European cars have always been on the small side, but with prices at the pump escalating, CO2 taxes burgeoning and economic weakness eroding disposable incomes, the race is on to make ever smaller and cheaper automobiles.
The European economy is slowing down close to the point of recession, so car buyers are conserving income by either delaying purchases, or trading down to less fancy models.
A notable aspect of the show was the lack-lustre performance of the French host manufacturers. Sure, they had huge stands with loads of metal; sure there were lots of promises for the future in the shape of concepts that might never see the light of day; but new exciting models were there few. Peugeot and Citroen between them had the new C3 Picasso. Renault showed the new Megane, minus its controversial rear-end. Come to think of it Mercedes had nothing at all, but presumably it is saving up its new stuff for Frankfurt 2009.
But the star of the show was undoubtedly the new Toyota iQ, a Mercedes Smart minicar lookalike which can carry four people. On closer inspection, the iQ is much chunkier and wider than the two- seater Smart, and more car-like. The space in the back is snug to say the least, but two adults could conceivably travel there for short distances. Don’t think about putting the golf clubs in the trunk. If you lift up the tailgate you will wonder why Toyota bothered to put one there. You might be able to fit a putter in there, or perhaps two thin briefcases.
Toyota said despite its size, the iQ would protect its passengers well. It features nine airbags, including the world’s first rear-window curtain shield airbag. The body is engineered to maximise strength. Various computerised aids to safety including ABS, VSC and Traction Control are standard.
Sales of the iQ start in January, and annual sales should reach around 80,000. Engines include a 1.0 litre petrol and 1.4 litre diesel motor. No word yet on when the iQ will be available in America. Toyota also unveiled the Urban Cruiser and new Avensis.
Ford added a bit of excitement to its marketing by arranging a drive-on bit part for the Ka in the latest James Bond move “Quantum of Solace”. Actress Olga Kurylenko, who plays Bond girl Camille in the movie, drove the Ka on stage.
The Ka has been completely redesigned, and it looks a lot like the recently launched but bigger Fiesta.
Ford of Europe has sold more than 1.4 million versions of the Ka since it was introduced 12 years ago. The new version adds a diesel engine to the lineup. If only Ford could come with a name that wasn’t so daft.
Chevrolet Cruze, Orlando
Chevrolet is selling up a storm in Europe, mainly with its Korean based small cars like the Aveo. But Chevrolet also sells bigger cars in Europe, and the Chevrolet Cruze compact family sedan will help this cause when it goes on sale in March next year. The Orlando concept is a combined SUV and MPV says Chevrolet, which could become Chevrolet’s first seven-seater. Both cars would use a 150 hp 2.0 litre diesel.
Honda’s new Insight petrol electric hybrid will go on sale around the world in the spring of 2009, after the mass production-ready version of the car is unveiled at the Detroit Car show in January.
The original Insight was introduced in 1999. It only had two seats, whereas the new one has room for five.
Honda said the Insight would achieve fuel efficiency on a par with its Civic Hybrid, but at a significantly reduced price. The new Insight is equipped with a hybrid system that combines a lightweight and compact 1.3 litre gasoline engine with a motor that will achieve excellent fuel efficiency and low CO2 emissions, Honda said, without revealing any data.
The current Civic Hybrid uses a so-called “mild” hybrid system, which enhances the performance of the gasoline engine. “Strong” hybrids, like that in the Toyota Prius enhance efficiency, but also allow a limited amount of separate, battery-only powered driving.
Honda didn’t say which system would be used in the new Insight. Honda also unveiled its all-new Jazz, which will be made at a factory in Britain, as well as China and Japan.
BMW 7 series
BMW launched its new top-of-the-range 7 series and unveiled a hybrid concept version which will cut fuel use by 15 per cent.
The hybrid uses the “mild” system, which bolsters the gasoline engine without allowing separate electric power. It combines a V8 engine with electric drive.
The hybrid version will go on sale early next year.
The new BMW 7 series will hit dealerships around the world next month, and offers four-wheel steering, internet access, and technology which can identify pedestrians who might lurch dangerously close to the highway.
This massive, British stately home on wheels is presumably reaching the end of its life. Bentley, now owned by Volkswagen of Germany, has named the next 150 models it sells of its traditional limousine, the “Final Series”. The Arnage, priced at $220,000, boasts a monster, twin turbo, 500-hp V-8 engine.
Ferrari unveiled its new California supercar, powered by a new 4.3-liter V-8 engine with direct fuel injection generating 460 horsepower.
VW new Golf, sold as the Rabbit in the U.S., is Europe’s best selling car. VW said 60 per cent of its components are new, but the car looks remarkably similar to the outgoing model.
The Renault Megane is a direct competitor with the Golf and doesn’t look like the old model at all, which is probably just as well. The outgoing car’s weird looking rear-end divided opinion. The new one is much more conventional looking.
A recent report from investment banker Credit Suisse said in a head-to-head contest the VW Golf will win out because it has a much better cost of ownership, not least because of its superior engines.
Citroen 3 Picasso
The C3 Picasso looks very interesting with its squared off body, and will compete with the Opel Meriva and Nissan Note. It goes on sales early next year and will be made in Trnava, Slovakia.
This 4 seater 4 wheel drive concept car is powered by a 5.3 litre 500 hp Gallardo V10, Lamborghinis first 4 door car since the 1987 Portofino concept.
Lexus IS 250 convertible
This has a retractable roof and enough room in the trunk for a golf bag. Note that Lexus says “golf bag”, making me think that you can think again if you put any clubs in it.
Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon
General Motors has finally learned that it can’t sell a luxury car in Europe without a diesel engine. This fine looking estate car has a 250 bhp, 2.9 litre diesel engine. Sales start next summer.
Kia is trying to make its cars look a little less er, Korean, and adopting some of dopier nomenclature of the Western manufacturers, calling the five-door Soul an “urban crossover”, whatever that means. The Soul looks great and goes on sale in Europe next February with a 126 bhp diesel or petrol engines based on the Kia Cee’d range.
A concept has to be pretty special or close to fruition for me to include it in my show report. Concepts tend to be desperate exercises in showing how close to the edge a car maker is with all kinds of avant garde ideas to impress the gullible, but which are then pushed off the cliff after the show. But the Kiyora, which means clean and pure in Japanese, is likely to contribute to the design of the new Mazda 1 with petrol direct injection and stop-start.
This is seriously cute and fits into the lineup under the Micra, which isn’t. The 1.0 litre, 3-cylinder Pixo will be built by Suzuki in India. Sales start next spring.