From the look of things at the 84th Geneva Motor Show, happy days are here again for automakers. It is almost as if six years of recession, bankruptcies, bailouts, layoffs, plant closings and currency gyrations had never happened.
Still, there may be danger lurking in the industrys rearview mirrorsthe tension in Ukraine and its possible effect on the large Russian market, to cite just one possible snag.
Were the worlds automakers just whistling past the graveyard
The annual Geneva salonthe show opened to the public on Thursday and continues through March 16is not always a true measure of the industrys overall health, because it is generally a showcase for the most luxurious, most expensive and most outlandish creations.
This years show, in particular, seemed to offer a bountiful crop of opulent models, including the McLaren 650S coupe and convertible, the latest Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe, a refined Rolls-Royce Ghost Series II and more powerful Aston Martins, Audis, Bentleys and Porsches, to name but a few.
In the penthouse, in terms of price, was the Koenigsegg One:1; the Swedish tuner company says it will make only six of the 1,340-horsepower beasts. It expects to sell out despite a price of nearly $5 million.
Is Genevas Class of 2014 a record-setting piggybank-breaker Perhaps, but that would be nearly impossible to calculate. There is, however, no shortage of six- and seven-figure cars on hand.
But real-world buyers were not ignored.
For example, Jeep unveiled its new Renegade sub-compact sport utility. The company projects that it could sell 250,000 of the cute utes in its first year. If that happens, total worldwide Jeep sales could top one million, a level that was once unthinkable.
The Renegade, an essential component of Fiat Chryslers strategy to expand the Jeep brand globally, is being promoted as designed in America and built in Italy. It will share a plant and a platform with the Fiat 500X.
Gasoline and diesel engines for the vehicles will be made in the United States, Italy and Brazil. Both the Jeep and Fiat models will be available with a 9-speed automatic transmission, and the Jeep will have a manual shift option as well. The Renegade will come only with 4-wheel-drive, and a Trailhawk trail rated version will be offered for off-road use.
The Fiat Groups Ferrari division is taking a different tack, with plans to limit its sales to fewer than 7,000 cars in 2014, despite a positive response to the California T convertible introduced here. It seems that in many instances these days that the more cars a company makes, the more money it stands to lose. That is certainly the recent experience of Ford and General Motors, both of which have struggled in Europe in recent years, despite top-selling models like the Ford Focus, shown in updated form here, and a new GM offering in the Adam line of sub-compacts from Opel. (A potential off-road version, the Adam Rocks, was a Geneva crowd-pleaser.)
The French carmakersPeugeot, Citron and Renaultseem to be in perpetual turmoil. And even mighty Toyota has found it is only a tsunami, typhoon or class-action lawsuit away from a sharp reversal of fortune.
But for now, the band plays on.
Among the most attention-getting models introduced during the press previews was Maseratis handsome Alfieri concept, a 2+2 coupe meant to celebrate the brands centenary this year. The Italian sports car maker positioned it as a beautiful vision of Maseratis future. More than just a design study, the Alfieri is an exciting but realistic and 100% functional prototype that says much about the design DNA of future Maseratis.
Volvos future may ride on the appeal of models like its Concept Estate, an attractive two-door station wagon that evokes memories of vehicles like the Chevrolet Nomad wagons of the 1950s. The Concept Estate is but one model in an all-new line-up that Volvo proposes to bring out in the near future, replacing every model it now makes.
Alfa Romeo introduced a companion to its 4C sports car, an open-top Spider version intended to shore up the brands return to the United States market. Both versions of the 4C are expected to be at the New York auto show in April.
BMW said it was reaching into new market segments with the introduction of its 2 Series Active Tourer, a small people-mover that seemed an odd fit for the German sport-luxury specialist. BMW said that if the compact 5-seat hauler gained a foothold in the marketplace, a larger 7-passenger version could be considered.
The front-drive Active Tourer shares some underpinnings with Mini, a BMW brand. Mini rolled out its Clubman Concept, a stretch version 20 inches longer than its primary models. It marks a new brand philosophy for a higher class of automobile for Mini, which is searching for ways to jazz up and expand its appeal.
Volkswagen is also in search of sales in new segments, and its T-ROC concept, unveiled here, is an example of a utility vehicle that could also tackle a limited range of off-road terrain. The versatile configurations the T-ROC include removable roof panels that can be stored in the cargo area, offering an open-air experience.
While flashy luxury flagships like the Rolls-Royce, and sexy supercars such as the Lamborghini Huracn, grabbed much of the attention, some significant new vehiclesmore affordable models that the general public will actually buymay have gotten short shrift.
Ford is banking on a face-lift for its popular Focus to refresh the appeal of this top seller. Mazdas high-style Hazumi concept car previewed a look that is likely to arrive on the coming Mazda 2 production model. And Toyotas pixyish Aygo, the Citron C1 and Peugeot 108, which are essentially the same jointly developed microcar, should find their way into many garages.
- Jerry Garrett