Frankfurt Motor Show 2009

Text by Nargess Shahmamesh Banks

‘You need to make green cars delicious,’ Audi’s head of design Stefan Sielaff told me at the start of the Frankfurt Motor Show. Sielaff's point is a good one: green motoring depends on a genuine customer desire to own and drive an ecologically sustainable vehicle. Whether there will emerge a unique architecture for green cars, or the promise that driving pleasure will not be sacrificed (or perhaps even enhanced) were the underlying themes at Frankfurt 2009, the most important international motor show of the calendar.

Frankfurt is, unsurprisingly, where German marques excel. Audi and BMW unveiled two inspired concept sport cars. The e-tron and Vision Efficient Dynamics respectively introduced some extremely resourceful ecological design and technological solutions without sacrificing speed or drivability. Audi has since committed to a low volume production of the e-tron - or something very like it - by 2012. Mercedes-Benz presented a production-ready four-wheel drive electric version of the new SLS-AMG, although it will be several years before it hits the roads.

In general, the manufacturers' approach to green design felt less awkward than in previous years, as the market - and ambitions - mature. Almost all stands had some form of zero emission offering. Peugeot showed us the iOn, an electric car based on the Mitsubishi i-Car, Lexus the LF-Ch, a European styled zero emission design study for the highly lucrative premium small car market.

Even entry-level cars like the Kia Venga have been equipped with stop/start technology, an easy way of clawing back vital grams of CO2. The Korean firm has plans to offer an EcoDynamics package – much like Volkswagen’s Bluemotion – on many of its cars to help boost fuel economy. 'Green' sub-brands are becoming standard across the industry.

Citroën made a timely return to its daring design heritage with the Revolte concept. The petrol/electric dual-mode hybrid is essentially a modern interpretation of the iconic 2CV – and, though still in concept stage, the firm hopes will be as much as a success as the Mini and Fiat 500.

It was Renault, though, who made the most critical statement of all. The French company - alongside partner Nissan (which kept its trump cards for next month's Tokyo Motor Show) – want to be the forerunners in electric car production. The four Renault ZE (zero emission) cars on display will undergo little modification by the time they enter showrooms in 2011, according to chief executive Carlos Ghosn.

VW revealed a rather edgy side to its sometimes-sober personality. The L1 is a 1-litre, 189mpg hybrid two-seat concept car that hints heavily at where VW aims to go with environmentally friendly form language. Sitting alongside the electric E-Up, due for production in 2013, the highly aerodynamic L1 was an inspired approach to zero emission driving.

Other marques made a more subtle contribution to the debate. Bentley’s Continental Supersports can run on bio-ethanol. Speaking at the show, head of design Dirk van Braeckel noted this flex-fuel approach would be standard on all future Bentleys, including the brand new top-of-the-range Mulsanne, by 2012. Other premium marques already offer some form of standard hybrid derivative from their current line-up – BMW's 7-Series and the Mercedes' S Class, with the next step - plug-in hybrids along the lines of the Chevrolet Volt - due for introduction soon.

Rolls-Royce had another form of sustainability in mind. The all-new Ghost reveals how it is still possible – albeit in limited numbers and for a rather privileged clientele - to produce wonderfully handcrafted cars where every inch of every surface is hand-wrought and hand-finished. As Rolls-Royce interior designer Alan Sheppard told us, ‘it is like working on a craftsman level.’

Over at Maserati and Ferrari, the sports car is still considered as very much a traditional object of desire. Maserati wowed the crowds with its Pininfarina-designed GranCabrio, the convertible sibling to the GranTurismo. The famed Italian design consultant was also responsible for another highly charged piece of automotive erotica, the new Ferrari 458 Italia.

The display was altogether more discreet at Aston Martin. The marque showed that it is possible to maintain beautiful proportions with a longer car, the four-seater Rapide. Porsche, too, displayed its take on the four seat sports car in the shape of the Panamera, exhibited alongside the next generation 911 Turbo. Both marques are proof that small evolutionary steps in design can be just as rewarding as a blank sheet approach.

In conclusion

Alongside Paris, Frankfurt is arguably the most honest of the annual car shows – this year being no exception. It has been an undeniably tough few seasons for an industry hit especially hard by the global economic slowdown. Chrysler and Jeep appeared to have arrived at the very last minute with a stand too small to notice, and GM-owned Chevrolet was forced to set up base in a marquee outside. There was, though, on the whole a sense of optimism in the air – the feeling that the typhoon is fizzling out, and those present were the lucky ones who had managed to keep their heads raised a little above water.

