Geneva 2017 Reflections – And the Band Plays On

Are we going anywhere fast, or are the major players merely spinning wheels? Driven to Write looks at Geneva’s latest fancies, and finds little to celebrate.

Image: Motor Trader

We’re on the cusp of possibly the biggest re-alignment since the advent of the motor car. The costs of change and its survival are daunting. Behind the scenes the industry is frantically making best-guess preparations for the coming avalanche, while trying to second-guess which direction an increasingly mercurial political class are leaning. Rising protectionism in the US and impending Brexit in the UK: who’d be an automotive CEO now?
Best keep your head down, keep doing what you’ve always done and keep making hay while the sun’s out. So it can be argued that it’s easy for the likes of myself to take cheap shots from the safety of the sofa, but is it fear of failure, or a last gasp burnout before the curtain falls that’s responsible for this latest parade of banality? Lets take a (virtual) walk.

The binman cometh. Image: Robertas Parazitas

First to FCA, who don’t seem to be having a great Geneva so far. Apart from the European debut of the Jeep Compass and Alfa Stelvio CUV, there was little of genuine interest and that’s before we get to ECOTY’s narrow decision against the Giulia, or Mr. Tavares successful courtship of GM. Sergio made up for these reversals by redoubling his fumbling lunges at favoured rivals, continuing to talk up consolidation and mergers. Is Marchionne doomed to be the (bin)man who accurately prophesied the wholesale contraction of the motor industry but was fated never to have benefited from it? Only time will tell, but the tea leaves are not in his favour.

Meanwhile, FCA second in command, Big Reidland, speaking to journalists at Geneva, tacitly acknowledged the ever-shifting FCA narrative by stating that replacing long-in-the-tooth European models like the Giulietta and MiTo is no longer a priority. Saying they would “stay for the foreseeable future” he then gave it the full Gerald Ratner, suggesting they were not sufficiently driver-orientated and that future models would “put the driver at the centre”. I can only assume the big fella wasn’t speaking literally. He then went on to put a chill down the spine of every Alfa employee, stating,  “They are very good cars but not at the same level as the Giulia and Stelvio. I have nothing to announce on this, but our lens will be less Europe and more the entire globe”. Make of that what you will, but the betting’s on it being crossover-shaped.

Driverless pod or orgasmatron? Even Matthias doesn’t seem sure. Hello Sedric. Image: Motor 1

VW came to Geneva hoping nobody would be interested in the D-word, bringing with them Sedric, a refugee from Woody Allen’s 1973 movie ‘Sleeper’, perhaps in the hope of diverting any awkward questions. VW design chief, Klaus Bischoff told assembled journalists that the Budd-e Microbus concept could finally see production if there is sufficient global interest, saying, “I’ve tried quite a bit to bring this to life, this is the final temptation.” So lets call that a no then.

Why the long face? Arteon arrives. Image: Autoblog

Back in the real world, as any residual stratification between the various VW-Group divisions turn to vapour – (or particulates of some description at least), VW announced Arteon, a five door hatchback Passat looking for all the world like a proposal for the current Audi A5 Sportback that was rejected for undue fussiness – that drooping nose and grille treatment being particularly unfortunate. Klaus Bischoff (him again) describes it as “the start of a new design era”. All of a sudden, the de Silva epoch seems an awful long time ago. Coming on the heels of the considerably more elegant CC model – (which Arteon replaces) – it’s all desperately underwhelming. VW chairman Herbert Diess told journalists,  “Arteon is for people who listen to their heart and their brain, in the past it was a choice of either or, but now we are challenging premium makers.” By which I think he means Audi, because the Arteon will be A5 money – to say the least. Diess went on to add,  “The Volkswagen brand is coming back.” But as what, Herbert?

Even the door handles get to go faster. M-Performance from BMW. Image: Wheels

Over at BMW, there was little of note, the Bavarians still riven internally with their engineers struggling to push forward with the i-programme and the bean counters who are alarmed by the swathe it is cutting through the bottom line. It now appears as though BMW will wait and see how others fair before making any further immediate commitment to their electric dream. But you have to have something new to show, so the 4-Series received a slight visual massage and of course the new 5-Series remains fresh enough to warrant (in)attention. Speaking of which, if you find the G30 a little on the self effacing side (and who doesn’t?) BMW now offers an M-Performance bodykit, replete with fetching go-faster stripes. Ah go on, take two – they’re small.

