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Frankfurt is merely the fifth largest city in Germany, but hosts one of the biggest car shows on the planet. With two million square feet of exhibition space, it's so big and sprawling, it only takes place once every two years (alternating annually with Paris). This event also marks the start of a fresh car show season, now that vacations are over, the kids are back in school, and everyone can get on with their work.

The job of Frankfurt's 2011 extravaganza is to take the car industry's pulse and make a prognosis. Two years ago, there was a strong emphasis on electric cars. For 2011, it's a fairly safe bet that lithium-ion batteries will be mentioned almost as many times as gasoline. BMW will be displaying its "i" electric cars, while Audi has its own electric two-seater and VW has an extreme-efficiency one-seat concept vehicle.

Right now, the auto industry is probably at its healthiest in Germany, if the reports of record sales are anything to go by (VW's sales are up 22 percent, for example). The mood at Frankfurt should be somewhat positive, despite Germans' notoriety for being business-like and cautious. Of course this is also a country that likes to innovate. Indeed, a marketing slogan used by Audi in Europe is "Vorsprung durch Technik" means "progress through technology." So expect plenty of ingenious ways of trying to balance more power with lower fuel consumption.

The show is home turf for European luxury brands like BMW and Mercedes-Benz, so German companies tend to make their biggest splashes at Frankfurt. One of the most iconic cars the country has ever produced is debuting its newest iteration: the Porsche 911. The wraps have already come off and the styling is unsurprisingly evolutionary, but the seven-speed manual transmission is a world-first.

Audi's multi-level, 64,000 square-foot stand will feature an indoor track a quarter of a mile long, creating a show within a show. Setup started in July and it will cost the equivalent of $15 million (thanks to its modular design, there are parts that can be used again and again at other car shows, so it's not as extravagant as it may seem at first glance). Not to be undone, Mercedes-Benz will also have an indoor track and BMW's stand should be spectacular in its own way.

Though the German brands certainly step things up for Frankfurt, it really is a world stage. The big thing from Ford will be the Evos concept, which shows off Ford's new design language for its global products. It also has some neat new tech ideas, like an adaptive suspension tailored equally to the demands of the driver and the condition of the road. And an infotainment system that knows what you were listening to at home before downing that coffee and jumping into the car. On top of that, the Evos has a hybrid drivetrain with, yes, lithium-ion batteries.

Elsewhere in the city of franks, Subaru is showing off its XV compact crossover, while Mazda is unveiling its redesigned CX-5 compact crossover.

This year marks the 64th Frankfurt Motor Show. If anyone was thinking of nipping over to Europe to catch the event, public days run from September 15 to September 25. will be covering all of the Frankfurt Auto Show announcements right from the show floor, starting September 13.


COLIN RYAN has driven hundreds of cars thousands of miles while writing for BBC Top Gear magazine, Popular Mechanics, the Los Angeles Times, European Car, Import Tuner and many other publications, websites, TV shows, etc.
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