powered cars in the next few decades.  Autonomous driving technology is also coming heavily into play, and we witnessed many from Daimler, Renault, Audi, and Jaguar that showcased what the future holds for the automotive industry.  Overall, it was a well rounded show form a product standpoint, although it didn't seem like the fun event that it once was.  Let's hope that the latter trend changes as the 2017-2018 auto show season progresses. 

Thank you for reading and have a good week.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

2017 Frankfurt Auto Show Preview (And Some Miscellaneous Reveals)



Alexander Carabitses 


The 2017 Frankfurt Auto Show kicks off on the week of September 11.  However, for many automakers, that date is pretty much irrelevant as the majority of them have already announced what they plan on bringing and have even shown many of these models in advance.  With this in mind, I feel that it's best to put together this "preview post" in order to showcase these models now, while saving the surprises and unreleased vehicles for my review post. Before you begin reading, please note that a lot of the products that were revealed this past summer from brands like Seat, Skoda, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Hyundai, VW, Porsche, Suzuki, Audi, and BMW are all making their way to Frankfurt.  Additionally, there are a few models at the bottom of the list that aren't coming to the auto show that I felt needed to be covered as soon as possible.
(Image credited to Lamborghini


2019 Seat Leon Cupra R:  For those who are wondering what this is, just look at it as Seat's version of the Volkswagen Golf R.  That means 296 horsepower (if you opt for the automatic) and 310 horsepower if you opt for the manual, with both engines being placed in a vehicle that features more aggressive bodywork than the Leon or the Cupra. And much like the Golf R32 of old, the Cupra R will be a limited edition model, with the magic number being 799 units.
(Image credited to Seat)

2019 Ford Ranger Black Edition: I've said it before and I'll say it again, I hate blackout and nightfall packages.
(Image credited to Ford)

2019 Volkswagen Amarok Dark Label and Adventura Exclusive:  Once again, we have some more irrelevant special edition models that the US won't get.  On the bright side, the Dark Label is grey.
(Image credited to Volkswagen)

2018 Opel Insignia GSi/Sports Tourer:  Remember the Buick Regal GS? Well this is the European version, which includes a station wagon that we will never get.  Additionally, the Country Tourer variant (i.e. the Regal TourX) will also be shown in the flesh for the first time.
(Image credited to Opel)
(Image credited to Opel)
(Image credited to Holden- could not find an Opel picture)


2018 Opel Vivaro Life:  Opel recently showed a passenger version of the Vivaro midsize van, and now they're showing us a camper version.  Swiveling rear seats that fold into flat beds are on offer, and before anybody asks, yes, this is a production vehicle.
(Image credited to Opel)

2018 Citroen Space Tourer Rip Curl: Opel's new sister brand, Citroen, has produced a far superior mid-size camper with this concept, as can be seen through pictures alone.  The roof features a fabric portion that rises, which is a move that clearly echoes what Volkswagen does for its own camper vans.
(Image credited to Citroen)


2018 Citroen E-Maheri Courreges Limited Edition: Citroen has partnered with the famous French fashion house, Couregges, to produce an instantly forgettable blackout package for what's essentially a beach buggy.  Mercifully, only 61 will be produced.
(Image credited to Citroen)

Jaguar Future-Type Concept: Smart isn't the only brand that's showing up with an autonomous concept in Frankfurt, as Jaguar has just pulled the wraps off of the Future-Type: an autonomous car that the owner can manually drive at his or her discretion.  The main highlight of this car is Sayer,  the world's first voice activated steering wheel, which enables the driver to control all functions of the car.  Although this is only a concept that shows us what Jaguars could look like in the year 2040, it is nice to see automakers experimenting with technologies like this at such an early stage.  Additionally, it is nice to see that we'll still be able to manually drive these autonomous cars if we so choose.
(Image credited to Jaguar)

2019 Honda CR-V Hybrid:  The new Honda CR-V is set to make its European premier in Frankfurt, but this hybrid version is the biggest piece news.  Initially shown earlier this year in Shanghai, this three mode hybrid (gas, hybrid, and EV) can activate either of the three drive modes on its own, without driver intervention; the goal is to constantly optimize fuel economy. There is no word on whether or not this model is destined for the US, but since Nissan and Toyota offer hybrid versions of their c-segment crossovers, it seems like it would be a mistake for Honda to keep this out of this market.
(Image credited to Honda)

