By Eric Morath and Christina Rogers
Electric cars captured the spotlight at this year's Frankfurt auto show, but there was still plenty of other buzz on the floor. Here are the highlights.
Land Rover Drops the New Defender SUV
Land Rover made sure massive SUVs didn't get overlooked at a show crowded with electric-vehicle debuts.
Land Rover marked the return of one of its most iconic nameplates, the Defender, with a crowd-pleasing stunt. It sent a helmeted rock climber up a rust-colored wall and then tipped the wall down to reveal a gold-hued SUV, parked near the ceiling. The Defender then proceeded to slowly roll down the wall at nearly a 45-degree angle, surprising onlookers.
"I give you back the new Defender -- the best ever," Jaguar Land Rover Chief Executive Ralf Speth said Tuesday, acknowledging that fans were crestfallen when the company canceled the prior version four years ago.
This latest off-roader, which will come in multiple versions, will have a hybrid option and pop-up middle seat in the front, a feature designers believe will be popular among teenagers and large dogs.
Byton Introduces SUV With Monster Media Display
Chinese automaker Byton aims to, in effect, put a big-screen television in front of drivers as they move down the road.
The production version of the company's all-electric M-Byte hatchback features a 48-inch display that stretches across the dashboard from driver to passenger. The display can show vehicle information, navigation, music selections, weather reports and family photos while driving, and videos and text messages while the car is in park.
Byton executives described the vehicle as a connected-car gadget. The vehicle also has a 7-inch tablet computer in the steering wheel and an 8-inch touchpad nestled between the front seats.
Byton plans to put the M-Byte on sale in China in mid-year 2020 and in the U.S. and Europe in the first half of 2021. The car would cost about 45,000 euros in Germany, or about $49,600.
Greenpeace Wants Even Greener Vehicles
Auto makers' promises of electric vehicles and a more sustainable future didn't impress a handful of Greenpeace protesters who assembled outside the auto show in Frankfurt.
Next to the media entrance, they inflated at 25-foot-tall black balloon with 1,400 cubic meters of air -- the amount of carbon-dioxide emitted from an SUV's tailpipe each year, said Benjamin Stephan, one of the organizers. Even as auto makers add more hybrid and plug-in models to their lineups, they are also rolling out new SUVs that consume more gasoline, the protestors said.
"That doesn't go along with their claims that they are now climate conscious," he said. A larger protest is planned for Saturday, when the show is open to the public, Mr. Stephan said.
Trade Fights, China Slowdown Put Damper on Show Buzz
Amid thumping techno music and glitzy new-model reveals, executives at the show continued to fret about other pressures weighing on the car industry.
The ongoing trade fight between the U.S. and China is making it difficult to plan for the future and disproportionately impacting BMW and Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz, which exports U.S.-built SUVs to China.
"It's very difficult to know exactly what happens in negotiations around the world," Daimler CEO Ola Källenius said. "So we returned to watching it from the sidelines and, at the same time, evaluating our options."
China's once-booming car market is entering its first sustained slowdown in three decades, and industry CEOs say a near-term rebound remains uncertain. This is on top of softening sales in the U.S. and Europe.
Vincent Galifi, chief financial officer for auto-parts supplier Magna International, said the weakness in China has caught many by surprise. For the top 30 vehicles, to which it supplies parts, factory output was lower in the first half this year, prompting the company to revise its estimates downward for the remainder of 2019.
"But we're starting to see things stabilize, so that's a good thing," he added.
New VW and Porsche Electric Cars Steal the Spotlight
Volkswagen made a big splash at the show with two high-profile unveilings: The new VW ID.3 all-electric car, and the Porsche Taycan, the luxury sportscar maker's first fully electric model.
The ID.3 is the Volkswagen brand's attempt at a more-affordable electric car that can be sold in large volumes, helping to broaden the technology's appeal beyond niche buyers.
The car, already available for pre-order in Europe, starts at around 30,000 euros ($33,000). It won't be sold in the U.S -- but a small SUV based on the same technology is making its public debut early next year and will later arrive in U.S. dealerships.
The Taycan, a powerful, four-door sedan that can travel more than 200 miles on a single charge, will hit U.S. dealerships next year. Many in the auto press were quick to deem it the latest Tesla competitor even though it would cost far more than the most expensive Tesla models, with a starting price around $150,000.
Write to Eric Morath at firstname.lastname@example.org and Christina Rogers at email@example.com