Europe generally isn't a happy place for global automakers right now, but the show — as in the Geneva International Motor Show, now on through Mar. 18th — must go on. And so the 82nd annual Swiss event is proving a great forum for the next wave of automotive technology and design both aimed at the slumping continent as well as potentially ever other market around the world.
Interestingly, the New York Times reported that the Geneva show overall displayed a marked lack of promotion of all-electric cars, especially compared with previous years. The North America International Auto Show in Detroit, in January, demonstrated a similar restraint on the part of global automakers — even though a handful, including Ford and Mitsubishi, are coming out with their own EVs this year.
"Reality is phasing in," Peter Schwarzenbauer, a member of Audi's management board and head of marketing for Audi AG, told the Times. "There are still more questions than answers."
And, as always, the peripatetic Sergio Marchionne has been a major presence at Geneva. The CEO of Fiat and Chrysler said that he's scouring Asia for a potential partner after the new alliance between GM and Peugeot Citroen shrank the pool of European candidates to join his two companies in a three-way merger aimed at bulking up for global industry consolidation he believes is sure to come.
The continuing need to pare production overcapacity in Europe is one reason that Marchionne believes such consolidation is inevitable. If he's right, then it's a good bet that some of the new models so proudly being displayed in Geneva this week won't make it to market.
Here's a look at what other automotive brands are showcasing:
Bentley caused a stir with a utility concept called the EXP 9 F, which some observers called "ugly." Rebecca Lindland, an analyst for IHS Automotive, told USA Today that the vehicle "is a must-see of the show for all the wrong reasons. The headlamps and the lower vents in the grille are so enormous and obnoxious ... The tires and rims are 23 inches" when most vehicles' range from 16 to 19 inches. And so on. Lindland's ultimate insult was to call the EXP 9 F "the Pontiac Aztek" of the show, recalling an old GM model whose ungainly hatchback-cum-SUV-cum-people-mover design was a historic lowpoint for company designers a decade ago.
Ford bowed with two new vehicles for the European market in its new Kuga SUV and the B-Max compact people mover, the latter of which will help introduce Sync to the continent. They're important to Ford's plans to lower its costs by using the same designs and parts for its vehicles around the world. The company also highlighted a feature called a "kick-activated automatic tailgate" that will be offered this spring on its Kuga in Europe and already is offered on Ford Escape in North America. The idea is that, if your hands are full or you're otherwise indisposed to be able to open the tailgate manually, just kick a spot on the bumper, and it lifts up; it also works in reverse. Kick activation uses sensors and is tied in with Ford's keless entry system, and requires a human kick to open the tailgate.
Infiniti showed audiences in Geneva Emerg-E, a concept mid-engine sports car built with a battery-powered electric motor and range-extending gasoline engine a la the Chevrolet Volt (which was named European Car of the Year at the show). Infiniti claims a 30-mile range for the plug-in, about the current industry state of the art. It was the first Infiniti model to be developed in Europe. The luxury marque also is understood to be less than two years away from introducing its own version of the all-electric Leaf, marketed by sibling mainstream brand Nissan.
Mercedes-Benz introduced an all-new A Class hatchback that will become its first compact model sold in the United States. The third-generation A Class is longer and wider than predecessors and adopts a fresh, sporty look. It arrives in European showrooms in September and is scheduled to enter a stiffening U.S. small-car luxury market next year. Lindland was "surprised and impressed" by the vehicle, she told the newspaper.
Nissan introduced the Invitation concept, a subcompact whose production versions it aims to use to target subcompact models such as the Ford Fiesta. The actual car will be very similar to that previewed at Geneva, the company said.
Porsche displayed a revamped Boxster that has more horsepower, cleaner engines, and a retractable spoiler in a bid to surpass BMW's Z4 model. With a starting price of $49,500, the new Boxter goes on sale in North America this summer. Boxster is a halo car for the luxury- performance brand and is considerd critical to heping Porsche reach a goal of delivering 140,000 sales this year versus 119,000 worldwide last year.
Range Rover unveiled the next generation of its Evoque SUV: a convertible concept car that it calls the "most sustainable" luxury SUV for the brand ever produced. As we noted yesterday, the toples version of the two-door Evoque is supposed to show the brand's design chops.
Volkswagen debuted for Europe its Cross Coupe concept at Geneva, which is a plug-in hybrid that also includes one of VW's next-generation turbodiesel engines. It was originally unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show last fall with a gasoline engine. For VW, Cross Coupe also represents a design departure, featuring a stubby and angular tail witha sharply sloped rear window. Lindland told USA Today that the car had "some real sexiness to it."