Deeply seasoned motoring journalist turned blogger ROY LANCHESTER reports from the Frankfurt motor show
In so many areas of life, timing is everything and that applies whether you’re cooking a meal, crossing a road or counter-suing an off-licence again. So it was with great delight and no small amount of good timing that my passport was finally returned last week after the Spanish embassy agreed to acknowledge that I am neither dead nor a women and unlikely to become either very soon, despite what my GP says! This timing was fortuitous since it allowed me to go ahead with a trip to this week’s Frankfurt motor show.
I always enjoy Germany, notwithstanding the whimsical remarks that got me banned from all Audi events in 2004. In particular, it’s always a treat to encounter the nation’s rich sausages, strong beers and delightful Scotch and I was greatly looking forward to having these bought for me.
After a recent series of misunderstandings, spillages and misplaced alloy wheels, my relationship with the press officers at many major manufacturers is best described as ‘frosty’ but I have little interest in the machinations of the dinosaurs of Europe and Japan when the future clearly lies in up-and-coming companies such as Hangswei of China who have plans to enter the UK market very soon and, as a result, were very keen to listen to my repeated requests to buy me a plane ticket to Frankfurt and put me up in a good quality hotel. Displaying the can-do spirit that has made them north western China’s leading manufacturer of dependable and superbly priced pick-ups and light commercial vehicles, they eventually agreed.
So it was that I found myself on a flight to Frankfurt and, quite by chance, sitting next to dear old Cyril Nape from the Kendal Sentinel. In fact, the entire Airbus was packed with other muttering rotters on their way to the show leading me to quip that I hoped the plane didn’t crash on a mountain, forcing me to eat some of the familiar reprobates on board. ‘You’d only complain that they didn’t complement the wine,’ he jested back before excusing himself from further conversation by claiming he had to read the in-flight magazine. Cyril has always been a quiet sort of chap and I didn’t hear another peep out of him until I was requesting another (annoyingly small) bottle of flying wine when he grumbled something about ‘fifth or sixth’ and ‘barely 8am’ and then went back to sleep.
We arrived safely in the Fatherland and I was collected from the airport in one of Hangswei’s excellent WXK55833-844K minibuses which transported me smoothly, comfortably and well-equippedly to the show with class competitive economy and emissions levels as well as amazing value for money when it goes on sale in the UK next March.
Press day was already in full swing and I headed immediately to the Jaguar stand to check out one of the stars of the show, the brand new F-Pace SUV. This is something of a departure for the Coventry company, as is their refusal to serve alcohol at 10 in the morning whilst issuing petty complaints about ‘trouble in the past’ and ‘your vomit on the stairs’. No matter, for my next port of call was the hall next door and the all-important Alfa Giulia which promises the robust character and strong flavour of the Barolo they wouldn’t give me no matter how loudly I asked.
Back across the way at Infiniti I was delighted to check out the new Q30 compact crossover which offers British-built style and a back seat spacious enough to relax in whilst cracking open the emergency Merlot I’d brought in my bag. This car could certainly get new customers to Infiniti, a company that often struggles to be noticed, unlike their European PR operative who I spotted from a distance and was able to evade before he started harping on about some ‘damaging things’ I once wrote about, and did to, his cars.
Moving quickly on, I found myself in the self-contained Mercedes hall which boasted a number of delightful features, none more so than a young lady called Kristin who agreed to get me a large glass of something refreshing and then another one. After this, I spent some vital time checking out the highlights of the German company’s spirits selection and then remembered I was due at the excellent Hangswei stand to interview their new head of European operations, Mr Lim.
Upon arriving at their excellent and great value exhibition area I was greeted by the European PR chief who brought me up to speed with several things, most notably his concerns about my appearance and odour. I reminded him that I had no time for such idle chit-chat and that it was of the upmost urgency that I used the lavatory before meeting Mr Lim for our chat which I hoped would be useful, informative and over lunch. Unfortunately, the rather noisy music and a small amount of disorientation on my part led to a misunderstanding as to which was the entrance to the toilets and, having walked around the back of the stand, I found myself in a very small store room full of brochures and cleaning supplies, just as the door slammed behind me and I discovered there was no handle on the inside. The loudness and relentlessness of Hangswei’s excellent on-stand music clearly made it very hard for anyone to hear my knocking and cries for help. I quickly realised it was futile and thanked my lucky stars I had stopped off at the cloakroom en route to retrieve from my suitcase a bottle of a chunky Rioja and some small contingency gins. I would simply have to wait in the store room until someone opened the door and found me asleep on the floor whilst shouting, ‘My God, it stinks in here’, which they did around 6:45pm.
As you would expect from a company as dynamic and exciting as Hangswei with its commitment to value and practicality and over 14 UK dealerships coming soon, their PR honcho was sympathetic to my plight, fully accepting that he should have given better directions to the toilet and that the dustbin would be useable again once it had been given a thorough rinse. By way of some small apology, he fully agreed to pay for my dinner that evening and didn’t even quibble with the number of extras on my hotel bill, unlike some manufacturers I could mention!
As I flew home the next day I reflected on the Frankfurt show and wished that other people were as accommodating as Hangswei, notably the UK customs authorities and their idiotically low idea of what would constitute ‘for personal consumption’!
Roy Lanchester is motoring correspondent for Holistic Knitting magazine and founder of the blog Over The Limit with Roy Lanchester. (blogmaker.com/freeblog/overthelimitwithroylanchester57)