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Frankfurt Motor Show: What Does it Mean to You?

By KBB.com Editors on September 14, 2011 10:54 AM
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The Frankfurt Motor Show is by many measures the biggest and most important car show in the world.  It attracts thousands of members of the press from all over the world, who converge on a show grounds that features nine individual exhibitions halls crammed with more cars than are possible to count.  We at kbb.com do a comprehensive job of bringing you information on the most notable of the vehicles that enjoy their world debuts at the event, but we also think it is valuable to put it all in context, to not only tell you what we learned about the individual vehicles, but also what it could mean to you as an American car-buyer.

>See more new cars unveiled at the 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show

The first key takeaway is that the auto industry is now going through the throes of a bout of dual personality.  Virtually every car company exhibiting in Frankfurt presented not just one but several full electrics, hybrids and/or plug-in hybrids. They boasted about how little carbon dioxide their cars in these classes will emit (many are not yet in production), and they spoke of a greener future.  At the same time the exhibit halls were littered with large, luxury sedans, ever-more-powerful sports cars and giant crossovers.  From Mercedes-Benz to Kia, from BMW to Fiat, from Audi to Volkswagen, the twin messages were "We have green cars for sale" and "We build cars with power to burn."  The industry is obviously torn between its government-mandated duty to produce less fuel-thirsty models and its own natural inclination prodded by consumer demand to build faster, sleeker more powerful cars, crossovers and trucks.

What does that mean to you as a U.S. consumer?  The good thing is it means that you will continue to have choices.  You can nurture your inner-Green-self or you can find a car that could make all your trophy-car dreams come true.  It seems that at Frankfurt it was the bottom of the line and the top of the line that got most of the attention.  The small-car segment saw several notable newcomers, including the Volkswagen UP!, Audi A2 Concept and the Mercedes-Benz B Class.  But the full-sized segment also saw more than its share of introductions, including Audi S8, Bentley Continental GT and the intriguing, emission-free Mercedes-Benz F125!  The Frankfurt show was also notable for vehicle names with exclamation marks and for concept cars fitted with top-hinged "gull-wing" doors.  And we found it ironic that the full-size You Concept from Volvo had what we in America have traditionally called "suicide doors," one of several concept vehicles that boasted rear-hinged doors. In any case, a lack of variety will not be something you as an American car-buyer will have to deal with.

Another key takeaway is that the U.S. market remains distinct from the rest of the world.  For instance, while Volkswagen launched its UP! small car in several imaginative variations, the corporation's executives were quite clear that none of them is likely to be sold in American VW showrooms.  Ditto for several other small cars, like the Audi A2 and Fiat Panda.  In the U.S. a car that is considered mid-sized in Europe or Asia is regarded as "small," and despite a run-up in gasoline prices, Americans don't seem to have lost their preference for larger, more comfortable vehicles.  Happily, some of us can still afford them, and because of that global car companies are still cautious about introducing new small cars in America.

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