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Audi urban concept car is displayed at the Frankfurt auto show, 2011. (BORIS ROESSLER/BORIS ROESSLER/AFP/Getty Images)
Audi urban concept car is displayed at the Frankfurt auto show, 2011. (BORIS ROESSLER/BORIS ROESSLER/AFP/Getty Images)

Driving It Home

No sign of money woes at the Frankfurt auto show Add to ...

Frankfurt’s biennial auto show is a massive, sweaty affair, sprawling over 11 different halls and a few separate pavilions, each appearing to be about the size of the friendly confines of Toronto’s aging downtown convention centre.

Without a visit here, it’s tough to appreciate the immensity of the thing. I have been to this show at least 10 times, though I've lost exact count. Perhaps I’ve done this to avoid any thoughts of middle age.

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In any case, by the end of Tuesday’s first press day I had crisscrossed the “Messe,” the convention centre, numerous times. I wore a black suit, but in a complete European fashion statement, a white shirt with no tie and black Nike cross trainers on my feet for self-preservation.

Being Germany, the German car companies rule this show. Organizers say 1,007 exhibitors have signed up, which is a huge jump from the 781 here two years ago. Out of the 1,000-plus exhibitors, however, the resident car makers such as the Volkswagen Group and its luxury brand Audi stand out – so much so, Audi even has erected its own test track.

Still, I’ll give Ford Motor credit for showing its Evos design concept and, in my opinion, earning with it the award for “Best of Show.” Ford of Canada president David Mondragon didn’t argue with that point, of course. He was here on Tuesday, taking in the program before heading off to a Ford Motor marketing conference in Cologne.

That, of course, had me wondering how much longer this hard-driving ex-football player would be running Ford’s Canadian operation. Canada is the only country in the world where Ford is No. 1 in new vehicle sales. Surely Mondragon is headed out of Canada for a bigger job. I give him less than a year. And if I were betting, I’d say his next stop will be Asia, where another former Ford of Canada president is running all of Ford’s rapidly growing Asian business – Joe Hinrichs.

Ford showed the sexy and fast Focus ST here in Frankfurt. That’s coming in months to Canada. And it’s just the start of a new-model blitz from Ford in 2012. The replacement for the Escape small SUV is on the way, among many others. And more fuel efficient engines, too.

Speaking of new models, Audi, Volkswagen’s high-volume luxury brand and the source of most of the VW Group’s profits, is showing 10 new models here in Frankfurt. Audi is a big story here.

Automotive News reports that Audi had a pretax profit margin of 10.3 per cent and as a cash cow delivered €3.34-billion, or about $4.78-billion (U.S.) of the €7.1-billion profit of the entire VW Group and its 10 brands.

I found Audi Canada president Martin Sander here and asked him about his big worry: managing growth in Canada. Sales are up about 16 per cent on the year and Sander says that’s all the dealer network can handle.

It’s a similar story worldwide for Audi, which has a chance to overtake Mercedes-Benz this year. Audi has a global new-car sales target of 1.3 million, while the Mercedes brand wants to move about 1.25 million. Rupert Stadler, the Audi CEO, says the goal by 2020 is annual sales of two million cars.

To keep sales percolating, Audi is showing facelifts to the A5 and S5, along with production versions of previous concepts such as the A8 hybrid, and high performance derivatives of existing cars – the S6, S7 Sportback and S8. Design studies? The little urban Sportback and urban Spyder suggest Audi’s ideas about city cars.

BMW, the other Bavarian car maker, is showing its i3 compact and i8 sports cars, a pair of electric vehicles first unveiled in July. Mercedes-Benz is touting a roadster version of the hot-selling SLS and an SLK55, along with the new B-Class compact.

For those in search of the prettiest auto show models – naturally I only follow this trail because it’s my job – a visit to the Fiat Group’s display is a must.

Fiat, which controls a majority of Chrysler LLC, is showing the third generation of its hot-selling Panda city car. The Panda, or at least some variation of it, is a possibility for North America. After all, Fiat has sold 6.5 million Pandas since the model launched in 1980.

Other models of interest from Tuesday’s unveilings: Jaguar C-X16 hybrid sports car, and Porsche's new 911 Carrera. The former is yet another hint at what Jaguar is planning on the so-called eco-car front. The latter, well, it is a 911 with the familiar classic silhouette dating to 1963 and updated yet again. Under the hood are 400- and 350-horsepower engine updates.

So that’s a start on the news from Frankfurt. Stay tuned because there is a lot more to come.

Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

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