(Corrects first paragraph to say last Frankfurt show was in
2011, not 2009)
* Eurozone crisis wanes but caution remains
* New models range from family-style wagons to fancy
* Has European auto industry finally hit bottom?
By Paul Ingrassia and Paul Lienert
FRANKFURT, Sept 11 At the last Frankfurt motor
show in 2011, the big story was not the cars, but the euro zone
crisis and specifically how the continent's car companies could
This year, the crisis is waning but caution remains. As
sales continue to lag, especially in Southern Europe, the most
interesting new models are not sports or luxury cars, but family
station wagons, the epitome of practicality.
The most troubled car companies, France's Peugeot SA
and Italy's Fiat SpA, have cut
product-development spending so much that they have little new
to display. But cutting-edge designs are also few and far
between on the stands of even such market leaders as Volkswagen
As a barometer of Europe's economy, the show's atmosphere
has improved in two years - from desperate to downbeat - while
the attitudes of Europe's top auto executives reflect much of
the market's ambivalence.
"Perhaps a little bit of optimism is justified," said Trevor
Mann, Nissan Motor Co Ltd executive vice president.
"But I think the recovery generally will be slow (and) we should
not get over-enthusiastic."
Alfredo Altavilla, chief operating officer of Fiat's Europe,
Middle East and African regions, added: "The real answer is that
no one has any visibility beyond the quarter. The trend is
stabilizing (but) it's too soon to say that it's picking up."
In the absence of CEO Sergio Marchionne, Altavilla was the
senior Fiat official at Frankfurt, presiding over a low-key
display that featured a seven-passenger derivative of the Fiat
500L MPV as the brand's chief new product. Even Fiat's pricy
Ferrari marque, which unveiled the stunning LaFerrari hybrid
sports car earlier this year at the Geneva show, could muster
only a slightly more powerful variant of its aging 458 series to
anchor its Frankfurt stand.
VW chose to showcase its growing range of electrified
vehicles, from the eUp! to the eGolf, adding several new
versions of the Golf as well. The German automaker's budget
brands, Seat and Skoda, likewise were relatively quiet, as were
VW's priciest marques, Lamborghini and Bugatti.
U.S. multinational Ford Motor Co did not stray far
from the mainstream either, unveiling a concept of the
next-generation S-Max crossover vehicle that it plans to put
into production in Spain in early 2015.
But two former Ford Europe premium brands - Sweden's Volvo
and England's Jaguar - stirred up some attention with concepts
that were noteworthy for hinting at a new styling direction for
each and for introducing scalable vehicle architectures on which
both brands intend to build compact vehicle families over the
next several years.
Jaguar, now an affiliate of India's Tata Motors Ltd
, and Volvo, an affiliate of China's Zhejiang Geely
Holding Group Co Ltd, took different design paths,
with Jaguar presenting the wagon-like C-X17, an early look at
its first-ever crossover utility vehicle, and Volvo debuting the
Concept Coupe, a sleek two-door that eventually will be joined
by a range of compact models with common underpinnings,
including a sedan, a hatchback and a crossover.
One had to look closely to find even a hint of frivolity on
the relatively austere displays in Frankfurt. And one could find
it in a burst of disparate concept vehicles with a common and
often-derided styling element: gullwing doors.
The birdlike portals could be found on Renault SA's
Dezir and R-Space concepts, on the sporty Audi Nanuk
Quattro and on Opel's Monza, the last a rather startling
counterpart to General Motors Co's otherwise staid
But Karl-Thomas Neumann, hired this year to run GM Europe,
sounded cautiously upbeat. "We've seen the first little light at
the end of the tunnel," he said. "No one here is expecting any
wonders to happen, but I'm relatively confident that we've
reached the bottom."
(Additional reporting by Olaf Storbeck and Jennifer Clark in
Frankfurt; editing by Matthew Lewis)