GM makes news here as Executive Vice President-international Operations Louis E. Hughes reports that Opel is hammering out a production deal with the Republic of Tatarstan in the former Soviet Union. The deal hasn't been cemented, but Mr. Hughes says GM plans to bring Chevy Blazer production to an existing 900,000-unit-per-year facility planned under ex-president Gorbachev, but never completed. "This is much more firm than anything else we have ever done (in Russia); this deal has some probability," says Mr. Hughes.
Opel, however, is perhaps the least conspicuous high-volume German marque at the show.AG pitches a massive tent in the parking lot to officially reveal its new 5 Series sedan, which borrows some design cues from its larger 7 Series cousin. Like the Opel models, the 5 Series long since had graced the pages of the automotive press.
Not to be outdone, Mercedes-Benz AG throws up a modest $12 million six-story exhibit that brings showgoers down a spiral ramp featuring Mercedes' corporate capabilities. The smoke, lighting effects and special displays obscur the relatively new E-class that first bowed during the summer. Few new products are noticeable except for a restyled SL-class deservedly perched high in the stand's upper strata.
Mercedes officials use the forum to reveal they're shooting for annual production reaching 900,000 units by 2000; Mercedes this year expects to sell about 600,000 vehicles. That lofty aspiration stems largely from a planned new A-class minicar and an upcoming new all-activity vehicle. Both move into production over the next few years. Part of the A-class fleet will come from a new $400 million plant in Brazil, which is expected to come online by 1997 with initial annual output targeted at 80,000 units.
AG makes a hit with its new 2-door TT concept car, expected to go into production by 1997 as a roadster and a coupe. Audi AG head of research and development, Frans-Josef Pagfgen, boasts that "the TT is intended to be a classic, visionary design. We know it will polarize opinion; we also know it's not another old man's sports car." Under the hood, the TT carries a transversely-mounted 150-hp turbo version of the A4's 5-valve 4-cyl. Audi says it is targeting 20,000 sales annually. The TT is a spinoff of the A3 hatchback platform scheduled to bow next year.
Rain fell on VW's Frankfurt party, however, in the form of concurrent negotiations with the German labor union, IG Metall. The outcome -- two years of guaranteed job security for VW's 98,000 workers - is expected to take a significant bite out of VW's future profitability. But VW did gain concessions on flexible work weeks and other programs focusing on production volume. "We need the annual flexibility. There are times when people do not buy cars; for example, December is always a bad month because people are buying Christmas gifts and not cars," says Dr. Ulrich W. Seiffert, a VW board member in charge of research and development.
SA and Peugeot SA also assault the sedan market with new model lines unveiled at Frankfurt. Peugeot officially introduces its 406 sedan with four engines: two multivalve gasoline jobs, a 112-hp 1.8L and a 135-hp 2L; and two turbodiesels, a 192-hp 1.9L and a 110-hp 2. 1L. Renault's new 2- and 4-door Megane also officially bows in Frankfurt with designs on replacing the VW Golf as a bestseller in its class. Five model configurations eventually will come off the Megane platform. Under the hood, the Megane sports a 150-hp 2L 4-cyl. engine.
While theand Peugeot models are significant entries into key markets, both received plenty of publicity before the show, taking much of the glitter from their official unveilings.
Swedish automakers also were on the move in Frankfurt, staging plans for future hardware advances in powertrain and product.
Saab Automobile AB announces plans to focus its next-generation engines on lower fuel-consumption and higher torque via its hallmark turbo technology. With the new 9000 model due in 1997, Saab will offer a 3L V-6 turbo that actually produces 7-hp less than its 207-hp naturally aspirated version appearing in the Opel Omega. The engine delivers better fuel economy, and a substantial leap in torque from 199 lb.-ft. (270 Nm) in the Omega engine, to 229 lb.-ft. (310 Nm) in the next-generation 9000. The higher torque allows Saab to introduce a very high gearing. At 93 mph, the engine hits only 3,000 rpm, reducing fuel consumption.
AB Volvo says it will launch at least one new model every year between now and 2000 as part of a plan to bring production up to 500,000 cars a year by 2004. That would almost double this year's expected sales. Part of the timeline includes the company's new S4 built on the Dutch assembly line withMotor Corp.'s new Carisma. Despite joint-venture cooperation, Volvo put just enough of its own personal touch on the styling to ensure no one will confuse it with a Carisma. Volvo also discussed plans to bring an all-wheel-drive configuration to the 8-series platform sometime after the debut of its TWR-volvos next January at the North American International Motor Show in Detroit.
At the market's low-end,Motor Co. introduces its redesigned Fiesta, slated for both the European and South American market. The B-class entry is powered by a 1.2L 75-hp light-alloy engine. It will come in four versions: the Focus, Flair, Fun and Ghia. There are no plans to bring the Fiesta to the North American market. o
Lower-volume performance carmakers also used Frankfurt less as an introductory platform, and more as a forum to announce corporate strategy. Porsche AG chairman Wendelin Wiedeking unwrapped the new 911 Targa with a retractable glass roof that extends from the windshield to the rear of the vehicle.
But the new open-air 911 took a backseat to the debut of Wiedeking's plan to bring Porsche back to profitability. He says that while carbuilding will remain a core business, the company also is moving into corollary engineering projects and putting its high-performance name on other non-auto products.
"There is a lot of potential for more turnover for our company, and if we are able to reach all of these goals, this will be another company in four to five years compared with today," says Wiedeking.