Car sales are growing in Europe and the U.S. and automakers are responding with something for every driver class at the Frankfurt Motor Show.
After years of more conservative launches, automakers here are letting the R&D horses out of the stable with everything from mass-market cars with once-premium features to speedy supercar convertibles.
There are a record 210 new car launches at the Frankfurt show, which, after an industry preview this week, opens to the general public on Saturday and runs through Sept. 27.
Here are five highlights.
FERRARI 488 SPIDER
While the global convertible market peaked a decade ago, high-end and niche players are keeping the segment alive for the passionate and privileged few.
Ferrari launched its 488 Spider hardtop convertible at Frankfurt just months after the coupe version in Geneva. Usually the car maker waits a couple years for convertible launches, but executives said Ferrari drivers have been chomping at the bit for the top-down 488.
Ferrari took a risk outfitting the 488 Spider with a hardtop that some worried would draw customers from the coupe, but it turns out they are two different animals. Sales chief Enrico Galliera says that coupe drivers are more often solitary speed junkies, while convertible drivers tend to travel with a passenger, enjoying the weather or scenic roads.
It’s truly a car for the 1 percent. That’s exactly the market share for convertibles in Europe, as well as the world, according to analysts at IHS Automotive. The price in Italy is 235,000 euros, and the wait time is just over a year.
The Alfa Romeo Giulia is a sedan powered by a 3.0 liter V6 turbo that can do 0-100 kph (0-62 mph) in only 3.9 seconds. And perhaps more importantly, it can brake from 100 kph (62 mph) to a standstill in less than 32 meters. Maximum speed is 307 kph.
That’s a lot of performance in a four-door sedan that Alfa executives say is also suitable for families and executives.
The Alfa Giulia aims to take on the bigger German rivals like BMW and Mercedes. And as Alfa Romeo’s flagship model, nothing less than the future of the brand is riding on it. The car is the first of a series of launches that will expand the Alfa model range to eight by 2018 and are meant to boost brand sales six-fold.
The high-performance Quadrifoglio version of the Giulia shown in Frankfurt will sell in Germany for 72,000 euros.
Volkswagen’s luxury brand Bentley launched the Bentayga, billed as the most exclusive and luxurious SUV in the world and the brand’s most technologically advanced car ever.
The Bentayga has a massive 12-cylinder engine and a top speed of 187 mph (301 kph). It also has all the technology one expects in a luxury car, including a park assist to help squeeze into tight spots, infrared to see wildlife at night as well as integrated wifi, navigation and entertainment systems.
But Bentley’s charm lies also in its exclusive artisanal accents. Buyers can opt for an integrated event seat for watching polo matches from the comfort of the car, and can be fitted with three hampers for champagne, tea service and nibbles. The hampers can be removed as portable seating. The handcrafted interior can include a Breitling dashboard clock in white gold, mother of pearl and diamonds that winds itself and costs as much as the car.
While the concept was ballyhooed as a product for the Gulf states, the recovery in the U.S. and European markets has broadened the market considerably.
Plug-in electric and diesel versions are planned. The Bentayga will sell for 175,200 euros in Europe and $221,600 in the United States.
PORSCHE MISSION E CONCEPT CAR
German carmaker Porsche previewed a concept luxury electric car, the Mission E, with a 600 horsepower engine and top speeds of 250 kph (155 mph.) With its silent, zero-emission powertrain, it can easily whizz by before you hear it coming.
With this car, Porsche clearly trying to edge into territory occupied mostly by the California-based pioneer Tesla.
But while the Porsche claims the Mission E has a 500 kilometer (310 mile) range, the real issue remains infrastructure. German drivers taking an Italian holiday need to be sure they can get a charge to get back again.
The Mission E comes equipped with some top technological tricks. The car can read gestures and facial expressions, and even post a smiley emoticon to social networks if it picks up cheerful facial expressions.
Porsche says the Mission E is expected in dealership within five years.
Premium brands now will have to watch out for the Opel Astra in their rearview mirror.
Opel, General Motor’s European brand, has equipped its flagship vehicle with features that once belonged only to the upper classes, like lane departure warning, rearview cameras and automatic emergency braking, in a bid to attract new buyers.
The 11th generation Astra has slimmed down by 200 kilograms (440 pounds), giving it a sportier handling and more fuel efficiency. It supports Android and Apple smartphone interfaces, enabling drivers to use apps like navigation, music and messaging through a dashboard display. Massage seats and a scent dispenser are optional.
The Astra starts at 17,200 euros, the same as its predecessor. Opel says it has already taken 30,000 orders.