There was no obvious candidate as star of the show for Geneva 2010, although I’m tempted to throw out the rule book and nominate Bob Lutz, the evergreen move and shaker from GM who announced his retirement at the show, aged 78, after 47 years in the business.
But the star must actually be a car, so the search goes on.
There were many attempts to provide green camouflage for the auto industry’s gas guzzling, and probably the most desperate attempt came from Ferrari with its first hybrid sports car. The 599 GTB Fiorano appeared with a hybrid power train called Hykers, and the Italian sports car maker said in four years all Ferraris will be available with a hybrid option. This new policy would cut emissions (improve fuel consumption in other words) by a minimum of 35 per cent. Good luck to anyone seeking to verify that nebulous target. Almost as outrageous was the Porsche Cayenne hybrid and diesel, unveiled as the first green Porsches. They’ll now just be gulping down fuel, rather than swilling it.
Maybe the grim underlying condition that the European car industry finds itself, is making my mood more negative than usual, but the most memorable new model at the show was the new Nissan Juke. This is a styling disaster. From the front, the sidelights are place on top of the bonnet, giving it a startled rabbit appearance. The side design is simply awful, with the bulbous, built up arches over the wheels, reminiscent of its sibling brand the Infiniti which now looks bloated and outdated. The roof moves lower towards the rear and looks as though it’s been forcibly squashed into place. The rear is grotesque. The impression is that the designers were trying too hard. This is disappointing because the Nissan Qashqai has been very successful, with a design that lured more customers, despite the dopey name. The Qashqai is a bit higher than cars of this size, and is very practical. Its only negative was that its design was a bit bland. The Juke has certainly not gone for bland.
On the contrary, the new Kia Sportage small SUV looked splendid, beautiful even, with the square, rugged look replaced by more flowing lines. The new Sportage is longer, lower and wider than the old model, and you can imagine customers flocking to buy that, with its 7-year, 100,000 mile guaranty, particularly after they’ve taken a quick look at its competitor, the Juke.
The Alfa Romeo Giulietta is a make or break model for Fiat’s upmarket subsidiary. It is engineered on the new Compact platform, and, in theory, will also be used for new Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge models. It looks very smart, but the future of Alfa is hanging in the balance it faces a make or break review from Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne next month. The Giulietta replaces the 147. The integration of Fiat and Chrysler is starting to happen, and the Chrysler 300C appeared on the Lancia stand. It is expected to eventually carry a Lancia badge, but not yet. This huge, and in my opinion, very desirable car was carrying an Eco badge. It’s main concession to the environment turned out to be the seats made with recyclable material.
The Audi A1 looked too much like the slightly bigger A3 and doesn’t make much of physical impression. Recruiting Justin Timberlake to unveil the new car must have cost fortunes and of course won’t make any difference to eventual sales of the car. Why do car companies waste money on stunts like this? The A1 may go on sale in the U.S. The A1 better be good because Lexus showed its new CT200h, a small hybrid hatchback, which will also face down the BMW 1 Series. The big Audi A8, unveiled late last year in Miami, made its first appearance in Europe.
Rinspeed showed another natty little electric concept car, the UC, this time a little more practical than the sQuba underwater roadster. The UC is designed to be easily loaded on to a long distance train, and then driven off in the centre of the city. The Urban Commuter has no steering wheel; you guide the car using an aeroplane-like joystick. The car’s systems are operated by so-called drive-by-wire the connections for braking and accelerating are operated electronically, not by direct cable contact.
Aston Martin Cygnet
The Aston Martin Cygnet is a rebadged Toyota IQ, which when launched may just be powered by a battery; no decision yet. You can only buy a Cygnet if you’ve already bought an Aston Martin supercar, but expect entrepreneurs to soon come up with stick-on plastic body kits to transform the humble IQ.
BMW 5 Series
The new BMW 5-Series looks much more modest and understated than the blinged up previous car which was hampered by the dreaded Bangle styling. The new one looks much more gentlemanly and sophisticated.
The Mini’s waistline is expanding with the introduction of the All4, four-wheel drive version. The All4 is a bit longer than the regular Mini and has four-doors. At last, there’s room in the back.
The Volvo S60 made its debut in Geneva, and this car does look the business. It remains to be seen whether it will manage to win more sales against the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4, and Mercedes C class though.
Mercedes show the F800 style, an amazing looking concept vehicle, and the E class convertible.
The Opel-Vauxhall Meriva small MPV looks smart and practical. The rear doors are hinged at the rear and open in so-called “suicide” fashion. One day I’m going to take the trouble to find out why this mode is called “suicide”, because it’s not obvious, is it?
Neil Winton March 5, 2010