|John Elwin has been tramping the length and breath of Europe visiting the shows that spring up like snowdrops|
at this time of year........he has been ringing the cowbells down in Geneva.......here is what he heard and saw.........
|Niche, Niche Baby|
The buzzword in Geneva was “Niche” – every manufacturer now seems to be concentrating on niche models,
be it a 4x4, a Coupe Cabriolet or sports car. One manufacturer PR person even went so far as to tell me they
were filling a niche within a niche! And of course the Show itself is a niche. Switzerland (a niche country?) has no
significant motor industry it can call its own so the Geneva Show is neutral territory with all manufacturers given
pretty well equal billing.
With so many niche models Geneva abounded with new cars but there was very little in the way of new
mainstream models aside from the Peugeot 207, and that manages to look very much like the 206 which
remains in production. The 207RC racing version looked very tasty though!
Performance cars were grabbing much of the limelight. Bit ironic really in a country known for being somewhat
anti car and not even allowing motor racing to take place. Ferrari inevitably was centre of attention with their new
599GTB Fiorano, replacement for the 575M Maranello. Essentially a shortened version of the 612 Scaglietti
spaceframe, the front-engined 599 is propelled by a 620hp version of the same 6.0-litre V12 that powers the
Enzo and Maserati MC-12. Seems like only yesterday that the Enzo was taking our breath away and yet here we
have a front-engined car that is said to be even more fun to drive despite having a little less power. FIA GT here
we come? And speaking of which, there were no dramatic new models over at Maserati this time but they have
celebrated their success in the aforementioned championship by producing a special 180-off edition of the
GranSport known as MC Victory and painted in Blue Victory, a colour inspired by the livery of the MC12 at its
launch in 2004.
Lamborghini have been breathing upon the Murciélago to produce the LP460; the V12 has been upped to
6496cc, increasing power by 60bhp. The result is s aid to be a 0-60 time of 3.4-seconds or a tad faster than a
Ferrari Enzo. Pagani and Koenigsegg are both boasting more power and more performance from their
Aston Martin may have been stealing Ferrari’s glory on the racetracks in recent times but in Geneva they beat
Porsche in the race to produce a four-door supercar. Although billed as a concept here, the Rapide is
nevertheless expected to be in production by mid 2007, whereas the Porsche is not due to debut before 2010.
Interestingly there is a link between the two as the Rapide is Aston boss Ulrich Bez’s baby and he worked on a
similar project at Porsche before leaving the company in 1993. Rapide is an appropriate name, for not only did it
belong to the original DB4-based four-door Lagonda Rapide but also Aston is proudly proclaiming this as the
seventh new car they have produced in less than three years. Based on the same VH architecture as the DB9
and V8 Vantage models, it is some 300mm longer than the DB9, most of that being in the wheelbase, thus
providing room for the rear-seat passengers. It also utilizes the DB9’s 5.9-litre V12 engine.
Aston’s sister company Jaguar brought along the cabriolet version of the new XK and is making much of the fact
that the new models are lighter than their predecessors. Incidentally after years’ of cars getting heavier and
heavier it at last looks as though the trend is beginning to reverse, as evinced by Honda’s exciting-looking Civic
Type-R concept. Whilst rival hot hatches like the Golf and Astra have simply compensated for their bulk by
gaining more power, Honda have concentrated on keeping the weight down. I don’t suppose we will ever get
back to the days of the original Golf GTi or Alfasud but it’s a step in the right direction. Honda was making much
of their involvement in Formula 1 with a prominent display of Grand Prix cars old and new.
Weight has never been a problem at Lotus; indeed Colin Chapman’s ethos of keeping it as light as possible
has lived on to this day with the current Elise and Exige range. The original Elise was an extremely pretty car but
such has been its success that the new Europa S which debuted at Geneva has been received with a certain
amount of disappointment if internet forums are anything to go by. Doubtless it drives superbly but the air of
familiarity concerning the styling is simply not what was expected. The original Europa hit the streets 40 years
ago this year, and the contrast between that and the car it was intended to replace – the Lotus Seven – was
immeasurable. Ironically of course the Seven is still in production as the Caterham.
If the new Europa caused disappointment for looking familiar then, there probably would have been upset if the
latest incarnation of the Porsche 911 hadn’t looked just like all those that went before it. The new 911 Turbo now
squeezes 480bhp out of its 3.6-litres, whilst the latest 911 GT3 will inevitably be seen winning races at a track
near you. Morgan too have stuck to familiarity with the latest versions of the Plus 4/4 Seater and 4/4 Roadster –
been around for 70 years now, that one, but was that really an aluminium chassis I spotted?
Production of the Lotus-built Opel Speedster/Vauxhall VX220 has recently ended following disappointing sales
(slamming a Vauxhall keying down on the bar doesn’t impress as much as a Lotus one, does it?) but GM hasn’t
entirely given up, Opel showing the GT. Whether or not this US-built rear-wheel-drive design based on the Saturn
Sky roadster will be as successful for Opel as the 1960’s GT remains to be seen.
