Special Coverage

Frankfurt Auto Show

Somewhere in the Middle

Daimler Chairman Dieter Zetsche finally answers a question that’s been on everyone’s lips since the auto maker spun off Chrysler to private equity earlier this year: Which is more difficult, running a German or American car company?

In the U.S., “there was a more pragmatic, target-oriented approach. Less discussion, faster decisions,” says Zetsche.

“On the German side, there is more investigation into the 50 different possible outcomes out of the decision over the next 500 years, with a well-educated answer going forward,” he coyly tells journalists during a roundtable discussion here.

That also gives Daimler a unique edge over its U.S. rivals, Zetsche is quick to add. “In the middle, you find the right answer,” he says. “And I think that is an advantage of ours. We know both worlds, and we try to make the best out of it.”

California Dreamin’

Volkswagen’s display at the show here features two derivatives of its Multivan fullsize van.

One boasts the brand’s trademark 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, while the other offers another VW staple – a pop-up tent option.

They are named, respectively, the Panamerica and California. Ironically, neither is available in the U.S.

Ultra Plugged In

Uber-designer Henrik Fisker promises his company, Fisker Coachbuild, will light up the 2008 North American International Auto Show in Detroit with a high-performance plug-in hybrid.

Environmental responsibility is not at cross-purposes with high performance “as long as it goes fast enough,” Fisker tells Ward’s on the show floor here, observing that building green cars is the price of market participation these days.

“You can’t decide whether you want to be part of it or not,” he says, adding his mission is to make green cars sexy. “Why does an environmental guy have to look dorky,” adds Fisker, who unveiled his first two creations at Frankfurt two years ago.

Aren’t We in Germany?

Volkswagen brands share a single hall at the show, and six of them – Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini, SEAT, Skoda and VW – stage consecutive news conferences, all conducted in German.

However, each news conference requires its own unique translation receiver and headset, even though the respective stands are just a chip-shot apart.

A bewildered VW insider laments: “Helloooo! This is Germany, technological hub of the world!”