Electrics Out Front At Frankfurt Motor ShowBy Bill Visnic September 9, 2011
During the September 12-13 press preview days of the Frankfurt Motor Show, there will be more German-brand concepts and production cars than you can shake a notebook at, with most of them having some sort of environmental slant. But this being Germanys home auto show and all, theres more than a smattering of high-performance candy mixed in with the now-requisite green granola. Frankfurts concept cars can be expected to generate a critical mass of attention because the world absolutely wants inside the head of the German automakers, in particular, to know their thinking on how ever-present environmental pressures will translate for buyers who still value the more emotive aspects of driving. The German spin on how to keep the fun in low-consumption, point-A-to-point-B driving is a critical industry compass point.
The Volkswagen Group has toyed in the past with the notion of high-mileage, single-seat cars solely to satisfy the commuting function, only the NILS concept car at Frankfurt takes it a further step by adding full electric drive. Its micromobility in VW language, but by any translation, the NILS is a great-looking car. Just 34 inches wide in the cabin and 10 feet long, its lower than a Porsche 911. The 1,018-pound NILS driving range is 40 miles and VW figures the car could hit 60 mph in about 11 seconds. Its all-electric for BMWs i3 concept (below, right), too, although enthusiasts take heart in BMW indicating it might stick with rear-wheel drive even for its enviro models. A twin at Frankfurt to display BMWs intentions for a range of i models is the i8 (top, below left). The larger and curvier coupe/sedan also is rear-drive, but it is has more-conventional hybrid-electric propulsion to ensure the range anxiety of battery-electric power is absent.
Volkswagens Audi unit isnt going to be left out: Its unveiling the urban concept, an all-electric commuter car that seats two. Audi will purportedly display the urban concept with a variety of potential body styles, including an open-top spyder. The body and chassis is a carbon-fiber monococque, with fixed bodysides; ingress and egress comes via the slide-back canopy. Audi did not reveal any detail of the drivetrain prior to the Frankfurt show except to say there are drive motors located on each axle. With nearer-term ramifications is Audis A2 concept (below), an early look at the next-generation A2 subcompact that has had a star-crossed history for Audi. The A2 concept also fronts electric-only drive, with an 85-kW motor doing the job on the front wheels. The production version probably will come in 2014 to replace the current and conventionally powered A2.
The Frankfurt shows awards for outrageousness are sure to go to Citroens Tubik concept, a neo-deco take on the European people-mover that some say evokes images of VWs Microbus. The Tubik (below, right) does have a similar profile to the classic VW van, although overlaid with a rich splash of Transformers machine-age sensibility. The entire passenger side of the Tubik hinges upward, while the drivers side has a single door. In a similar vein is Peugeot HX1 (below, left), a heroically proportioned, shooting-brake styled 4-door hatchback with four scissors-opening doors. Power comes from the companys now well-known diesel-hybrid system that uses a 4-cylinder diesel to power the front wheels and an electric motor to act on the rear axle, imparting front, rear, or all-wheel-drive.
And Ford Motor Co.s slinky Evos concept (below), while a hybrid-electric using lithium-ion batteries, is meant mainly for the world to get its first glimpse of Fords new design language. Except for some extra scalloping and perhaps more muscle on the flanks, it doesnt look too dissimilar from todays production models. Ford says the Evos concepts hybrid system essentially is that of the C-Max hybrid that will be sold in the U.S. next year.
Just ahead of its November launch, Daimler AGs Mercedes-Benz is unveiling its B-Class (below, right). It is the first model to use the companys new modular front-wheel-drive platform for small cars. The compact B-Class Mercedes isnt diving into the 3-cylinder pool just yet, offering a range of 4-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines. There is no confirmation of U.S. sales, but many expect Mercedes to announce the B-Class will be sold in the U.S.
Audi will unveil a hybrid-electric version of its A8 flagship (below, left) at the Frankfurt show, keeping pace with BMW and Mercedes-Benz, both of which now have hybrid versions of their respective 7-Series and S-Class flagships in production. Audi is taking more of a risk, though, by using a reengineered version of its 2-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder for the A8 hybrid, rather than the larger 6-cylinder engines its rivals employ. The engine makes 211 horsepower, while a 40-kW electric motor is powered by a lithium-ion battery pack. For those expecting Audis signature quattro all-wheel drive for what undoubtedly will be a large sticker price, disappointment is due: The A8 hybrid is front-drive only.
The CX-5 compact crossover (below, right) is a critical first model for Mazda Motor Corp. after the pullout by longtime partner Ford. The crisp and angular CX-5 fronts two important vehicle-development bellwethers for Mazda: the companys all-new Skyactiv 4-cylinder engine architecture and new manual and automatic transmissions, plus an all-new, weight-optimized chassis developed in-house. The Skyactiv 4-cylinder engine family encompasses direct-injected gasoline and diesel variants and although the diesel wont immediately come to the U.S. market, Mazda promises class-leading fuel economy a point that could be a strong sell as Americans are beginning to like saving money at the pump.
The Frankfurt show is the stage for the public unveiling of the all-new and still-larger generation (991) of the mighty Porsche 911 (below, left), although the company released copious amounts of imagery and information about the 2012 911 in advance of the show. The new-generation 911 has a longer wheelbase and a downsized base engine, but makes more power and will be more economical, Porsche said. There is the expected long list of electro-mechanical chassis wizardry and an all-new, Panamera-mimicing interior takes the car further into pure GT territory.
The Volkswagen Groups big play at Frankfurt is the (finally) production version of the Up! Subcompact car (below). The company released official images well ahead of the Frankfurt show, but it will be the first time the production car is publicly shown after the initial concept car was unveiled at the Frankfurt show way back in 2007. The primary change: the engine is in front driving the front wheels. The company says the 1-liter 3-cylinder will be good for about 56 mpg in the European fuel-economy cycle but insists the Up! is not intended for the U.S. market.
Fiat Auto has a third-generation Panda subcompact that will be seen for the first time in Frankfurt. The 5-door hatchback grows in almost all dimensions on the platform that is shared with the 500. In addition to 4-cylinder power, the new Panda is slated to use Fiats TwinAir 2-cylinder that has just 0.9 liters of displacement. For those unable to catch the daily rush of news during Frankfurts press-preview days, the Society of Automotive Analysts will have a 1-hour hosted walkaround available by webinar on Thursday, Sept. 15 from 2:00-3:00 p.m. EST. Signup is available here.