Cropley on cars – Frankfurt show at its brilliant best, cyclists with cameras

The bi-annual Frankfurt motor show yields more new metal; a chance to sit down with GM boss Mary Barra; London’s cyclists are looking vigilant

MONDAY AM – The most daunting, most exhilarating two days of our lives as car hacks occur every couple of years in mid-September. The Frankfurt motor show, to which we all obediently troop, is so packed with new models, so well attended by the right people, so vast in area and so vital to the future news/test agenda that you simply can’t miss it.

Attended my first in 1979, so this must have been my 19th, yet I’ve never managed to shake the fear, a couple of days beforehand, that my web of reporting arrangements will go seriously wrong.

At my first Frankfurt, Mercedes launched a super-aerodynamic S-Class – the W126 – that stressed the depth of its techno-credentials (much as it did this year with the magnificent IAA concept). As we arrived in Frankfurt this time, what should glide past but a healthy, well-used W126, still looking modern. Spent the rest of the trip wishing I could have seen its odometer.

MONDAY PM – Important highlight of Frankfurt was the much-heralded arrival of GM CEO Mary Barra. She hasn’t spent much time here because she’s been dealing with the aftermath of a serious ignition switch scandal, the kind of thing that regularly dogs US industry.

I was lucky enough to dine at the CEO’s table, surrounded by diplomats and respectful employees rather than platoons of scribblers, so it was possible to converse a bit and build a picture of a highly capable, articulate and affable car company boss, devoid of ego yet with obvious, effortless authority.

She seemed entirely genuine: a hard-working person whose knowledge of business and product came from deep experience. She loved engineering, she told me, and would be delighted if her example encouraged more girls into technology. Ended the evening convinced that General Motors, that unwieldy and restless giant, is safer in Barra’s hands than others I could name.

TUESDAY – This is the big reporting day at Frankfurt: early appointments give way to scuttling about after facts, then to early evening writing, then to dinners with normally elusive senior contacts.

Then it’s a walk or ride back to your digs to write into the small hours and (hopefully) post stuff on your website before your hated opposition can do the same. Beating your rivals by an hour is a big win at a time like this.

This time several of my journeys were effected in the plush rear perch of a new Audi Q7, a model about which I’ve been scathing in the past. Scratch that. This latest edition is a very strong SUV, and gets my wholehearted approval now that it’s stopped looking like a giant potato.   

WEDNESDAY – Could have taken the early flight home, but that would have been to miss out on revisiting my three favourites of this year’s show (each with a clunky name): Bentley Bentayga, Nissan Gripz and Honda 2&4. Took the second flight instead and thus arrived late and got drenched in a downpour riding my two-wheeler home. But it was worth it.

FRIDAY – Bit of a heavy contrast today: after the excitement of Frankfurt, a busy morning doing business in the midst of central London. Depressed to see just how many cyclists travel around the city these days with baby video cameras firmly attached to their helmets, as if it’s a given that at any moment, they’re going to be attacked by malicious surrounding riders and drivers, and will have to defend themselves in court.

Whatever happened to natural optimism? Now I see Garmin has started selling a satellite navigation system for cars that features an integrated forward-looking camera. Not for me, thank you.

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