2018 Kia Picanto X-Line:  Because crossovers are all the rage these days, Kia has joined GM and Fiat in thinking that putting body cladding on an A-segment car and raising the ride height by 0.59 inches will move more metal. Additionally, Kia has fitted the engine from the sportier GT trim in this car, so that it now produces a mind-blowing 99 horsepower.  Sales will commence in the fourth quarter of this year.
(Image credited to Kia)

2018 Kia Sorento:  It may be hard to believe, but it's already time for this crossover to undergo its mid-cycle refresh.  The exterior changes are subtle and irrelevant, while the major bit of mechanical news is a new 8-speed automatic transmission.  Additionally, there is a new GT line (pictured below), which features sportier trim, both inside and out.  Expect sales in Europe to commence in the latter part of the year, following this crossover's debut.  Expect a North American premier in LA.
(Image credited to Kia)

Kia Proceed Concept: Kia has decided to preview the next generation Pro Cee'd in Frankfurt with this Proceed shooting brake concept.  While quite dramatic, we should expect for the production version to be more toned down, although certain features, such as the Stinger inspired front end will most likely make the cut.
(Image credited to Kia)


2018 Mercedes-Benz V-Class Rise and Limited: Where did this come from and why should I care?  This is the question I always ask myself when I see special edition vans like these.  I have included them on the list, simply because they will debut at the show, but I won't waste anybody's time by going into details.
(Image credited to Mercedes-Benz Vans)
(Image credited to Mercedes-Benz Vans)

2018 Mercedes-Benz AMG G63/G65 Exclusive Editions:  These special edition versions of the G-Class AMG models are most likely final editions for this generation of vehicle.  While there is plenty of unique trim, both inside and out, there aren't any mechanical changes.  As always with the G-Class, expect six-figure prices.
(Image credited to Mercedes-Benz)
(Image credited to Mercedes-Benz)


2019 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe/Convertible, S63 AMG Coupe/Convertible, and S65 AMG Coupe/Convertible: Here is another vehicle that is incredibly halfway through its life-cycle. The new range of two-door S-Classes feature a 4.0-liter V8 in mainline models that produces 463 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque (0-60 mph 4.5 seconds). The S63 AMG features a 4.0 liter biturbo V8 that makes 603 horsepower and 664 lb-ft of torque (0-60 mph in 3.4 seconds).  Finally, the S65 AMG's engine output remains the same at 6.0-liters, with the V12 making 621 horsepower and 738 lb-ft of torque (0-60 mph in 4.0 seconds). There are many new electronic and safety features that are similar (if not completely identical) to those of the S-Class sedan refresh.  The exterior and interior revisions are also quite minor.
(Image credited to Mercedes-Benz)
(Image credited to Mercedes-Benz)
(Image credited to Mercedes-Benz)
(Image credited to Mercedes-Benz)
(Image credited to Mercedes-Benz)
(Image credited to Mercedes-Benz)


Mini John Cooper Works GP Concept:  Designed to commemorate the brand's accomplishments in the 1967 Monte-Carlo Rally, this one-off model features unique body work, a roll cage, and a three point racing harness.  However, the most important aspect of a car like this (i.e. the engine) has not been disclosed.
(Image credited to Mini)


2018 BMW M760Li Nautor Swan Edition: To celebrate the 25th Asiverssary of BMW's Individual Program (which allows owners to special order personally customized BMW's that feature unique paint and trim), the brand has decided to trot out this utterly pointless one-off 7-Series just in time for the Frankfurt Auto Show.  BMW says that it was inspired by yachts, but to be honest, I don't see it on the exterior at all. However, the interior does feature a lot of nice trim and a yacht deck-inspired floor. The thing that truly bugs me is that BMW is already unveiling a number of significant new products at Frankfurt, so is the debut of a special edition model necessary?
(Image credited to BMW)

