VW Group Night in Frankfurt previews the future: electricity, acronyms and... vegan burgers?

VW Group night

The 2019 Frankfurt auto show officially opens its doors on September 12. Members of the press received access to the town-sized convention center on the 10th, but some tack an extra day onto their schedule to attend preview events held before the start of the show. Volkswagen’s Group Night routinely stands out as the largest pre-show preview, since the firm owns considerably more brands than its rivals.

VW Group Night is not a ritzy event where jet-setting customers go to purchase expensive cars; that’s what the annual Geneva show is for. Frankfurt, in true Teutonic form, is a place for serious business. It’s where journalists, PR representatives, and executives get together to talk about the future of the Group, while the YouTubers who elbowed their way in say “hi, guys!” and do whatever else YouTubers do.

The event’s headlining act was the ID.3, a Golf-sized electric hatchback that propels Volkswagen into what members of its top brass refer to as the era of electrification. The 3 denotes its positioning in a full range of ID-badged, battery-powered cars that will sprout from a new branch of the company’s family tree by the mid-2020s. The 3 also signals that the ID.3 is the third chapter in the Volkswagen story, following the original Beetle, and the seven—soon to be eight—generations of the Golf. It’s important enough to inaugurate a redesigned version of the vee-dub emblem its stablemates will soon adopt.

2020 Volkswagen ID.3
Ronan Glon
2020 Volkswagen ID.3

The ID.3 looks and feels like a Nissan Leaf made by Apple. Design and technology battle it out for the attention of prospective buyers reading and willing to give up piston-powered cars. Americans need not apply; Volkswagen reaffirmed its commitment to not sell the hatchback in the United States, where shoppers have seemingly lost interest in cars that don’t look like they were beamed from a Jurassic Park movie. The MEB platform it inaugurates will underpin several America-bound models, including one that will wear a “made in America” tag, however. It’s the same architecture that underpins the ID Buggy.

Porsche kept the electric theme going with the Taycan, its first mass-produced electric car. The 750-horsepower Turbo S variant of the sedan publicly strutted its stuff in its home country for the first time. Across the hall, the limited-edition Lamborghini Sián made an 819-horsepower, $3.6 million case for hybrid technology in the hypercar segment. (The 63-car production run is already sold out, so the Sián seemingly got its point across.) Look for the gasoline-electric technology hidden under its retro-flavored carbon fiber skin to appear in the Aventador’s replacement that’s tentatively due out in the early 2020s.

Audi introduced the second-generation RS 7 Sportback, and it showed the fourth-generation RS 6 Avant it unveiled online in August 2019. Both cars share a lot: they wear the same headlights, they’re powered by the same 4.0-liter V-8 twin-turbocharged to 600 horsepower, and they’re coming to America in the next few months. That’s right, the wagon has finally—and somewhat unexpectedly—received approval to travel to the United States. Filip Brabec, Audi of America’s vice president of product planning, explained four was the charm, and not because it matches the number of rings on the RS 6’s grille. American enthusiasts have given RS models a hugely positive response in recent years, so the timing was right to give the RS 6 Avant the green light. That certainly doesn’t mean the RS 4 is next, though.

Lamborghini Sián
Ronan Glon
Lamborghini Sián

Group Night is also a good opportunity to check out the part of the Volkswagen iceberg we don’t see in the United States. Spain-based SEAT displayed crossovers (including the jumbo-for-Europe Terraco; pictured) and electric cars, unsurprisingly—and it showcased a 3D-printing machine that turns plastic jugs into little pots burgeoning chefs can grow basil in. Czech automaker Škoda was recently rumored to return to the United States after a decades-long hiatus. The comeback isn’t happening anytime soon, but the brand is alive and well. It flaunted key members of its lineup, like a hot-rodded, RS-badged variant of the grocery-getting Kodiaq crossover, and the SUV-ified Super Scout station wagon (no relation to International-Harvester), while doling out vegan burgers to anyone who ventured close to one of its cars. The firm also shipped a better-than-new 1959 Octavia from its collection to the Frankfurt show.

You’re on the right track if you’re thinking Group Night sounds like an auto show within an auto show. The actual event kicks off tomorrow, and companies from all over the automotive spectrum are eager to talk about how they see their lineups evolving during the 2020s. Some will hopefully give us the opportunity to talk about classics, too, though floor space is so expensive that we’re not betting on it.