Fuelish in Frankfurt

Sleek and sporty fuel sippers are the norm in Europe, where heavily taxed consumers are accustomed to paying $5 or more for a gallon of petrol. If ever there were a time when European small cars could find an audience among size-obsessed U.S. buyers, it is now. Recent hurricanes along the Gulf of Mexico have sent fuel prices skyrocketing, forcing Americans to at least contemplate alternatives to fullsize

Sleek and sporty fuel sippers are the norm in Europe, where heavily taxed consumers are accustomed to paying $5 or more for a gallon of petrol.

If ever there were a time when European small cars could find an audience among size-obsessed U.S. buyers, it is now.

Recent hurricanes along the Gulf of Mexico have sent fuel prices skyrocketing, forcing Americans to at least contemplate alternatives to fullsize SUVs and pickups. The Frankfurt auto show — arguably the largest and most international automotive exhibition on the planet — ironically features some of the finest small cars on the planet.

Were Americans paying attention? If they recently cussed out a gas-station attendant after parting with $86 to fill up a Cadillac Escalade, then the answer is a resounding “yes.”

Frankfurt show visitors focused on fuel economy likely stopped at the Honda Motor Co. Ltd. pavilion for the world debut of its eighth-generation '06 Civic, as well as the latest version of the Civic Hybrid (see story, p.58).

The hybrid is powered by a new 3-stage i-VTEC (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control) 1.3L engine using the fourth-generation of Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system. The expectation is Europe also will offer the Accord Hybrid, but no launch dates have been set, a Honda spokesman says.

Japanese competitor Toyota Motor Corp. — also no slouch when it comes to fuel economy — unveiled its all-new European-spec Yaris small car and RAV4 cross/utility models.

The Yaris variants include a 3- and 5-door liftback. Toyota says when the vehicle reaches U.S. shores next spring as an '07 model, it will be sold with a 3-door body style and a yet-to-be-named variant.

The new, larger '06 RAV4 cross/utility vehicle will go on sale in the U.S. in late December, with an optional third-row seat.

The RAV4's standard powerplant will be a 2.4L 4-cyl. with VVT-i, delivering 166 hp and 165 lb.-ft. (224 Nm) of torque. Those unfazed by $3 fuel can opt for a 3.5L V-6 with dual VVT-i that Toyota promises will churn out 268 hp and 246 lb.-ft. (334 Nm) of torque.

There was considerable chatter about hybrid-electric vehicles in Frankfurt.

The Mercedes Car Group's beleaguered Smart unit used the Frankfurt show to assure the industry its financial recovery is well under way and to unveil its Crosstown 2-door convertible concept, which gets its propulsion from a hybrid-electric powertrain.

Volkswagen AG will be a player in the U.S. HEV market beginning in 2008, with the VW Jetta and Audi Q7 among the first vehicles to be equipped with the fuel-efficient technology, CEO Bernd Pischetsrieder tells Ward's at the show.

And reports out of Tokyo say Suzuki Motor Corp. may introduce a hybrid version of its new Grand Vitara CUV for the U.S., by 2010. The auto maker is developing its own hybrid system. Suzuki unveiled the new third-generation Grand Vitara for the European market at Frankfurt.

Often, the Frankfurt show has nothing to do with practicality and everything to do with style, passion and heart-pounding performance.

Mercedes unveiled its new flagship, the ninth-generation S-Class, which will range in price from the high $70,000s to $130,000 when the redesigned model debuts in the U.S. early next year.

Innovative technology on the new S-Class includes Distronic Plus, the next-generation adaptive cruise control (ACC) system that can bring the vehicle to a complete stop, then resume a safe speed based on the distance from the vehicle ahead.

Also in the premium segment, the Jaguar XK 2+2 sport car debuted at the show with an aluminum body and a hood that Jaguar Cars boasts is the first of its kind.

Called a pyrotechnic pedestrian deployable bonnet (hood) system, it uses devices similar to small airbags to lift the hood several inches to create space under the hood in order to cushion impact and help isolate a pedestrian's head and body.

Volvo Cars unveiled its 4-seat convertible, the C70, which has a 3-piece retractable hardtop. The front-drive car will come standard with the 2.5L light-pressure turbocharged T5 engine that generates 218 hp at 5,000 rpm and 236 lb.-ft. (320 Nm) of torque from 1,500 to 4,800 rpm.

In Europe, Volvo will offer a 5-cyl. diesel engine in the C70, the same mill available in Volvo's larger cars.

General Motors Corp. used the Frankfurt show to debut the production version of the Cadillac BLS midsize front-wheel-drive sedan. The unveiling followed the European launch of the CTS sedan in 2003, the XLR and the SRX cross/utility vehicle in 2004 and the STS in 2005.

GM's Adam Opel AG introduced the Antara, a new Gran Tourismo cross/utility vehicle that is slated to hit European showrooms in the fourth quarter.

Concept cars included the Mini Concept Frankfurt, which is taller, longer and more spacious than the current Mini; the Citroen C-SportLounge, a low, sleek 4-seater that could herald a new vehicle smaller than the current C6; and the BMW Z4 coupe, which reportedly will go into production next summer in Spartanburg, SC.

BMW also presented a new 3-Series wagon and top-of-the-line 1-Series, the 130i.

Ford Motor Co. unveiled its dramatic Iosis concept, a sporty 4-door penned by new executive design director Martin Smith that he says signifies the styling future for Ford of Europe.

Mazda Motor Corp. debuted its Sassou concept 3-door hatchback, which the company says demonstrates its intentions to compete in the European B-segment.
with Herb Shuldiner, Alisa Priddle, Eric Mayne, Tom Murphy and Drew Winter

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