Continued tomorrow…

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

13 thoughts on “Geneva 2017 Reflections – And the Band Plays On”

  1. I am all for honesty in communications. Reidlandbig is, however, making a mistake in both saying the older Alfas are going to stay on and that … cough … they are not that good. For goodness´ sake, making a driver orientated car is not totally rocket science. For comparatively small money they could rework the controls and snap on a new set of bumpers to signal the change: adjust the steering rack, fettle the brakes and get the throttle response right. Match that to one set of tyres and, presto digesto, these cars could have a new lease on life. I´d be a lot wiser if someone could suggest why these things are seldom right on new cars when every maker seems to want “driver orientated” cars.

    Despite my scepticism, the Arteon may very well find buyers without harming Audi. I expect it will have some different engines and enough of a price-spread difference to avoid upsetting Audi´s sales. The peope who ought to worry are the other “volume” makers.

  2. When discussing the Arteon, we shouldn’t overlook the Superb on which it is based. I’d have one of those, thanks.

    And am I wrong in quite liking that go-faster 5 series? I am, aren’t I?

  3. Is Signore Elkann’s cardigan the first sign of Tripp Hardcrotch’s growing influence?
    If I was that Reidland feller, I’d be looking over my shoulder, just to make sure I’m not in for a bad tripp.

  4. Neither Fiat nor Alfa had on-stand press conferences this year but there were briefings elsewhere for the upper echelons of the media, and not the likes of myself. No sightings of the binman, I suspect that the industry high-ups were avoiding him in case he tried to sell them his company.

    As reported previously, Alfa’s European registrations in 2016 were 66,172, which is 1053 cars short of the number the indefatigable Lancia White Hen managed on its own.

    More numbers:

    12,944 MiTos sold in Europe in 2016. The Giulietta managed 41,528.

    The Giulia, on stream from June, managed only 10,475 in 2016, and 1894 in January 2017. European Giulia monthly registrations are consistently around 1800-1900, which is two days production for each of its German rivals.

    These numbers are downright disturbing. The seven year old Giulietta, denounced consistently by Sergio and Big as not a proper or worthy Alfa, is selling nearly twice as many as the car that’s supposed to be driving Alfa’s renaissance. The European dealer network, a serious Alfa weak point, will not tolerate an aged and uncompetitive offering in the A3 / 1 Series / A Class sector.

    Big Reidland needs to get his strategy hat on quick. If there is any strategy – if I understand a recent article in Autocar correctly, he doesn’t even seem to know whether the next SUV will be a big one or a small one.

    1. Those Giulia numbers are really telling, aren’t they. Doubly so when the first two years for any Fiat Group product are traditionally by far their strongest, before the numbers collapse into nowheresville on the sales charts.

  5. Alfa Romeo recorded a storming 1191% rise in USA sales last month, compared with March 2016.

    That’s 555 Giulias and 4Cs, compared with 43 4Cs last year.

    Jaguar also had a good month, 4953, up 132% from 2133 in March 2016.

    By comparison, Subaru shifted 54,871 cars in the States in March. That’s nearly 99 Subarus for every Alfa.

  6. 43 a month is good going in the USA, for a small-engined, very expensive, and impractical sports car. I suspect quite a few are investor purchases.

    Sales figures for Europe + USA (Other territories are available, but I’d be surprised if they bought many 4Cs)

    2016: 1179+496
    2015: 1047 + 663
    2014: 959 + 91

    The sales sit between Alfa’s stated break-even 1000 per annum, and the 2500-3500 upper limit the production infrastructure could manage.

    Could be ‘one for laying down’, but it’s no Simca 1000 Rallye 3.

    1. Yup, for what it is, 4C’s numbers were pretty good this month.

      Giulia’s numbers are flat-out diabolical considering the positive reviews and the fact the Superbowl ad has been plastered on high rotation across the idiot lantern all month. At this rate they are tracking to sell around 5k Giulias in the US for full-year 2017. If one is generous with one’s assumptions.

      I’d compare that to those of Sterling, but that would be deeply embarrassing for Sergio.

  7. Stradale: if that’s true it’s worse than even a critic of Marchionne might want. Though it’s not perfect (nothing is) there’s no way 5000 per annum reflects the car’s ability relative to its peers.

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