BMW X7 iPerformance Concept:  Probably BMW's worst kept secret has been its desire to launch a flagship SUV that can seat six passengers and compete with lower-end Range Rovers.  Well, this is the initial design preview, and the results are interesting at best.  While I like certain details, such as the slimmer, more aggressive headlamp design and the concept car roof, I can't accept the grille.  To be frank, those aren't kidney grilles, rather, they are griddles that were pulled straight off of a large outdoor grill, finished in an aluminum color, and slapped onto the front end of the car.   Also, the rear fender vents look somewhat ridiculous (at least from pictures), but I understand that if they weren't there, the rear fenders would be incredibly bulky.  The interior takes an evolutionary approach, mixed with some concept car touches. As its name implies, this is a Twin-Turbo plug-in hybrid, but BMW didn't actually announce any performance data. Expect a production version to debut at some point next year.
(Image credited to BMW)

2018 Lamborghini Aventador S Roadster: Although it weighs 110-lbs more more than the coupe, the Aventador S Roadster is still a quick car.  Its 6.5-liter V12 engine produces 730 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque, and those who want to hear the engine in its full glory when the roof is not in place can open and shut a rear window at the push of a button.  The roff panels themselves can only be removed manually, although this shouldn't be too big of a problem considering that they only weigh 13 pounds a-piece.  The car goes on sale later this year for a sticker price of $460,247.
(Image credited to Lamborghini)


Non-Frankfurt Reveals:

2018 Caterham Seven SuperSprint:  The first of three British sports cars on this half of the list, this car is meant to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the iconic roadster.  Only sixty cars will be produced for the UK and Europe, and they all feature unique trim, both inside and out.
(Image credited to Caterham)

2018 Lotus GT430 Sport: This is a more street friendly version of the Lotus GT430 that was revealed earlier this summer.  Powered by a 3.5-liter supercharged V6, the car makes 430 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque; top speed is rated at 196 miles per hour.  The car weighs 22-lbs less because it ditches much of the GT430's aerodynamic features, and now weighs 2,751-lbs.  Additionally, the car generates 220-lbs of downforce at 196 mph.  This car, which sounds like it will be a blast to drive,  has just gone on sale for 104,500 UK Pounds.
(Image credited to Lotus)

2019 TVR Griffith:  Good news: TVR is back and the car that they have re-emerged with looks like it has a lot of potential to be a stunner on the track.  Power comes from Ford's 5.0-liter V8 that's tuned by Cosworth to deliver around 500 horsepower, with 0-62 mph happening in less than 4 seconds and the top-speed being quoted at "over 200 mph".  Notice that I'm not being specific, simply because TVR itself wasn't specific...that is not a good sign.  However, TVR was specific about the 50-50 weight distribution and that the car weighs 2,755-lbs.  The final two engineering points worth noting are A) the car comes with a Tremec Magnum XL six-speed manual transmission, and B) the car achieved its rigidity target by an engineering technique that bonds carbon fiber to steel.  Moving on to design, the car is as polarizing as a TVR should be, so some will love it and some will hate it.  The car also seems to borrow heavily from the Toyota FT-1 Concept (the design preview for the upcoming Supra) and the Mercedes SLS, so I can't say that this is entirely original.  The interior is also quite spartan, although I'm sure that traditionalists will appreciate that.  Earlier I alluded to the fact that TVR wasn't specific about performance figures and only gave estimates; considering that deliveries don't start until early 2019, it's is clear that the brand still has a lot of work to do.  When cars do arrive, expect them to sticker just under 90,000 UK Pounds, with the first 500 cars being badged as Launch Edition models.
(Image credited to TVR)


2019 Nissan Leaf: By far, no vehicle on this list is more important than the all-new Nissan Leaf. The car is powered by a 40-kWh lithium-ion battery pack that generates 147 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque.  The car has an EPA estimated range of 150 miles (a long range variant is coming for the 2019 model year), along with a charging time of 16 hours with a 3kW plug or 8 hours with a 6kW plug.  Additionally, the latter plug supports a quick charging feature that can charge the battery to 80% in 40 minutes.  These are all positive changes.  However, the changes to the exterior are a disaster, as it appears that Nissan has apparently found a way to make an ugly car look even worse.  Although the sides are more squared off than before, the basic silhouette is retained.  The real problem lies in the front overhang, which from certain angles looks like a partially-tipped seesaw. The interior changes are evolutionary and it looks like a decent place to be, although I'm not a fan of all the black trim that was shown in the press photos. The car goes on sale in early 2018 for $29,990.
(Image credited to Nissan)


That's all I have. Thank you for reading and have a good week.