Look, anyone and their dog can get on a plane and physically attend the Geneva Motor Show, but frankly that’s a little passé now. No, by far the more arduous, some might even say, daring approach is to stay at home, in pyjamas, eating toast and allowing someone else do all the legwork. Well that’s my justification anyway and no, you can’t have any more jam until you behave yourself.
So, following our Danish correspondent’s recent examination of the lesser species of Geneva-subculture, let’s lift the hem on the bigger players and see whether amidst the shiny metal, sharp suits, statuesque models and garish paintjobs, any discernible themes can be seen to have emerged?
Supercars and luxury models are everywhere. After recent years of sackcloth and ashes, the top shelf was once again very much in evidence and juveniles everywhere from fourteen to forty four got visibly overexcited by all the pink bits on display. Foremost in the automotive penthouse was Koenigsegg with the shy and retiring Agera One: 1, but Ferrari, MacLaren, Bugatti, Porsche, Rolls Royce and Bentley were also disporting themselves like the painted harlots they are. Across at the premium lounge meanwhile, there wasn’t a seat to be had. Ford were touting their Vignale experience to anyone who’d listen and heavens above, even Skoda appeared to be getting ideas above their station. Amidst all the premium-flavoured froth however, two things were conspicuous by their absence. The first was restraint or a modicum of taste and the second was any suggestion that perhaps all this automotive tinsel was suggestive of the excesses of other, older elites, fiddling as as their empire died. But that would have introduced a sour note to proceedings and well, it’s keeping the peasants in gainful employment after all, so lets not field too many awkward questions. Onward!
Across the border from the fleshpots of the Salon, France’s car business appears to be staging something of a product-led fightback, with the Citroën C1/Peugeot 108 twins (triplets, if you factor in Toyota’s more resolved-looking Aygo) going head to head with Renault’s unusually configured Twingo. So while the PSA twins were nothing to write home about artistically, the Twingo and Citroën’s splendid looking C4 Cactus are compelling signs that adversity is forcing the mainstream French marques to seriously up their creative mindset. Renault’s head of marketing, Jerome Stoll, has few doubts about the Twingo’s prospects, telling Automotive News; “If you drive the car you will be ready to pay for it.” Which settles that then. The risk for Renault is that the market has pretty much spoken when it comes to novelty. The Twingo may end up paying for its unusual layout in a highly conservative sector that places a great premium on conformity. The deciding factor could end up being who has got the personalisation mix right. With compelling data from the DS experiment on their side, PSA hold the upper hand – that and a significant cost advantage. Can Renault pull off a DS-style marketing coup and create a fashion accessory? Tune in for our next instalment at Paris in October.
Meanwhile, PSA’s new boss, Carlos Tavares, has stated that he now wants Citroën’s successful DS series to become a fully fledged brand in it’s own right. Now that the Peugeot family no longer rule the roost at PSA, we could be witnessing the first seismic fissures in Peugeot’s hitherto unchallenged hegemony. Interesting days…
Back across the Alps to Italy, and Marchionne’s flying circus remains decidedly transatlantic in appearance. With his FCA hat on, the launch of the Italian built and Fiat-based Jeep Renegade (despite its toy car looks) was significant in that it was new product and some hope for Fiat’s thousands of employees currently out to pasture. Sales projections are high for the miniature SUV, but when it came to Fiat and Alfa Romeo (and heaven help us, Lancia), all product decisions remain firmly under wraps. Apart of course for the ones that look like being reversed.
It now appears that the forthcoming joint-venture roadster with Mazda will not wear the scudetto or the famous Milano emblem. The word from on high is that “Maybe we will, maybe we won’t”. The new model is now more likely to be badged an Abarth or even a Fiat, thus enormously increasing the likelihood of its commercial failure. What this says for confidence in Marchionne’s decision making, Alfa Romeo’s marque credibility or indeed FCA’s budding relationship with Mazda is anyone’s guess. The most that could be gleaned from the man himself was a promise that Alfa’s plans would be presented for us all to care about later in May. Marchionne’s dithering over his European plans has become something of a running joke. The worry must be however, that by the time any of it sees the light of day, will any one actually give a fig? Meanwhile, Alfa Romeo’s slide into irrelevance continues apace.
Maserati is (Ferrari apart) the only part of the old Fiat group to show any signs of life this year, and despite the disappointing appearance of the recent Quattroporte and Ghibli saloons, volume has more than doubled to over 15,400 units – albeit still some way off the 50,000 envisaged for 2015. However, it can only be assumed that the introduction of the Levante SUV – perhaps late this year – will provide some of the upward spike required. Where the remainder will come from, only Sergio appears to know – well, we assume he does anyway.
Over in the Anglo-Indian corner, JLR provided Marchionne’s corps an instructive lesson in generating interest and anticipation. One of the cars of the show was the forthcoming Jaguar XE, which merely showed up as a series of not very revealing photos at the JLR press conference. There was also a teaser of the soon to be launched junior Discovery – rumoured to be called Discovery Sport. A masterclass in how to gain media traction despite bringing little of significance to the show – proof that at Gaydon, in addition to engineering talent, they have little to learn when it comes to showbiz.
Further North, the big-league German marques remain mired in torpidity. Audi launched their third generation TT, which became most mentioned launch on social media and the internet – (according to Kantor Media monitoring). What this fails to address of course is what all these people and blogs were actually saying about the car, which was just a rather tepid a re-imagining of what Audi rather vaingloriously describes as an ‘Icon’. More dullness at BMW with the controversial launch of the front wheel drive 2-Series Active Tourer – a disappointing realisation of a far more assertive looking concept. This car needed to look fantastic to get away with BMW’s reversal of its marque USP. It isn’t and BMW enthusiasts from Mannheim to Monasterevin will be weeping into their steins as yet another sacred cow is sacrificed on the altar of commercial dominance.
Mercedes-Benz displayed Mr. Wegener’s Opus, or S-Class coupé, which mystifyingly elicited warm praise from just about every quarter. Certainly, the widely photographed white example did little to show it’s lines off to flattering effect. The rear end still looks odd too. This couch potato is not feeling it. VW showed yet another crossover concept. Well, it certainly looked like a crossover and it was definitely a concept – I can’t remember much else about it. Of course it is tempting to argue that the dullness of the German marques illustrates their unabashed confidence. But equally possible to suggest a creative vacuum creeping in? Either way, none of the above seems likely to derail their relentless advance.
From the comfort of the sofa, car of the show appeared to be the swoonsome Maserati Alfieri concept, which sent all hearts aflutter. Maserati’s boss, Harald Wester claims that the Alfieri concept is about 80% production-ready, however the 20% that isn’t could well be the difference between the slightly retro, if alluring concept and something a good deal less comely. Maserati’s current design direction does not suggest that this will make production unaltered. I can’t help feeling either, that in two years time, it will look far from fresh. They really should be launching it now.
No, the unquestionable car of the show was of course the Citroën C4 Cactus – perhaps the most promising mainstream production car to go into production in years. Admittedly, there is much here that will have to do more than look good on screen – the driving experience too will need to match the promise embodied in its marvellously well resolved forms and surfaces. If Citroën do get this car right however, it really could prove to be a game-changer – perhaps even more so than the Qashqai has proven to be for Nissan. It could also prefigure a welcome move away from the aggressive edges and over-fussy detail that has blighted car design for the past decade or so, suggesting a more enveloping, friendlier, softer future. We can hope, can’t we?
So finally after due consideration, the view from the sofa is this: Blustery, with a chance of showers…