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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.