The main message from Frankfurt, however, was what appeared to be a real commitment to an ecologically sustainable future. The reality is that carmakers have had to cut back on emissions for legal reasons – without the pressure from Europe we would have been unlikely to witness such efforts on display. Some like Renault seem sincerely committed, but perhaps other big manufacturers feel their contribution to the environment is complete. They have, after all, built up a credible case for responsible speed and ecologically conscious luxury, so as to pave the way for ‘business as usual’.

We caught up with Walter de Silva, head of VW Group design, at the end of the show. This is what he had to say: ‘Design will be the main reason for success in this business. In 10 years time, what energy the car uses won’t be important - there will be a menu of alternative energy options and you simply choose what you require. We are convinced our customers will want cars they enjoy driving independent of the energy they use.’

Aston Martin Rapide
The Rapide has four doors, four adult seats and is the longest car – 5,019mm - in the Aston Martin portfolio. First shown as a design study back at the 2006 Detroit Show, the production car is powered by the marque’s 470bhp V12 engine.

Audi e-tron
The e-tron study is a two-seater coupe made out of lightweight aluminium and carbonfibre, and powered by a lithium ion battery positioned at the front to achieve a 58% rear weight distribution with the four electric motors housed at the four corners of the car. The sports car promises sports car power – 313bhp and torque is 3319lb ft – reaching 62mph in just 4.8 seconds and able to speed up to 154mph.Working with the R8, the design team lead by Stefan Sielaff, set out to explore how to transform the sports car into an electric car. ‘You cannot just take a car like the R8 and simply replace the engine with an electric one,’ he says. ‘We started to test to see what could be the language, the formal repertoire, for our future electric car.’The e-tron maintains certain Audi generic codes, but adds to this an extra dose of form follows function. For instance Sielaff and his team created cooling systems, much like a household radiator, which when needed act like fans directing the extra heat created by the battery. Weight has been shed wherever possible. The thin seats are made of magnesium and the slim dashboard houses only the most essential information.
The company doesn’t believe you can design green cars from a rational point of view. ‘It has to be emotional,’ says Sielaff. He makes a comparison to food. ‘No one wanted to eat Soya products 10 or 20 years ago. But now healthy products on the whole have been made desirable. You need to make green cars delicious in the same way.'

Audi R8 Spyder
The R8 Spyder is the new soft-top in the range. The mid-engine car sports car follows the same design theme as the R8 Coupe with some styling modifications to accommodate the folding fabric roof. For instance, the car's trademark side blades have been dispatched in favour of a duo of scoops ahead of the rear wheels, and a little height has been added to the rear deck in order to house the folded roof. And the engine is no longer exposed beneath a glass cover, as in the coupe.%A%A‘The soft-top evokes a certain romanticism of driving,’ notes head of Audi design Stefan Sielaff. Audi hasn't yet ventured into the world of the retractable hardtop, unlike Mercedes and BMW, preferring the space and weight-saving qualities of folding fabric. Additionally, with textile you can play with the roof colour without making too much of a statement.
The R8 Spyder is offered only with the Lamborghini-derived 5.2-liter V10, putting out 525 hp and 390 lb ft of torque.
On sale: early 2010, Price: circa £112,000

Bentley - Mulsanne

The Mulsanne is an all-new replacement of Bentley’s flagship model, the Arnage. Director of styling Dirk van Braeckel and his team worked closely with existing Arnage customers throughout the design process. As Van Braeckel explains, ‘they were very concerned about the car being recognisable as the new top model and not be mistaken for a [Bentley] Continental.

