Frankfurt IAA 2011: aftermath

Frankfurt Motor Show 2011 may go down as a high point in modern motorshow times: listen to the economists and the storm clouds are gathering, which will have inevitable repercussions on the highly cyclical new car market.

Motor shows have been on a belt-tightening drive for the past few years, with Tokyo 2009 perhaps the most stark illustration. We journos have become accustomed to this. Frankfurt 2011 saw the shackles well and truly thrown off, though, buoyed by a year or so of strong demand, of which the German car industry powerhouse has been the chief beneficiary.

Germany’s car firms are swimming in cash: VW Group, for example, has cash reserves of €20bn (no wonder it can commit €64bn over five years to developing new models and plants). And what do you do when you’re so flush with readies? Do as Audi reportedly did at Frankfurt this year, and spend £46m on a jaw-dropping motor show stand.

This has overwhelmed us like the flurry of frustrated phone calls many of us had as we struggled to tap into Frankfurt’s creaking wifi network on the morning of the show. We’re used to new-era motor shows, where everything is sensible and straight-laced, where glitz and glamour are out and an echoey tape of The Coral with a few flashing lights are in.

Frankfurt 2011 blew all that out the water with a billion Kw of lights, a sonic boom of music and enough fairground attractions to make even Eddi Reader wistful.

Mind you, in one sense, Frankfurt’s long been a monster. One hack told me the distance from end to end is 4km. Sounds crazy? Not if it’s you walking from the far corner of Mercedes to the tip of BMW. Those damn inter-show roads have been cursed by a welter of journos, all trying to cover the distance as quickly as possible on the way to another interview they’re late for while trying not to get too sweaty and breathless. Even a well-timed triathlon relay event on the eve of the show didn’t help me there (sorry, Toyota).

The amount of people in attendance surprised me, too. Seems obvious: it’s an international motor show, after all. But I can’t remember it this busy, and do not recall such a mass of people at any show I’ve been to before… which must be further quantified by the fact all these people are (we’re assured) accredited journalists and b) FRANKFURT IS HUGE.

FRANKFURT IS MASSIVE! HOW CAN IT BE FULL? Yet punched, elbowed, nudged, boshed, tutted at and plain barged into I was, even within the concert-like auditorium that is the Mercedes show stand. My girlfriend asked me where all the cuts on my right arm had come from last night. ‘Ferrari 458 Spider launch’, I told her.

The cars, you can read about in umpteen other places. Car of the show is generally accepted to be the Jaguar C-X16, which I saw for the first time in a preview on the eve of the show. Everything you see apart from the seats is production-ready, global brand director Adrian Hallmark told me. Jaguar XE debut for Paris 2012, then?

What about non-event of the show, though? Well, the Fiat Panda was a fulsome disappointment, given the marvel that is the VW Up! that was sitting in the hall (a long way) opposite. Mercedes’ F125! didn’t float my boat either, and I can’t say I’m a big fan of the Mazda CX-5, either.

Surprises of the show, though, included the new Hyundai i30, the Porsche-like sweetness of the VW Beetle, the Volvo Concept You – a very striking new Horbury Volvo – and the quite startling improvement in quality displayed by the revised Lotus Evora. I spoke to a lot of people at Lotus, in fact, and am now convinced their logic is sound. I can’t comment on the business case, but if it holds out, we’ve got some very exciting cars indeed on the way.

Frankfurt takes it out of we poor journos. Drink plenty, they say: we struggle to do so, and so suffer splitting headaches by 2pm. Eat? Not a chance. Sit down? Rarely. It’s a marathon or three, plus a triathlon on top. Would we change it? Not for the world.

All of us who boarded the jet back to Heathrow knew Frankfurt 2011 was a classic. How long is it to remain a high point, though? World economies, over to you…

+ Frankfurt IAA 2011: introduction