Geneva Motor Show 2002 may have been the year of the smoke and mirrors limousine launch, says just-auto.com deputy editor Graeme Roberts, but there was plenty to interest the peasants, too. Here are a few highlights.
Trundle off to the Geneva motor show twice in succeeding years and certain givens soon become apparent:
*EasyJet will run late. Both ways. This year's excuse: the Swiss plane didn't show up (?) so they had to substitute a British plane. We really appreciate getting home an hour late, guys, after a 3.30am start.
*Geneva with its sparkling lake and snow-capped mountains sure is pretty but with Palexpo about a 500-metre walk from the airport, the show, as a UK colleague remarked, may as well be held in Croydon (a less than attractive collection of scruffy office blocks in south-east London).
*Palexpo is relatively compact compared with Frankfurt and everyone is in roughly the same place every year. But does no-one amongst the show organisers ever trundle a press kit-filled bag about? If they did, there'd be some more escalators around the place.
*Toyota will serve the best freeload..., er, press no-invite-required lunch and Daihatsu and Mitsubishi will vie for the honour of sushi supremo.
*Half or more of the "press day" attendees are not press; they're mostly clipboard and tape measure-equipped suppliers' representatives poking, prodding and measuring up the opposition's products.
Less predictable is what is actually going to be displayed and the general theme of the show. This year was definitely the year of the limo but, when it came to displaying same, there was more smoke and mirrors than new car roll-outs.
Prominent among those who really did roll out cars was Volkswagen with an example of virtually every new Phaeton on display. The Wolfsburgers had previously let a privileged few of the press loose with some early pre-production cars in the Arctic Circle but this was the first chance for the rank and file to take a look.
Certainly the car is impressive with its state-of-the-art W12 and V6 petrol engines, V10 diesel and electronic everything but the question many asked was just who is going to be prepared to pay 150,000-odd pounds/euros/dollars for a Volkswagen? Especially once the mechanically similar, platform sharing A8, with more prestigious Audi name, breaks cover.
Already there are signs of revolt amongst VW's US dealers - critical to the Phaeton's success, one would think - who don't like the name (it actually refers to an open car) and think everyone in the US will need pronunciation lessons.
There are similar grumblings over the name Touareg chosen for VW's forthcoming luxury SUV, shared with Porsche. Both the dealers and VW USA are asking for a name change for that car, too, on the grounds that naming an SUV after a Saharan slave-trading tribe mightn't go down too well in the US for obvious reasons.
Porsche's Cayenne, by the way, was one of a number of smoke-and-mirrors "debuts" at Geneva. Porsche wanted to show the SUV to steal some of the Range Rover and Volvo XC90 thunder but an agreement with VW ruled that out until the Paris show in September. So it flashed pictures of the new Cayenne up on a screen, having released photos and some basic technical details on the eve of the show.
Rather than smoke and mirrors, DaimlerChrysler resorted to nightclub lighting a full-size mock-up of the new Maybach limousine that it kept from the reach of grubby, champagne glass-filled fingers by a wall of dark-tinted glass. Another one to watch for at Paris.
Apparently even the high rollers actually able to stretch to buying one didn't get much closer although they did get to try one of the car's first class airliner-style reclining rear seats. Of the new "mid-sized" Bentley sports coupe there was no sign on the official stand, of course, but the hallowed few were ushered - in the presence of bulky hired goons, reportedly - into a special preview rim where the dimly-lit vehicle was displayed at a discreet no-photographs, no note-taking distance. Initial reports seemed favourable, as one might expect of those threatened with kneecapping for revealing any further details.
Ferrari displayed its usual disdain for most press day attendees by calling an A4-sized leaflet the "press kit" for its new 575M. Please don't touch the car, sir. Fine. New headlights, uprated V12 engine, revised interior. Check. Next.
Personally, I much preferred the latest Maserati GT coupe, which had previously broken cover in North America, and whose minders were far less precious about people who know how to treat expensive cars with respect and just want to savour the leather-lined interior for a moment, knowing that's the closest they're ever going to get this side of a lottery win or favourable mention in the will of a long-lost, filthy-rich aunt.
