September 13, 2011 / 3:39 PM / in 7 years

Carmakers flaunt luxury in era of austerity

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Crisis? What crisis?

There may be turbulence in the euro zone, a downgrade in the U.S. credit rating, tumbling stock prices and fears about climate change making consumers clamor for low emission vehicles, but at the Frankfurt car show it’s the high priced, high-powered, high emission vehicles that are drawing the crowds.

Demand for the glitzy luxury cars that some might call ostentatious remains astonishingly high.

“These are dream cars — these are not cars you buy because you need a car but because you want to fulfill a dream, mainly a childhood dream,” said Stephan Winkelmann, the chief executive of Lamborghini after presenting a new super sports car here.

“So it’s a matter of buying something which you really love and sometimes money doesn’t matter,” Winkelmann told Reuters after unveiling the limited-edition Gallardo LP 57004 Super Trofeo Stradale, with a 10 cylinder engine and 570 horsepower.

The bright red Lamborghini drew a lot of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ on Tuesday from the thousands of assembled journalists as Winkelmann and two assistants in tight black skirts took the wraps off the car that retails for more than 200,000 euros.

But there was also a lot of buzz at other stands featuring high-emission cars even though there had been a lot of pre-show media attention paid to electric and low-emission vehicles.

And for the first time, the Frankfurt car show even devoted an entire hall to electric cars — and every carmaker has some sort of electric vehicle in its plans. But the excitement was elsewhere on Tuesday after the show opened to the media.


“There are people who have enough money and who have achieved some success in their lives and they really appreciate the Porsche brand,” Porsche CEO Matthias Mueller told Reuters after presenting a revamped 911, the company’s pride and joy with 350 horsepower and a price tag of some 250,000 euros.

Mueller said Porsche was keeping its eyes on developments in stock markets, the economies in key markets and the euro zone turbulence. But despite all those areas of uncertainty, he said, demand for Porsches has remained high.

“The Porsche 911 is a car that fits the era,” Mueller said. “It’s an expression of a person’s lifestyle and standard of living. It’s quite simply a statement for those who own such a car — it’s a sovereign possession.”

With a top speed of nearly 300 km per hour, the new Porsche 911 was one of the most eagerly awaited cars in Frankfurt.

Another new car likely to cause sticker shock to the general public nevertheless caught the media’s attention on Tuesday was Bentley’s new Continental GTC cabriolet with 567 hp and 220,000-euro price tag.

But Alasdair Stewart, a member of Bentley’s board, told Reuters that demand for the luxury car remains strong in most markets around the world.

“Even though stock markets are moving around, customers appreciate the car and see value,” he said. “We’re watching the stock markets carefully. We’re keeping the supply as tight as we can. But people are buying.

“Maybe they just feel ‘I’ve had enough of all this gloom and doom and maybe it’s time to have a new car’.”

Christoph Stuermer, a car industry analyst at IHS Global, said despite the attention on low emission cars, the industry and public still have a fascination with powerful engines and high-performance cars.

“The industry is just steaming ahead like it always does and it’s the usual ‘better-more-beautiful-and-faster’ kind of show that we’ve always seen here,” Stuermer said.

One concept car that caught a lot of peoples’ eyes is a concept car by Citroen called the Tubik. It is a large van that can carry up to nine people and its grill pays homage to the French carmaker’s H Van light delivery truck.

But the Tubik has been described as a “misbegotten spawn of an affair between a piggy bank and a bread bin” by Karla Pincott at website. “Could the Citroen Tubik be the ugliest motor show concept ever designed?”

Carlo Bonzanigo, Citroen’s head of advanced design, said he wasn’t bothered by the unflattering review from Australia.

“That’s interesting,” he told Reuters. “When you do a concept car, the worst thing you can do is have a car that doesn’t make an impact or is boring.”

Additional reporting Joanna Partridge; writing by Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle

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