Pall Over Frankfurt

To the automotive press, the Frankfurt Motor Show is like the arrival of Christmas. Exhibit hall after exhibit hall in the Frankfurt Messe is chockfull of bright, shiny new toys from all of the world's auto manufacturers. There is an air of excitement about the show that rivals that of the eve of a championship fight or a national election. Which new vehicles will win the fancy of the automotive press? Which will fall with an audible thud? Which will titillate the senses, and which will prompt a gag reflex?

This year's Frankfurt Motor Show was like no other because it virtually coincided with the terrorist attacks that resulted in tragedy in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. The attacks reverberated across the Atlantic Ocean as quick as you can dial a cell phone, and immediately a dark cloud descended over what is usually a gala multi-day event. Parties were cancelled, press conferences curtailed, and the normal hoopla that surrounds new-car introductions was reduced to a veritable whisper. Journalists and car company executives alike wondered when (and if) they would get home, as concerns for personal and family safety quickly overrode anything as trivial as the auto industry.

Still, the show went on, reluctantly but inexorably, and a wide variety of significant vehicles did, for the first time, glimpse the light of day. Here are some of the most important of the Frankfurt offerings for 2001.
  • BMW 7-Series
    The 7-Series is BMW's flagship sedan, and each completely new model is a bellwether for the industry. This time around, though, the exterior design of the car drew pans from several independent designers. Automotive News quoted noted designer Tom Tjaarda as saying, "Unfortunately the rear end was the first I saw of the car, and I could not believe my eyes. It is lumpy with confusing lines, and it looks as if the boot (trunk) is open." Some observers, including this one, see the overall exterior as looking very Volvoesque, which isn't bad, but is a little disappointing for a model whose previous editions have inspired many a competitive design. BMW execs are also privately concerned about the 7-Series' "joystick," which is said to control 700 functions within the car. (Quick, name 457 functions a car performs before I say Jack Robinson.) They, like journalists, wonder if rich execs who buy 7's will feel comfortable with a video game controller.

  • Lamborghini Murcielago
    Not to be confused with the Muncielago that pays tribute to a medium-sized Indiana city (okay, we're kidding), the Murcielago is the new supercar offering from the same boys who brought you the Countach and Diablo. Except they are not really the same boys, because Lamborghini is now being run by Audi, after its ownership bounced from car company to car company over the past few years. The Murcielago has a cleaner (some might say blander) exterior than the Diablo, and it is more user-friendly, which means you don't have to be a gymnast to get out of it. With 580 horsepower churning from its V-12 it is said to be capable of 205 miles per hour. Gosh, that'll get chicks.

  • Jaguar R-Coupe
    The Jaguar R-Coupe is not destined for production, according to Jag execs, but it is intended to show the future direction of Jaguar styling, which is fine with us, because this baby's a looker. It offers round headlights (albeit Xenon projector-style), driving lights (ditto), and a grille that would look appropriate on a Delage. And if the exterior isn't derivative enough (hey, derivative is fine if you're tracing around the right stuff), then get a load of the interior, which is said to have been inspired by jewelry, timepieces and upscale suitcases. The controls are highlighted by steering wheel-mounted paddles to choose up- and downshifts. Under the hood throbs a V-8 engine.

Tom Ripley reports on human behavior and business issues from his home in Villeperce, France.