The first step was to come up with a different 'face'. Round headlamps have featured prominently in Bentley's history, but the design team updated the look with the addition of secondary lamps, creating a front end that is classically handsome but has a modern twist. The bespoke limousine follows the classic four-door saloon format, with a swooping rear end and strong muscular shoulders accentuated towards the back. Typical of a Bentley there is a short front overhang, large wheels and a generous distance between front axle and A-pillar.
Inside, craftsmanship is very much in evidence. It's also a place to retreat from the public eye. ‘When you step into the back of the car you sit behind the door opening line and behind the pillar edge so you have a lot of privacy,’ says van Braeckel. This helps the cabin seem compact from the exterior.
The car is largely hand built: it takes 420 hours to build one Mulsanne, 170 hours of which is spent on the interior alone. Laying out all the veneer for the wood trim takes two weeks. ‘Everything is hand made which opens up so many possibilities for design. On the body the only shut lines we have are on the bonnet. The doors and the boot everything else is integrated. It is like one big sculpture.’
The Mulsanne will be driven by an upgraded version of the Arnage's 6.75-litre V8 driving the rear wheels.
Sales start in 2010. Price: To be confirmed

BMW Vision Efficient

AVision Efficient Dynamics is a showcase for BMW’s latest technology - with lightweight body construction, new architecture and aerodynamic ideas, as well as an advanced hybrid-drive system. Many of these technologies are finding their way into the company's production cars and this concept car is also a test bed for BMW’s future design language.
Styled under the direction of Adrian van Hooydonk, the large expanses of glass on the body express visual lightness.
The diesel-electric hybrid system – it can run on electric power, diesel or a combination - powering the car offers 163bhp and 214lbft of torque, which makes it more powerful than BMW’s existing low consumption engines. Any car inspired by the VED would be light years ahead of the competition in terms of style and technology, and its positive reception made a production version a tempting prospect.

Citroen Revolte

Citroen's Revolte concept continues the company's design renaissance, albeit with a rather heavy emphasis on the glories of the past. The petrol/electric dual-mode hybrid, though still in concept stage, is essentially a modern interpretation of the iconic 2CV. Don't expect the agricultural functionalism of the original: this is very much a premium small car in the MINI/Fiat 500 mould.

Ferrari 458 Italia

The 458 Italia takes inspiration from Mille Chili concept car of 2007, designed to introduce some green thinking ideas to the marque. Lightweight and elegant (the name derives from the 4.5-litre V8 engine), the 458 is perhaps the most visually dramatic car to wear the Ferrari badge for a decade.

Customer deliveries will start in 2010. Price: circa £150,000

Kia Venga

The Venga is a small city MPV with large wheels and clever interior solutions such as a sliding split rear seats for extra cabin space. The company has come a long way since appointing ex-Audi TT designer Peter Schreyer to lead its team. He believes taste in cars in Korea and many other markets are very much governed by Europe. ‘We have started to speak a certain European design language with the cee’d and we are now establishing our distinctive look.’

Lamborghini Reventon roadster
This drop top follows up to the strictly limited edition Reventon Coupe shown at the 2007 Frankfurt Show. It is also one of the fastest (0-62mph in just 3.4 seconds), and most exclusive cars on the road, with a projected production run of just 20.
Price: circa £1m

Lexus - LF-Ch
The LF-Ch hints at where Lexus is heading, a five-door compact hatchback that's the company's first step into the premium small car segment. Compact luxury is gathering pace - it's one of the largest sectors in the European market and is a growing one in the US. The concept car is driven by sister company Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive, meaning it can drive in pure electric mode for short distances.
Head of design Simon Humphries is working towards making future Lexuses lighter and more aerodynamic. ‘The challenge is to do this in many different ways,’ he notes. ‘Air is air, and there are not an infinite number of ways to do get the best answers.
On this car, for instance, the low stance means that there is effectively less of a frontal area, therefore not so much air needs to be pushed out of the car, which reduces energy consumption. The sharp corners also help with the aerodynamics. ‘It makes it more sporty and efficient. There is a kind of synergy there between two contradictory things,’ says Humphries.
In the future, the company will stress its Japanese heritage. The Japanese, notes Humphries, are forward-looking yet extremely modest. ‘Being able to combine the two will form the basis of what we are trying to do.