Away from the hallowed stands there was plenty to see from those who purvey cars for the peasantry, especially the Koreans. Hyundai had previously shown a "concept" supermini at various shows but surprised many at Geneva by, apparently at the last minute, deciding to unveil the production Getz. With 1.1, 1.3 and 1.6-litre petrol engines and a nice little direct injection 1.5-litre diesel, this should give the established European models - Fiesta, Polo and co. - some decent Far East competition.
Particularly impressive is how the Koreans, like the Japanese, trundle a whole range out at once, rather than taking a year, or two, to roll out the full engine line-up. The Getz sets no new standards but it's attractively styled, well put together and will doubtless be competitively priced.
Even more surprising is how Daewoo, still struggling under General Motors' interminable due diligence, managed to find the money to develop the Kalos, a range of attractive compact hatchbacks complemented by a chunky "tall" saloon. Again, though obviously constructed to a price, these show a little styling flair, a little interior imagination ("chrome"-ringed dials and rounded door fittings) and seem well enough built for the market sector they'll challenge.
Ford's Cinderella sister, Mazda, is also showing some encouraging signs of a fight-back. Key among these will be the sleek, wedgy new 6, getting its first European show outing with a new station wagon model previously unseen at Japanese and Stateside displays. Spacious, beautifully built and with a black 'n' chrome interior showing some real flair at last, this promises to be Mazda's best new car in a long time.
Mazda also showed a "concept" MX Sport Runabout, the latest in the industry's evolving line of spacious-yet-compact tall hatchbacks, and not a million miles removed from Ford's new Fiesta-derived Fusion which was displayed in production form for the first time. Change maybe the grille and take a couple of bright trim bits out of the cabin and you're looking at the upcoming all-new Mazda Demio, which will be built at a Ford plant in Valencia for European buyers. It should do better than the current model in what is becoming a very crowded sector.
Geneva 2002 was also the year of the minivan with Renault rolling out a "concept" Espace that even its PRs said was virtually production-spec and Fiat (Ulysse), Citroen (C8) and Lancia (Phedra) showing their versions of the new Peugeot 807 launched just before the show. The four big MPVs, as minivans are better known in Europe, share many body panels, engines and dashboard architecture but the nose and tail styling differences are a bit more pronounced in this latest generation.
The four marques will probably sell as many of their new minivans in a year as Chrysler makes in a month but it must be noted that there is less demand for such vast vehicles in Europe where roads are narrower and parking spaces smaller.
At the other end of the MPV scale, GM presented its Opel Concept M, a sub-Zafira-sized five-seater that might create a new niche when it gets the go-ahead, as it surely will.
Suzuki rolled out an all-new Alto, again built by its Indian partner Maruti. Tiddlers like this make a relatively rare appearance on northern European roads but are everywhere on car hire fleets on Greek and Spanish holiday islands. Suzuki also showed the Liana sedan, which is more likely to prove popular in southern Europe, (and North America) than the hatchback-obsessed north.
Not to be outdone by its Indian arch-rival, Tata showed off its new Indica saloon, powered like the hatchback, by 1.4-litre petrol and diesel engines. The brand could get a huge boost in Europe if it does a deal with MG Rover to supply the Indica as the basis of a new entry-level Rover (with British-made K-series engines) and an announcement is expected shortly. Tata also displayed a nice little minivan/MPV concept based on the Indica.
Though it had previously released details, Volvo rolled out the production XC90 SUV with the goal of selling 50,000 a year, 65 percent of those in the USA. This 4WD Volvo wagon-on-steroids looks great and will offer an optional night vision system - shown only as a mock-up on the display stand - when sales start in November.
Finally, Mercedes debuted its superb new E-class sedan range together with my personal favourite, the new CLK coupe, details of which had been released before the show.
Geneva may have been the year of the smoke and mirrors luxury limo, but my peasant's lottery cheque would be spent on a CLK for quality and class without the ostentatiousness or unnecessary bulk.