Electric cars and pure luxury rule at Frankfurt auto show – USA TODAY
FRANKFURT — Held every two years in a German city now known for its bankers and seasoned sausages, the Frankfurt Motor Show formally opens to the public on Thursday after several press days.
Here’s what to watch:
ELECTRIC CARS STILL ALL LUXURY
To achieve mass-market adoption of electric vehicles, automakers must eventually reduce the price of the batteries that, at least for now, are prohibitively expensive for most car shoppers.
But if automakers are concerned about the high cost of electric vehicles, they didn’t show it at the Frankfurt Motor Show. In a clear response to Silicon Valley automaker Tesla Motors’ luxury electric vehicles, Porsche and Audi revealed concept electric vehicles.
The Porsche Mission E channels the brand’s sports car aesthetic and may inspire a production model within three years. The Audi e-tron quattro concept suggests the German luxury brand is prepping a luxury crossover to compete with Tesla’s Model X, which is being released this month.
Meanwhile, reports indicate that Mercedes-Benz is also planning a new electric car.
All of those offerings will deliver a luxury experience at a luxury cost. But the question that has yet to be answered is whether automakers can make electric cars that appeal to the masses.
WE’RE ALL BEING PAMPERED
If the press conferences and marketing materials here are to be believed, every single car on the market is “premium” in some way. Where luxury used to be the exclusive realm of upscale brands, every car on display in Frankfurt has gotten a trophy for having soft surfaces, effective soundproofing and attractive trimmings.
The days of the econobox are over, with “premium compacts” like the Infiniti Q30 and Mini Clubman aimed at empty-nesters and wealthy city dwellers. Similarly, the SUV has gone about as upscale as it can get with the borderline-tacky Bentley Bentayga.
Even the traditional luxury marques got in on the democratization. Yes, flagships like the new BMW 7 Series and Mercedes S-Class Cabriolet got plenty of love, but so did more affordable choices.
A preference for highly wired cars and varied forms of automation, from traffic-slaying navigation systems to touch-free gesture control (see the new BMW 7 Series) continued here as the car world’s increasing fascination — as well as consumers’ apparent preference — for connected vehicles accelerated.
McKinsey, the consultancy, released a report Wednesday that found that 90% of industry executives “believe that their organization’s business model will change or broaden because of connectivity and autonomous driving.”
It also found that 37% of U.S. consumers would be willing to change car brands for one with more connected services, up from 20% last year. In China, that figure is 60%.
Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler, spoke about cars that would one day come to their owners on demand. While Google and other technology companies didn’t have a formal presence at the show, they were an elephant in Frankfurt’s 11 enormous exhibition halls.
That may not matter to some consumers, as a study released in August found that 20% of American drivers completely ignore their car’s high-tech gadgets.
CHINA PROBLEM? WHAT CHINA PROBLEM?
China’s economic growth rate has been slowing (although a World Bank estimate for 7.1% growth this year is hardly slow by most standards) and its stock market is also in the middle of a correction.
For all that, though, Chinese car sales continued to grow — up 6.3% — in the first half of the year, a figure that also contributed to overall rising global new passenger car demand (up 1.4% so far this year). The car market in China has exploded in the last decade, with world manufacturers placing big bets on further expansion.
Weaker growth has taken a toll on demand in recent months, although if carmakers are worried, they haven’t shown it in Frankfurt.
“Standing on multimillion-dollar show stands, surrounded by multibillion-dollar investments (most aimed at China), perhaps it’s best to put on a brave face,” Max Warburton, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, wrote in an email to the Associated Press ahead of the show.
Keith Barry of Reviewed.com and USA TODAY talks about the big introductions at this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show
Video by Kim Hjelmgaard/USA TODAY