Maserati - GranCabrio
The GranCabrio is the open-top sibling of the GranTurismo,. Powered by the firm’s 4.7 litre V8, 323 kW engine, this is the marque’s first venture into the four-seat cabriolet market. One of the best-looking cars at the show, the successful design largely makes up for the car's long and convoluted development.
Our main guideline was to keep the beauty we had on the coupe but avoid losing power by converting it into cabriolet,’ explains Lowie Vermeersch, director of design at Pininfarina and the man responsible for designing both GranCabrio and GranTurismo. His team achieved their goal by creating a very sleek roof and profile. ‘It was a big engineering job to realise the roof shape,' he admits.
Vermeersch explains that with Maserati, all design starts from the grille, with the aim of creating one single uninterrupted surface that spreads right over the car. Graphics wise, the designers have added an almost jewel-like red line around the lights - a small detail, but one that picks out the neat rear end.
The GranTurismo and now GranCabrio are strong statements for Maserati. Vermeersch believes they are a good example of how you can push a marque forward without interrupting the heritage. ‘The car has a very strong expression - It is an extrovert car and won’t leave you indifferent,’ says Vermeersch. ‘These are high performance cars and the styling has to express this.’
UK sales: March 2010. Price: circa £100,000

Mazda Superlight concept
The Superlight concept is a nimble 1,000kg two-seater sports car, built to celebrate 20 years of the iconic MX-5 roadster, as well as showcase how higher performance and low consumption can be achieved through simple measures in weight reduction.

Mercedes-Benz SLS-AMG
The SLS-AMG is a lightweight aluminium structure; high-performance car that nods to the 1954 300SL with its roof hinged gullwing doors. Mercedes-Benz will offer a four-wheel drive electric version of the car in the near future.
Price: from approx £140,000%

Mini Roadster and Coupe
The two-seater Roadster is the second of Mini’s new models. The concept car shares much of the design cues we see in the Mini Coupe. The glasshouse is significantly lower, which added to the sloping front pillars, gives the car a sportier look. This is an expensive feature to re-engineer, so it is not known if it will feature in a production version of the car.

The iOn is a two-door car with four seats that is only 2.5m long – the four seats have been made feasible with some clever packaging that includes seats that provide just the basic backrest, a bit like a motorbike. The iOn is based on the Mitsubishi i-Car, has an electric range of 75 miles and will go on sale in 2010.

Porsche 911-Turbo
Porsche continue to hone their icon, and the latest iteration of the 911 continues the company's long tradition of continuous improvement. The company also launched the Sport Classic, a retro-infused, track-targeted version of the 911 with old school styling details and a strictly limited production run.
Price: Coupe circa £102,000 and the cabriolet circa £109,000

Renault ZE range: Fluence, Zoe, Twizy and Kangoo
Renault’s four electric concept cars - the Fluence saloon, Zoe supermini, Twizy two-seat scooter and Kangoo van – are the start of the marque’s ZE (zero-emission) product range and will be in production by the beginning of 2011. We imagine the space age materials and colour schemes of the concepts won't quite reach the showrooms.

Rolls-Royce - Ghost
The Ghost is a more ‘informal’ Rolls-Royce, designed to broaden the appeal of the marque. The production car follows the same design language as the 200EX concept, first shown at the Geneva show. Incorporating classic Rolls-Royce design cues - the elevated prow, long bonnet, short front overhang, sharply raked A-pillar and elegant tail - it's relatively small compared to the flagship Phantom.
The style and verve of Cary Grant was apparently a key inspiration behind the car. ‘He is something of a benchmark!’ reflects project leader interior design, Alan Sheppard. This is intended as a modern interpretation of the Rolls-Royce spirit: the idea being to create something a little less formal than the Phantom. ‘The Ghost is therefore bit more casual, a little bit more free spirited, a little more jolly,’ says Sheppard.
The upward-sweeping sill line and low-cut roof create a powerful profile, almost as though the cabin has been pushed toward the rear. Inside features a mix of traditional and modern materials such as full grain leather on the seats, optional lambs wool floor mats and a new cashmere blend on the headlining. The team have added a little more 'jewellery' inside, car design shorthand for intriguing splashes of chrome and switchgear. Shephard explains: ‘The way the jewellery is used, it emphasises the graphic elements in the car and makes it more playful.’ He feels there is always a hint of Art Deco in his cars, manifested in the interplay between natural and machine surfaces.
Unlike the Phantom, The Ghost is less likely to be chauffeur driven so the interior is more driver-focused than previous Rolls-Royces. Nonetheless, the interior designer is keen to stress that there are no ‘second class’ seats in a Rolls-Royce. ‘Everyone in the Ghost has an equal amount of things to fascinate them so you don’t feel relegated to the back seat like many other cars.’
The Ghost is powered by the marque’s new, 6.6 litre twin-turbo V12 engine reaching 60mph in just 4.7 seconds and on to an electronically governed top speed of 155mph.
Price: £192,500

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