Friday, 18 September 2009
Never mind the London fashion week which opened up its guest lists and runway shows to the media this week, but the news dominating the media the first half of this week come from the IAA 2009 Frankfurt auto show. Several thousands of horse power all under the same roof to satisfy the human hunger for petrol, pistons, stitched leather and carbon fiber.
With the first press conference scheduled at 08:30am on Tuesday morning, waking up at the crack of dawn was mandatory. Armies of journalists, people from press and others working in the auto industry had invaded Frankfurt for the press day that took place on Tuesday the 15th of September. The sheer size of the fair is daunting. Thankfully cars from various manufacturers had kindly been organised to shuttle people between halls – some halls were a tiresome 20-30min walking distance apart. Several exciting launches were lined up for the show such as the Ferrari 458, Mercedes SLS, Bentley Mulsanne, Rolls-Royce Ghost, Audi R8 V10 convertible, Lamborghini Reventon Roadster, BMW X1, Aston Martin Rapide, Jaguar XJ and the facelifted Porsche 911 Turbo. As car enthusiasts there were little else to ask for, the line-up was impressive. Present as well were some of the most influential and powerful heads of the auto industry.
Most powerful at the event was Ferdinand Piech who is one of the largest shareholders of Porsche with a 13% stake. Furthermore, he is the grandson of Ferdinand Porsche who is the founding father of the legendary VW Beetle and subsequently the Porsche 911. Seated down on the front row at the Porsche press conference he and his wife received the treatment of a royalty with press photographer taking endless number of photos. The paparazzi session continued on for 10 minutes as other senior figures from Porsche and VW arrived. One of them notably the newly appointed CEO of Porsche -- Michael Macht -- who replaced Wendelin Wiedeking in July 2009.
Similar to a snake attempting to swallow a cow, Porsche failed to successfully takeover VW and have had to settle for a 51% stake. The proprietor behind the genius but volatile takeover that got hampered by the bank crisis last year was Wiedeking. He turned around the fortunes at Porsche during the late 80s at a time when the company was on the brink of bankruptcy but ironically did a full 360 degree turn back to square one. Loans financed the acquisition of VW shares but the steep decline in car sales strangled Porsche’s ability to repay their astronomical debts. The financial worries were quickly resolved in August this year when Porsche received a multi billion euro injection of fund from Qatar. Judging by the mighty display of affluence at IAA, Porsche is proceeding unharmed by the recession. At the press conference, Porsche branded notepads and pens were given to journalists who at lunchtime enjoyed majestic hospitality at the Porsche stand. Wine, champagne, coffee, tea, juice, hot food and desert were served a temporary restaurant/bar to specifically serve everyone visiting the Porsche stand. All was fine cuisine with Porsche branding on even the smallest things like sugar bags. Accommodating approximately 200 people, the Porsche stand and restaurant can be deemed a success further reinforcing the prestige of the iconic brand.
Elsewhere at the auto show were beautiful promotional girls who had been excavated from all around Germany to work at the auto show. They represented a tiny fraction of the colossal population at the show and not alike the average visitor who was a male above the age of 40. The auto industry is a man’s world. It clearly emerged that cars are for boys as the number of female visitors encountered could be counted on one hand. Ranks and position speak louder than words as inflated male egos filled the halls to the roof. Handshakes were formal and the black chauffeur driven cars were provided for the upper most senior personal that showed no concern for the visiting press. The voices they listen to are those of the market, everything is meaningless vapour.
Individuals under the age of twenty five represented a dreary percentage. Me and my comrade found ourselves mingling with individuals who could well be our fathers. But all was positive since most power figures present were wise and influential men. One of them was Adrian Van Hooydonk who is the newly appointed head of design at BMW. He’s a well spoken industrial designer with an alternative view on what an automobile should represent. Wearing a slim tailored suit he did not conform to the norm of his peers who were dressed not to impress but to demonstrate corporate authority.