IAA Frankfurt 2015 - The Germans Show Us The Future

2015 Porsche Mission E concept car
When it comes to automotive technology, the Germans are often in a class of one. Want to know what gadgetry normal cars will have in the next 5-10 years? Look at the new Mercedes S-Class. Want to know what hybrid cars are truly capable of? Look at the Porsche 918 Spyder. They're dominating top-level motorsport and they top pretty much every class of performance car. The Frankfurt Motor Show is just kicking off as we speak, and already a few crazy concepts from Der Vaterland are grabbing everyone's attention. Let's take a look:

Porsche Mission E concept

The very instant I saw this picture of Porsche's new electric super saloon study, I wanted it to be real but could barely believe it was. This decade has really seen the company let its designers off the leash - with the 918 Spyder, new Cayman and the Panamera Sport Turismo concept from a few years ago being particularly pretty highlights in my eyes - but this new concept car manages to be such a pure design expression while still being just as recognisably, functionally Porsche as anything else they've done. It has immediately generated quite vast quantities of want inside me, despite it being almost completely against everything Porsche originally stood for.

The Mission E is an all-electric four-door saloon which creates unavoidable comparisons with YouTube's favourite EV, the Tesla Model S, for being an immensely powerful four-wheel-drive four seater with its batteries stretching from axle to axle along the floor of the car. It also boasts the ability to update itself overnight for the latest tweaks to the infotainment and driving controls, like the Silicon Valley super sedan. However, while the Model S P85D boasts more power than the Mission E, the Porsche trumps it in an intangible yet highly credible way: racing pedigree. The permanent-magnet synchronous motors with regenerative braking are of the same type used in the 919 Hybrid LMP1 car that took victory at Le Mans this year (Porsche's record-breaking 17th win in its history) with a 1-2 finish. There is one on each axle and they produce a combined 600 horsepower to help propel that sexy shape from a standstill to 100km/h (62mph) in less than 3.5 seconds and past 200km/h (124mph) in under 12 seconds. Allegedly, it can even lap the Nürburgring Nordschleife in under 8 minutes, although that could be a simulated time for all we know. Helping it do all that are active torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive, all-wheel steering, 50:50 weight distribution and a very low centre of gravity given by the floor-length battery. While the Tesla weighs over 2100kg, the Porsche should be lighter, with strategic use of carbon fibre (including the 21"/22" front and rear wheels), aluminium and steel.

There is one way in which the Mission E boasts record breaking speed of its own: a world-first 800V charging system - double the current standard and cunningly called Porsche Turbo Charging - means the lithium ion batteries can be charged to 80% capacity in just 15 minutes using lightweight small-gauge copper cables. The car can also be charged by more conventional means, along with wireless induction charging using a charge pad in your garage floor. With the charge at 100% the car can go as far as 508km (315 miles) before it runs out of juice.


I love the single-strip tail lights, à la classic 911. Complete with the traditional pop-up spoiler, the shape is of course very aerodynamic (and only 130cm/51" tall), but the sloping profile and supercar stance all scream Porsche in a strongly sci-fi way which hopefully gives us clear hints of how the next-generation Panamera will look. Wowzers.

Open up one of the suicide doors and you'll find a minimalist but no less advanced interior. Open all the doors and you won't find a B-pillar in the way as you get in. The lack of transmission tunnel helps create a greater feeling of space for the four occupants sat in their lightweight bucket seats. Cameras replace old-fashioned mirrors, as is fashionable, while an equally on-trend touchscreen centre console sits above the simple drive select lever. A skinny OLED 3D display behind the steering wheel displays five "dials" for the Connected Car, Performance, Drive, Energy and Sport Chrono functions, which can be adjusted just by looking at them; the car tracks your eye movements and knows which function you're after when you press the 'wheel-mounted button to navigate through each one's modes (using both eyes and buttons from there).

It also means that the display "follows" you like a creepy cartoon painting's eyes, in that moving your head causes the 3D display to auto-adjust to always be visible to the driver. It can even detect via your face whether you're enjoying yourself, and put together a story of your journey to share on social media, complete with route map and emoticons! How modern. Finally, a second display stretches across the passenger side using 3D-effect holograms. Occupants can use gesture controls to gain access to media, navigation, climate control, contacts and vehicle functions.

And yet, despite all the fast-charging, holographic connected-car wizardry, I just keep coming back to how good it looks. Those curves and that rear end had better make it onto the next Panamera...

Having said that, there's a chance the Mission E itself will become a production car by 2019 (probably with a different name). Don't assume anything, but we may live in hope...

See the full press release here

Mercedes-Benz IAA Concept

Meanwhile, on the other side of Stuttgart, the oldest car maker has also created a rather fine shape... but unlike the Porsche, this one transforms as it goes faster. For those who can't watch the video above, at 50mph the wheels change from concave to flat, the front corners have flaps that move about to redirect air over the front wheels, the carbon fibre front splitter can retract, and most obviously the rear end stretches out by 390mm. This is all done in order to improve efficiency, of course, as the "Intelligent Aerodynamic Automobile" is a plug-in hybrid luxury limo from the future, not a race-bred super saloon from the future. With all those motorised flaps and wheel centres and what have you, it isn't going to be light either, while a length of 5040mm in "Design Mode" and a full 5430mm in "Aerodynamic Mode" make it much longer than a CLS or, fully extended, a long-wheelbase S-Class (their biggest production car). Sitting just 100mm off the ground, the end result of all this streamlining is an extremely low minimum coefficient of drag of 0.19Cd, For context, the current Toyota Prius's Cd is 0.25, which was considered very good when it came out in 2010. It's also pretty much the same as the 0.189Cd the tiny Volkswagen XL1 went to great lengths to achieve.