Having shown the Z4 Coupe in concept form at Frankfurt, BMW brought along the productionised version.
There’s the Z4 M Coupé too, packing the M3’s six-cylinder 3.2-litre motor under its bonnet; with 343bhp on tap it’s
more powerful than either the Porsche Cayman or 911 Carrera. Alfa Romeo have gone in the opposite direction
and lopped the top off the gorgeous Brera to give us the new Spider, and very pretty it is too.
Alfa Romeo also provided the basis for one of the more interesting concept cars, Sbarro’s Diva. Very
reminiscent of the 33 Stradale that was considered to be one of the best-looking cars of all time (and not just by
me!) the Diva uses a mid-mounted 147GTA unit.
Ardent tree-huggers and their misguided arguments would have been none too impressed by the array of 4x4’s
and high performance sports machinery (in some cases a combination of both). Audi have been taken aback by
the demand for the Q7 launched at Frankfurt in September and the Bratislava production line is working flat-out to
meet demand. It has stopped them launching another variation on the theme though – the A6 allroad (yes, lower
case just like quattro). Pride of place on the stand however went to the R10 with which they hope to win Le Mans
The prize for sheer audacity should go to Dutch maker Spyker. Their now-familiar sportscars were
overshadowed by a black monster called D12 Peking-to-Paris. Weighing in at 1895kg and nearly 5 metres-long,
the super sports utility vehicle – yes, that’s another new category – is powered by VW’s 6.0-litre W12 and claims
to do 0-60mph in 5 seconds. As we have come to expect from Spyker, the interior is exquisite.
Nissan showed us a monster called the Terranaut; it has a serious purpose, being aimed at explorers and the
like who need to cross hostile terrain and is fitted with 19-inch puncture-proof tyres, but it has just three seats,
making it ideal for the school run!! At the other end of the scale was the Pivo concept city car featuring an oval
modular body that can be rotated through 360-degrees, negating the need to reverse. That’ll be one for the ladies
More down to earth are the offerings from various divisions of GM; Cadillac plan to start selling their 6.2-litre
Escalade in Europe later this year, which should please well-heeled footballers everywhere, whilst at the budget
end of the market Chevrolet launched the Captiva. This is a 5/7 seater with engines ranging from 2.0 – 3.2 litres
and is closely related to the forthcoming Opel Antara. Chevrolet in Europe is a re-branding of Daewoo and in
order to distance itself Corvette has now dropped the Chevrolet tag. Confused?
Fiat meanwhile managed to make a military vehicle look sexy as only Italians can, the civilian version of the
Oltre looking for all the world like a baby Hummer. Amusingly, the new Grande Punto also has the look of a
scaled-down Maserati head-on, so whilst everything else gets bigger Fiat are busy down-sizing! VW are in on the
act too; they have a new baby brother for Touareg. As with many babies it doesn’t have a name yet, simply known
as Concept A – the public are being invited to make suggestions. I guess that for a company that in recent times
has managed to come up with Sharon and Tow-rag it was probably best to look elsewhere for ideas!!
Downsizing is not something you could accuse Chrysler of. They clearly had a long hard look at the Rolls-Royce
Phantom before coming up with the Imperial concept. It is based on the same platform as the Chrysler 300C and
Dodge Magnum and could be in production around 2010. The Dodge division of the company also brought a
concept along – the Hornet. The styling of the bluff little hatchback is said to have been inspired by European rally
cars – presumably after Colin McRae had crashed them!
Not to be outdone, Rolls had a concept of their own, a coupe based on the 100EX shown previously and
expected to make production in a couple of years. Doubtless there will be a Coupe Cabriolet – everyone else is
doing it. Ford is the latest to join the club with the Focus whilst Fiat Punto-based concepts have been produced
by Bertone and Fioravanti.
Whilst new mass-production cars were thin on the ground, most manufacturers were showing interesting
concepts. Toyota has led the way with hybrid fuelled cars and now others are following. Both Citroen and
Peugeot how have diesel-electric hybrids in the pipeline (forgive the pun!). Renault meanwhile was giving us an
indication of what the next-generation Laguna will look like with the Altica concept. Saab too had an interesting
concept in the Aero-X. Whilst not forming the basis of a future model, it is meant to give pointers and draw
inspiration from Saab’s aerospace background, although that is now a completely separate entity. Fellow
Swedes Volvo was showing the C30 concept; it will be on sale later this year and is aimed at the Audi A3/BMW 1-
Series. Italian coachbuilders Castagna had some interesting Mini-based ideas – a cut-down beach car and a
crew-cab pick up. Both were more attractive than BMW’s own Traveller concept…
Star of the Show? For me it had to be that little Sbarro Alfa Diva, but then I am biased (or so I’m told!).