FRANKFURT; The Frankfurt auto show buzzed with an amusement park atmosphere as it opened to the public amid signs that Europe's biggest economy could soon pull out of a historic recession.
Despite warnings that the German auto sector is headed for a sales slump now that a state car scrapping scheme has expired, visitors thronged to photograph new models and plop down inside their favourite sports cars Saturday.
"The crisis is not really in people's minds," Fiat product manager Olivier Willand said as his mini-skirted receptionists welcomed visitors, whose appetite for cars appeared undiminished by the economic downturn.
"Personally I don't feel the recession, and I don't see it in my clients either," said one visitor, a German tax consultant who gave his name as Frank as he and his wife Sabine headed for the Saab stand.
The festive ambience, with a rocking and wailing Renault Formula One simulator and a rollercoaster-style four-wheel-drive test track mirrored recent signs that the mood among European consumers is perking up.
Their confidence rose in August for the fifth month running, European Union data shows, with strong gains in Britain, the Netherlands and Germany, which is emerging from its worst slump in 60 years.
Elsewhere in the world, economies are showing clear signs of recovery as well -- and visitors came to the Frankfurt show from all over.
As car lovers lounged in the sun on big football pillows provided by Korea's Kia or pressed around Ferraris and BMWs, cloudy unemployment forecasts took a back seat to the fun and the beer was flowing well before noon.
Though attendance was expected to be noticeably lower than the last show, "it's not a funeral," noted Eckehart Rotter, press director for the VDA auto federation that organises the event.
Toyota marketing manager Denis Haecker told AFP: "All the companies here are showing that they are investing in the future, that they are investing in alternative technologies."
Others did not have money for a new car but came to see the wide range of displays, from a clean white theme for ecological models by Volkswagen (VW) to deep red for Mercedes' AMG SLS gull-wing roadster.
"I like the design, that is what's interesting," said Jeanette Stadtmueller, who is studying to be a social worker.
"I like the inspiration you get here," added Tobias Langer, a software product manager based in Stuttgart who came with his wife Nadine.
They had no plans to turn in their old Renault Clio, but still wanted to see the new Clios as well as rival VW Polos, and some Porsches.
Chlodwig Lauser, a technical advisor for Porsche luxury cars, summed up the attitude of those who waited to slip into a 141,000-euro (208,000-dollar) 911 Targa 4S as: "I don't have the money but I'd like to sit once behind the wheel."
On the fairground's main street, a Czech ice-cream vendor named Hanna who studies sociology in Munich reckoned the crowd was "happy and cool" because visitors were endulging their hobby.
"People are always ready to spend on that despite a crisis," she added.
And while lots of electric, hybrid, or otherwise environmentally friendly models also got attention, the crowds were almost always captivated in the end by what Mercedes boss Dieter Zetsche called "the fascination" of fantasy cars.
VW's Lamborghini stand was packed by those who wanted to see three models, including the 1.1-million-euro (pre-tax) Reventon, of which only 15 will be built.
Another big draw was the VW group's Bentley stand, where the gleaming new Mulsanne limousine was on display.
Chinese chemistry student Yuan Ping said Bentley was one of his favourite makes, but that he would get by with a VW Passat or a BMW for now.
And why had he come to the auto show? "For the dream," he said with a smile.