Letter From Germany: Passengers Wanted

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FRANKFURT -- A sprawling array of new production models and blue-sky design studies -- from humble econocars and all manner of hybrid configurations to $3 million supercars -- made their debuts last week during two hectic days of press previews for the 65th Frankfurt Motor Show.

The show, which bills itself as the world's largest, is held every other year, alternating with Paris, at the enormous Messe Frankfurt convention center here. The show opened to the public Saturday and continues through Sept. 22.

Front and center is a mind-bending collection of advanced technologies that aim to reduce, restrict or even replace driver input significantly by 2020. Mercedes-Benz alone promised "over 30 active and passive safety technologies" that will promote its goal of transforming the automobile into a self-driving machine.

"Autonomous driving is here," Dieter Zetsche, the board chairman of Daimler, said in an interview. "It will just take a little longer before the regulatory agencies allow us to offer them to the public."

National pride seemed to be on the line as German automakers sparred for attention, played down competitors' advances and sought bragging rights for first-to-market technology breakthroughs.

But the German automakers were by no means alone in clamoring for headlines; dozens of automakers revealed new cars and features meant to stir the passions of buyers in Europe, where sales have fallen to bleak levels not seen since 1993.

Here are some of Frankfurt's notable debutantes:

ALFA ROMEO At long last, the production version of the lightweight Alfa Romeo 4C sports car broke cover. The swift two-seater arrives in European showrooms later this year; no plans for a return of Alfa to the United States were offered.

AUDI The Sport quattro Concept, which honors the 30th anniversary of Audi's Sport quattro, is a 700-horsepower plug-in hybrid coupe capable of returning the equivalent of 95 m.p.g. Audi also showed the odd Nanuk concept, which previewed styling cues like three-dimensional lighting that could appear on coming models.

BMW The Munich-based automaker showed a production version of the i8, the sport model in its new sub-brand. The i8 combines an electric motor and a 3-cylinder gas engine to produce 362 horsepower with the equivalent of 94 m.p.g. fuel economy. The i8 goes on sale in the United States next year for $135,700.

FORD Ford highlighted new styling cues in its global design language, while introducing two models aimed principally at Europe. The S-Max is a mini-minivan and the Vignale is a premium version of the Mondeo.

INFINITI The arrival of the Q30 Concept was hardly a surprise, but some details about it were: the concept is broadly hinted as being the prototype for a compact entry to be built in Britain on a variation of the Mercedes A-Class platform.

JAGUAR Jaguar raised eyebrows with its C-X17 concept, which is far enough along in development to be equipped with working door handles and even a gas-tank flap. If approved, the model would be Jaguar's first crossover utility vehicle.

LAND ROVER Diesel engines carry a price premium over their gasoline counterparts, and so do hybrid systems. But Land Rover bets its well-heeled customers will pay a hefty premium for this combination to get 37 m.p.g. fuel economy. The diesel-electric hybrid is headed to production next year.

LEXUS The LF-NX was an attempt by Lexus to signal a bold new styling direction, but the execution bordered on the bizarre. The acute angles, riot of character lines and martial stance stirred double-takes.

MERCEDES-BENZ The company revealed several new models, from the small GLA crossover to the elegant S-Class Coupé concept. Also noteworthy was the S500 Plug-In Hybrid, which combines a 3-liter V-6 with a 107-horsepower electric motor to achieve fuel economy of 78 m.p.g. with a range of 18 miles on electric power alone.

OPEL General Motors sent a jolt of high-voltage styling energy in the direction of its struggling European subsidiary in the form of the Monza gullwing coupe concept. G.M. said the design study is powered by a natural-gas-fueled version of the Chevrolet Volt/Opel Ampera hybrid system.

PORSCHE A Porsche capable of getting up to 71 m.p.g.? That was among the specifications of the 918 Spyder production car unveiled here. Another need-to-know number: 887 horsepower, the product of a 4.6-liter V-8 and two electric motors. The final shocker: an $845,000 price tag.

VOLKSWAGEN VW introduced a subdued array of electrically enhanced variants of its Golf and Up lines. The e-Golf promises a range of 118 miles on electricity while the e-Up is said to travel up to 99 miles.

VOLVO The Concept Coupe heralds a new styling direction Volvo will introduce next year on the XC90 wagon. A hybrid system would provide the power.

autonews

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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