Preview: what's hot at this week's Frankfurt Motor Show

By Businessweek , September 10 2017
Preview: what's hot at this week's Frankfurt Motor Show

A new offering from Mercedes will lead a fleet of exciting, eco-conscious vehicles from European automakers this month in Germany.

During the Frankfurt Motor Show (officially called the International Motor Show Germany), the Stuttgart-based automaker will take on McLaren, Aston Martin and Ferrari with the AMG Project One, a two-seat hypercar made with Formula 1 hybrid technology.

With more than 1,000 horsepower and a top speed of more than 217 mph, Project One will compete directly with the likes of the McLaren P1, the Ferrari LaFerrari, and the Aston Martin Valkyrie.

Mercedes in attack mode: the AMG Project One
Mercedes in attack mode: the AMG Project One

Of course, that’s not the only thing Daimler Group will bring to the show this year. It’ll also reveal a new Mercedes EQ hatchback electric concept; a Mercedes X-Class pickup; a Mercedes G-Class off-roader; and a Smart Vision EQ, along with a little-known GLC F-Cell van – many of which represent steps toward an electrified future.

Not to be outdone, Mercedes’s archrival BMW will offer a stable of new cars replete with style (the Concept Z4), power (the BMW M8 GTE), and progressive engineering (the Concept 8 Series and BMW i3s). And it’ll have updates on such longtime staples as the 7-Series Edition 40 Jahre, the 6 Series Gran Turismo, the X3, and an AWD M5 as well.

Indeed, “Die zukunft ist jetzt” is BMW’s official Frankfurt tagline. In English, that’s “The future is now.”

It’s meant to illuminate the group’s intense focus on new technology, which will include BMW AG’s sibling MINI’s electric concept. BMW has even softened the boxy look of the i3 electric city car, which is an effort to make a counter offer to Tesla’s Model 3 debut.

Electric blue: the BMW i3
Electric blue: the BMW i3

“The trajectory of this technology is still in its very very early days,” says Ian Fletcher, the principal analyst for IHS Markit. “But in this area, Mercedes and BMW are certainly trading blows with each other.”

Rebecca Lindland, the executive analyst for Kelley Blue Book, agreed. “Eventually, the electric vehicle market will gain real traction in the U.S. either by consumer choice or regulation,” she said.

Of course, not everything in Frankfurt will be plug-in material. Higher up the pricing food chain, Ferrari will show its California convertible replacement, the Portofino.

The two-seat coupe is markedly more aggressive-looking than its predecessor, with angles chiseled along its rear wheels and sides like Michael Phelps’ obliques.

Fast and furious: the Ferrari Portofino
Fast and furious: the Ferrari Portofino

“This is an incredibly emotional, spectacularly gorgeous car,” Lindland said. “And with more and more women, especially in China, buying cars like this, it’s the natural evolution of exotics.”

It has seating for four, which is remarkable considering the car will go to 62 mph in 3.5 seconds and has a top speed near 200 mph. Word is that Ferrari has also tuned the Portofino to be louder than the softer California. Expect pricing on that one to hover near $200,000.

Archrival Lamborghini will bring its Aventador S to Frankfurt; the exceptional supercar is part of the company’s evolving plan to reach new buyers. Rolls-Royce will show its new Phantom VIII, the one with the massive cabin, inch-thick lambs wool carpeting, and bullet-proof (if you’ve got the dough) exterior that replaces the stalwart sedan the company has produced since in some form or another since 1925.

McLaren will bring its 720S and 570S Spider, the last of the new Sport Series line and its likely bestseller next year.

Bentley’s big unveiling

At another British brand, and much like Ferrari’s Portofino, Bentley’s revamped Continental GT has received plenty of hype prior to its public debut.

With good cause – it successfully updates the look of the 14-year-old model with fresh leather, LED lighting galore, and 12 turbocharged cylinders. The overall effect is tighter, brawnier, and eager for speed.

Gran turismo: the Bentley Continental GT
Gran turismo: the Bentley Continental GT

Bentley says the new Continental GT weighs nearly 180 pounds less than its predecessor, thanks to lighter and stronger materials in the body and cabin.

Could there be a hybrid version? Bentley has not specified. But with diesel in decay and demand for all-battery cars still lukewarm, it is likely that even small, elite automakers will continue their push into fuel-cell technology.

In the meantime, the folks in Frankfurt will have plenty to talk about. The show opens to the public on September 14.

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