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.

No comments:

Post a Comment