The immense 2975mm wheelbase also means there should be acres of space inside for four people to recline in a spaceship-like environment. The flush side windows can turn opaque to give you a bit more privacy from the outside world if you prefer, while also containing touch pads in the top corners for opening the doors. Unlike the Porsche, the Mercedes wants you to stroke it before it will do special things for you, with a variety of touch-based control interfaces for all the gadgets. There's a touchpad on the centre console, while the steering wheel has "optical finger navigation" buttons, which sound similar in function to the central button/scrolling thingy on my old HTC Desire. The actual interior design is essentially a development of what you'll find in the current S-Class with two 12.3" screen displaying all the info, sitting amongst a mix of white leather and grey - sorry, "anthracite" - brushed aluminium, with Swarovski glass airvents lit up in blue or red. Ooooh.

Unlike the previous Mercedes concept car, you're actually allowed to drive this one. It's powered by the same 208bhp 2.0-litre turbo four/80bhp electric motor combo, making a total output of 275bhp and 442lb/ft. Plenty to get you to the electronically limited 250km/h (155mph) top speed. You can drive on electricity alone for 62km (38 miles) in Design Mode or 66km (41 miles) in Aero Mode if you fancy.

All of this is intended to make suggestions about future Mercedes-Benz products. The next S-Class or CLS could end up having a three-metre wheelbase, shapeshifting abilities and this kind of "teardrop" side profile. On the latter point, Mercedes will point to the 540K Streamliner as inspiration, along with other aero concepts from their immense history... but all anyone has been reminded of by that sloping tail section is the Audi A7, which is a bit of a shame - although that's with the air guides retracted. I also would've expected Audi to be the first ones to make the grille stretch across the entire nose to swallow up the headlights. Like the Porsche though, I love the way this car sits on its wheels, with organically curved flares around the 20+ inch rims/tyres as you can see in the top-down image above. The simple, clean surfacing is refreshing after all the swooshes on current Benzes as well.

This car will never be put into production as-is, but expect the broader aesthetic to appear on cars with three-pointed stars over the next 5-10 years.

Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo Concept

After a ten-year reign over the world of supercars, the mighty Bugatti Veyron died this year. But don't worry, because they're going to make a replacement! It could be a 1500-horsepower hybrid and it could be closer to 300mph than 250 at top speed, but all of that remains to be seen. For now, they're giving us hints of their updated aesthetic with this, their bonkers Vision Gran Turismo concept. There's no mention of any performance figures, but it is clear that the V-GT features some version of the colossal 8.0 quad-turbo W16 engine that gained notoriety in the Veyron, probably with more than the SuperSport's 1200 horsepower and officially connected to all-wheel-drive. Because it's designed for a video game, it can be as extreme as they want it to be, hence the significantly more aggressive aerodynamics seemingly inspired by Le Mans prototypes. The overall look is clearly an evolution of the outgoing car, but it also takes alleged inspiration from the Bugattis that won Le Mans back in the 1930s, especially the Type 57 "Tank" that won in '37 and '39.

The result of an intensive six-month project, the Bugatti Vision GT is meant as the most extreme car it's realistically possible for the VW-owned company to make, developed using simulations far more advanced than a console game to hone the aero and get an idea of its capabilities. They suggest that at Circuit de la Sarthe, where Le Mans is held, it can top 250mph (400+km/h) at four different sections of the 8.48 mile track. It may look like an Art Deco LMP1, but it goes like a Group C car! Having played with a lot of these made-for-GT6 concepts, I think this ought to be the right balance of extreme and believable. The SRT Tomahawk that does 400mph or something daft is frankly a step too far, along with the laser pulse-drive Chaparral 2X (although that's still an awesome design). You don't want it to be a missed opportunity, but you don't want it to be in a barely-drivable class of one, either. You should be able to race it against other cars in the game and not be on another planet of pace, otherwise it's a lonely world of setting preposterous lap times and top speeds by yourself. Or a one-make race, I suppose...

How much of this will point to the next Veyron? Well, don't expect quite the same level of aggression - wings and canards generate grip in the corners, but the resultant drag compromises top speed. I would imagine the production Chiron or whatever it will be called will change shape at speed in some way, with a huge active wing that rises/lowers and probably some flaps in the floor and diffuser like the P1 or LaFerrari. If it had this car's nose design, with the angry headlights floating inside air inlets and more sculpted cheek bones than the jellymould Veyron, then we'd be off to a good start. The curved side intake should carry over too, as a reference to seemingly every noteworthy Bugatti ever made. The rear strip light and four meaty exhausts would be cool, but I wouldn't count on it. If it is a hybrid, though, it may well need all that ventilation at the tail end if they're cooling batteries and that leviathan of an internal combustion engine.

Official sketch overlaid with proposed powertrain
OK, to be honest, there's almost nothing on this thing that will point to the future of motor cars at large, but damn if it isn't cool as hell anyway. I just wish my PS3 wasn't broken......

Oh, and unlike most Vision Gran Turismo cars, it even has an interior! Fancy that.

Stay tuned for more Frankfurt news!

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