Compact cars in focus at Frankfurt auto show
The Aug. 31, 2011 photo provided by Volkswagen shows the new Volkswagen up! at the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg. Germany's highly profitable auto makers are rolling out important new vehicles in the ferociously competitive small car market at this year's Frankfurt auto show. Volkswagen will present the 'up!' during the show opening its doors to the public from Sept 15 through 25. (AP Photo/Volkswagen, HO)
FRANKFURT - Automakers are unveiling new models at the Frankfurt auto show as the industry heads into an uncertain year, with Europe's debt crisis and worries about the economic recovery in the U.S. casting a shadow over two major markets.
Prominent new models on display will include a new Porsche 911 Carrera sports car; Volkswagen's Up, the latest entry in the market for tiny, fuel efficient "city cars;" and BMW's small electric i3, which saves crucial weight with high-tech carbon reinforced plastic.
Fiat has a new, slightly longer version of its Panda small car, a mainstay that has sold 6 million since 1980, while Toyota has a new take on its familiar Prius, offering a plug-in hybrid version and a Prius+ seven-seater. Daimler AG's Smart brand has an electric version of its tiny two-seater.
Ford Motor Co. is unveiling the Evos, a concept car that won't make it into production but which shows design elements that will appear on Ford's regular models soon. Those could include the car's slender, LED headlights.
The mood ahead of this year's show is mixed: upbeat thanks to recent strong profits from BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen and Porsche, but clouded by the European government debt crisis, which has depressed consumer optimism and growth forecasts for the year ahead.
Nonetheless, this year's 64th International Motor Show will be a much more cheerful place than the last show in 2009, which took place during the recession. Organizers say 1,007 exhibitors have signed up, compared with 781 last time, and the confidence of the home carmakers is such that VW luxury brand Audi is splashing out for its own test track that winds in and out of the exhibit building.
The show opens to journalists on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Frankfurt Messe exhibition centre. Chancellor Angela Merkel will open it to the general public on Thursday, after which it will run through Sept. 25.
Toyota's Prius Plug-in is the first Prius to include a lithium ion battery giving about 20 kilometres (12 miles) of pure electric, zero-emissions driving. Beyond that range, the Prius runs as a conventional hybrid. The lithium battery recharges from a domestic source in just an hour and a half.
The Plug-in will be launched in the first half of next year, and will sell for below $50,590 (€37,000) in Germany. Currently in Europe, 10 per cent of sales are hybrid vehicles. Toyota Europe's CEO Leroy Didier wants to raise that to 20 per cent in two to three years.
Toyota Europe expects to achieve profitability on target next year despite the devastating impact of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the uncertain financial conditions in Europe, Didier said Monday.
Toyota and the luxury brand Lexus expect to sell 830,000 cars in Europe this year, up from 808,000 units in 2010, despite a first half lost of production due to the quake and tsunami, Leroy told journalists.
"The strategy is to have growth in Europe, come back to growth in Europe. But to do it step by step to ensure at the same time we are doing it in a profitable way. I am not rushing for market share. I am not rushing for volume," he said.