Volkswagen Group Night at the Frankfurt auto show never disappoints. The world's most powerful car company sets the tone for the International Automobile Exhibition (IAA), which opens the following morning. VW chose to shock the gathered crowd this year with shots fired directly at Elon Musk's Tesla. I have often wondered why the rest of the industry was sitting on its heels instead of fighting Tesla head on. It seems the VW Group was just waiting until everything was in place instead of jumping head first into the fray.
The group showed off every tool it needs to win the battle; a charging solution, better driving range than Tesla, and a wider range of product. The first step is a charging solution. A video demonstrated an e-Golf stop at the entrance to a parking garage where the driver exited the vehicle, told it to go charge itself with his phone, and the Golf, with very KITT-like scanning LEDs in its grille, goes and finds a spot with VW's new V-Charge inductive charging. No more plugging in the car, just park on top of the unit. It's called V-Charge and VW is confident it will turn into real charging infrastructure, at least in the EU. An 800-volt charging system was also announced, which would speed up charging considerably but still requires plugging in the car.
As a step up from the Golf, the new larger Tiguan was presented with a plug-in hybrid concept version on top of standard trim and an R-Line that redefines the styling expected in the compact SUV segment. The US market will get a larger version of this Tiguan, rumored to be as much as eight-inches longer with an optional third row, finally making it competitive in the class. Word is the price will fall to competitive levels as well, with the American Tiguan being built in North America. We would guess in the Puebla, Mexico plant, which will also be building the MQB based, all-wheel drive Golf Alltrak. The new Tiguan looks great; the European version has a host of new technology, so fans of the small SUV should have high hopes VW will finally be a real player.
Audi rolled out the e-tron Quattro concept, which looks to go head-to-head with Tesla's Model X electric crossover. A claimed 500 km, or 311-mile, range would out-drive the Tesla's expected range by a fair amount. Maybe more importantly, Audi debuted the new A4 sedan and wagon at the same time, which is significant, but also showed a g-tron version that runs on either gasoline or CNG, and an A4 Ultra which uses a specially tuned 190hp 2.0L turbo to deliver greater fuel economy.
At the top of the electric pyramid sits the Porsche Mission e concept. This is the car that is likely to go to head-to-head with the Tesla Model S, if Porsche actually recognized other brands as competition. It would more than likely carry a price premium over the Model S, but once we get into six-figure price tags what's a few more tens of thousands of dollars here or there? It is aimed at 500 km or 311 miles of range, with 600 horsepower and, most importantly, "It will drive and can be driven exactly like a Porsche."
What that means is that you can drive it hard without the car dropping into limp mode from overheating. We're looking at you Tesla and your car that can't run half a lap at most race tracks. Porsche claims the Mission e laps the Nurburgring in under 8-minutes, which we have to guess is theoretical.
Not fully electric but still more environmentally friendly is the new 911. Both Carrera and Carrera S get 3.0-liter twin-turbo engines in the refreshed model. The S now produces 420hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. The base Carrera now makes 370hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. That torque is also available as low as 1700 RPM, but don't fear, these aren't diesels; they still spin to 7500 RPM. Of course performance in terms of acceleration will increase, but more importantly Porsche assures us fuel economy will see a significant bump as well (EPA number aren't yet available).
If being one with nature is more your thing, Lamborghini released the Huracan LP610-4 Spyder. Not surprisingly, it looks exactly what you might think a Huracan with a power-folding soft-top would look like, which is to say sexier than the coupe. We imagine the Spyder is slightly heavier, slightly less aerodynamic, and slightly less stiff than the coupe, but you will be able to hear the engine much better. Isn't that what really matters?
If all-out performance is what you want, then you've been waiting for this. The Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo was originally designed as a digital car for PlayStation's Gran Turismo, otherwise known as the best driving simulator ever. Bugatti brought the car to life in stunning three-dimensions. The Vision GT is certainly over the top, but it is said to preview some of the styling language of the long-rumored, some would say long overdue, Veyron successor. If it were me, I would build it exactly like this.
Group Night didn't disappoint for 2015, unless you went expecting the pyrotechnics and interpretive dancers from years past. Instead, all the VW brands focused on performance in one way or another. VW has said this wasn't meant to target Tesla specifically, but to promote future electrification of the auto industry. I do believe the latter, but it certainly doesn't hurt to put the current leader of the electric car market on notice. VW has hinted for a couple of years new battery technology is right around the corner, and it wasn't ready to jump into the market until that was available. Will some of these cars launch with the next generation battery technology, and if so what will it be? Lithium-polymer, massively modular cells that would allow spreading the batteries throughout the car? We won't know until a production car launches, but I don't think VW Group would be making such a bold move it didn't think it had an ace up its sleeve.