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Geneva 2011 Motor Show

Lack-Lustre Geneva Show Reflects Faltering Economy

Hyundai i40Hyundai i40, Couple Of Kias, Point To Gathering Eastern Storm
Fiat Pads Out Range With U.S. Gas-Guzzlers As Oil Prices Rise

“the show promised nearly 170 world and European premieres. Lazy media sycophants parroted this absurd claim”

GENEVA, Switzerland – European car manufacturers are battening down the hatches for a tough year, and big mainstream model launches were thin on the ground at this year’s Geneva Car Show.

The fear that rising oil prices might stall the already fragile economic recovery augurs poorly for car sales across Europe, although Germany’s strong performance shows failure isn’t written into the script for everybody.

Korean manufacturers showed why they will be a force to be reckoned with. China’s BYD offered a dull looking group of regular and electric cars ready for market, maybe sometime in the future.

Renault, Ford, Volkswagen, and Opel-Vauxhall only had token facelifts and concepts, and few small-selling if impressive additions like Peugeot’s diesel-hybrid. Fiat added some Chrysler-sourced vehicles to its range, but in a world where car buyers are worried about rising fuel prices, the addition of big, gas-guzzling U.S. vehicles looks dubious. BMW declined to show its new i3 electric vehicle announced last week, but did demonstrate its Vision ConnectedDrive roadster concept, which among other things does away with traditional side-view mirrors. Electric cars, hybrids and plug-ins were everywhere, but most won’t be on showroom floors any time soon.

That didn’t stop the manufacturers and the show’s organisers saying that the show promised “nearly 170 world and European premieres,” and their lazy media sycophants parroting this absurd claim. A different paint job on the Morris Canardly counts as a World Premier to these blowhards.

That’s not to say that there weren’t plenty of impressive and interesting cars on show.

Hyundai i40
Hyundai i40 mid-sized wagonThe star was undoubtedly Hyundai’s stunning i40, which looks more like a BMW or Mercedes than a VW Passat or Ford Mondeo competitor. The Koreans are becoming a truly formidable force in Europe. Hyundai-Kia actually make impressive profits in Europe as well, unlike all the rest including high-flying VW.

Hyundai says that its i40 station wagon represents a new assault on Europe, where the Koreans now offer stylish and high quality vehicles, which will resonate with financially hard-pressed Europeans. One engine option in the i40 is a 1.7 litre diesel, which like all the rest will carry the company’s trademark 5-year guarantee. The i40 will offer as standard premium stuff like heated and reclining front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel for some reason, and an active screen clearing system. A saloon version follows later this year.

Kia Picanto, Rio
Kia of Korea also underlined the threat from the East, unveiling its new little Picanto city car, and Rio small vehicle. If you aren’t impressed by the styling, maybe the 100,000 mile guarantee will do it for you, but these Korean cars are now so impressive they will undoubtedly sell on their merits, as well as the amazing warranty. The Rio has a 1.0 litre, three cylinder, or a 1.2 litre four-cylinder petrol engines, shared with the Picanto, which will come in three or five door versions. Both engines will have what Kia calls class-leading fuel consumption. In addition to gasoline engines, LPG, bi-fuel and flex-fuel variations will be available depending on local market requirements.

Fiat Fremont, thinly disguised Chryslers
Fiat’s stand showed the new Fremont SUV, which is a rebadged version of the Dodge Journey. Fiat’s Lancia subsidiary, on its stand alongside the parent company, also had a Chrysler 300 disguised as a Lancia Thema, and a Chrysler Voyager with a Lancia badge. Fiat now owns 25 per cent of Chrysler and it’s likely to take a majority stake within a couple of years. Chrysler owns Jeep and Dodge.

Lamborghini Aventador
There was no shortage of new supercars for the delectation of premier league football stars, led by the fabulous looking Lamborghini Aventador. This has a 700 hp V12 engine based on a carbon fibre chassis, four wheel drive and will set you back $370,000. It will rocket you from rest to 60 mph in under three seconds. If the Lambo is a bit too overstated for your, there’s a new Ferrari, the four-seat FF, the first Ferrari with four-wheel drive.

Ferrari FF
The FF will cost $359,000. The 660-hp engine accelerates the car to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds. Ferrari says this car is a first for the company, because it can be used for families and long trips.

Porsche Panamera hybrid sports sedan

Porsche Panamera hybrid sports sedan

Panamera hybrid
Porsche showed its second hybrid, a petrol-electric version of the Panamera. The Panamera S hybrid uses the same setup offered in the Cayenne hybrid and its sister model, the Volkswagen Touareg hybrid. The system is mated to a 333-hp supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 petrol engine. The Audi-sourced V-6 is combined with a 47 hp electric motor, which also serves as the starter motor and generator. Together, the Panamera S hybrid’s petrol engine and electric motor produce 380 hp. The rear-drive vehicle uses an eight-speed automatic gearbox, the same used in the Cayenne. Electrical energy is provided by a nickel-metal-hydride battery under the boot.

Audi A6
Audi renewed its A6, which is about as close to a mainstream launch that you will find at the show, although come to think of it, the car was unveiled in Detroit in January. Given that the A6 is almost indistinguishable from its predecessor that might lead to some confusion. Sales begin in the second half of 2012. The new A6 is closely related to the recently introduced A7. They share platforms, engines, front and four-wheel-drive combinations, electrics and interiors. The A6 will be the second Audi to offer a hybrid drive, the same gasoline-electric system earmarked for the Q5 hybrid.

Mercedes C-coupe, SLK
Mercedes took the wraps of two new cars – the C-class coupe and the SLK roadster. The C-class coupe will present a formidable challenge to the BMW 3-series coupe and the Audi A5. The third generation SLK looks niftier, with more economical engines.

Alfa Romeo 4C
The Alfa 4C is more than the expected concept car. It is slated for sale in late 2012, and will lead the charge for Alfa’s return to the U.S. The car’s splendid lines were not helped by a dowdy paint job. The lightweight roadster has a mid-engine, rear wheel drive, a carbon fibre chassis and a four-cylinder engine producing about 200 hp initially.

Corporate clunkers
You can’t imagine a scenario when a host of corporate leaders make speeches every 15 minutes for 10 hours, without some bloopers or non-sequiturs. I liked Fiat’s presentation, which began with a claim to have the lowest average CO2 emissions in Europe for four years in a row (or the best fuel consumption, whatever you prefer), simply because the company has failed miserably to sell any big cars. Now it is importing Chryslers, Dodges and Jeeps, that claim looks lost already.

VW Bulli minivan

VW Bulli minivan

Rolls Royce kept going on about the 100 new models designed especially to celebrate the 100th anniversary, and repeated over and over how its customers are so discerning and tasteful. Let’s face it there is no more over-the-top, in your face example of parading your wealth, than a look-at-me Rolls Royce. I hope that when I win the lottery I have the class to buy a top of the range Mercedes S class, or maybe a Lexus LS hybrid.

Neil Winton – March 4, 2011
*photographs © Paul Cox Photographic

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