Having peered under concepts to check for real engines and suspension systems, and gently interrogated multiple industry executives in the quest to slake readers’ insatiable thirsts for knowledge, Glenn Brooks now reports his findings.
In yesterday’s first instalment, we reached I for Infiniti. So, J-time. There was no global debut for Jaguar and just the regional premiere of a facelift for the Jeep Compass. Kia, I have already noted, so on to Koenigsegg which celebrated the production of its 100th car at Geneva. The Agera S Hundra – Swedish for you can guess what number – had 24 carat gold inlays all over its carbon body. Amazingly enough, that didn’t make it look hideous: quite the opposite in fact.
Back to the bigger boys. Land Rover had a plug-in Defender prototype plus the first showing of ZF’s new nine-speed auto gearbox, which was in the Evoque. In answer to what you’re wondering, I was told that we may not see 10-speed transmissions any time soon, at least not ZF ones. Chrysler won’t be happy about L-R having stolen its thunder – the ZF 9HP will be fitted to the new Jeep Cherokee which will be revealed at the New York show in just a few weeks’ time.
I wasn’t at the NAIAS so this was my first time to say buongiorno to the Maserati Quattroporte, which turns out to be very lengthy indeed – just what buyers in China want so it should do well there. Here’s something else: in no sense does it feel as though you are in a stretched Chrysler 300. The company has done extremely well to create a genuine top-level luxury car, and I can see why Maserati insists the platform is unique, so extensive are the changes over the original Chrysler LX architecture, itself derived from a 1990s Mercedes-Benz platform.
Mitsubishi seems to be on something of a roll, finally, with the Mirage (Space Star in Switzerland and other continental markets, and it might well be called that in Canada when it launches there later in 2013), plus the new Outlander and its PHEV variant. But still we wait for any sign of a replacement for the Montero/Shogun.
There were two new concepts from MMC at Geneva, one of which, the CA-MiEV, was far larger than the existing MiEV. I stared hard through the dark glass and saw no interior, so let’s presume that this is just a design study for a potential C-segment model. Perhaps the next Lancer. MMC seems to be hedging its technology bets so perhaps we’re more likely to see a PHEV version of the 8th gen Lancer rather than a Lancer EV.
Until I saw MMC’s other concept, the GR-HEV, I thought this might be the first sight of a new pick-up platform. Having looked underneath and sighted leaf springs and a live axle, I now doubt it. Let’s presume this one was merely a futuristic body bolted onto an existing L200/Triton chassis. Rumour has it that the replacement is in the final stages of development, so expect to see that one launched first in Thailand in 2014.
Not much to say about Nissan – the updated Leaf was announced a few months back, and the Note has been on sale in Japan for a while now – but where is the replacement for the six year old Qashqai? And how about a new X-Trail, while we’re on the topic of Nissans which are being allowed to continue beyond the company’s tradition of 5-6 year lifecycles? Let’s see what the Frankfurt show brings.
The Opel Adam Rocks concept was convincing as a possible explorer of a niche within a niche: an A-premium hatchback turns open-topped mock-crossover. Hey, stranger things have happened. Fiat could have got there first by creating a theoretical 500 Cabrio Trekking but hasn’t.
I found myself wondering how the Opel Cascada could have been approved during the era of savage cost cutting at GM worldwide. Somehow it came through the system and I for one, am glad that it did. Imagine if someone slightly shrank the old-shape BMW 6 Series convertible. Then stood back and saw the beautiful car that was always hiding under the horror details such as that plateau bootlid, il-proportioned canvas roof and the ludicrously small rear window. The Cascada is that car. For the excellence of its styling alone, it deserves success.
The sales projection is “a few thousand” annually for Vauxhall, the division’s head Duncan Aldred told me, while the marketing people would wish for it to be seen as an Audi A5 Cabrio rival without the same pricing. Jump to the next paragraph if you don’t care to know some trivia about this car. If you’re still with me, thrill to now knowing that the base Opel variant gets a 1.4 turbo engine and 17″ inch wheels, neither of which will be offered in the Vauxhall. I always read both press releases whenever Opel and Vauxhall each announce a new model – do subscribers to just-auto‘s PLDB global vehicle database know how much I obsess about the accuracy of the information that goes into it? I hope so.
Now to the Ps. The much-hyped 208 HYbrid FE prototype, a composites showcase created by PSA and Total, turned out to be a little underwhelming, in my humble opinion. I saw what looked like a shiny-plastic bodyshell growing out of the middle of the Peugeot stand, but perhaps it’s a work in progress. I do applaud PSA’s excellent track record in producing ever-lighter cars. I won’t say ‘lightweighting’ which is on my private list of terms that must be banned, along with ‘reveal’ as a noun or ‘keynote’ as a noun (or even worse, as a verb).
Moving swiftly on. If you weren’t at the show’s press days, you won’t have seen the sight of the media swirl that engulfed the Qoros stand. I had to wait to get inside a car and was glad that I did. Shut your eyes, pull the door shut, touch the plastics and the seat fabrics, sniff the air – this is Jetta-lite. Or more accurately, the North American markets Jetta, which has cheaper dashboard plastics and less sophisticated rear suspension than the German market model. Not that it feels like you’ve accidentally ticked the Poverty Pack trim level. No, this is a serious car and a great first effort from Chery and Israel Corporation.
The Qoros people wouldn’t say which European markets will be the first to sell the 3 sedan (and the wagon and crossover derivatives to follow). I heard off the record that it wouldn’t be any of the Big Four (for me, Europe no longer has a Big Five due to the Spanish market’s size having more than halved). I suspect the EU test country for Qoros will be Poland or the Czech Republic: lots of young families can be found there who are open to embracing new brands.
R is for Renault, and my attention was Captured by a good looking new crossover on the company’s stand. See my phone-snapped pic of the largest pull-out drawer I have found in a new car. Not quite as innovative as the extractable briefcase which was the one memorable thing about the Alfa 90 from way, way back in the 1980s, mind. If, intrigued, you’re about to conduct a google image search, remember: (a) you will never get those 30 seconds back; and (b) it is but a small, seemingly harmless step from there to perusing second hand Alfas on ebay and ergo, goodbye to an hour of your life, or possibly most of your savings too.
Enough about the perils of falling for an Italian beauty whose best years are long gone. Back to Renault. The Captur will no doubt be a big seller as it’s roomy, good looking (not sure about the white roof or zip-off seat covers, but people with kids who are prone to travel sickness might be willing to pay for the latter option) and promises to be as competitively priced as its equally new rival, the Peugeot 2008.
I want to ignore the Rolls-Royce Wraith, in the same way that I pretend the alleged motoring programme Top Gear might cease to exist if I continue to pull a blank face when anyone asks me did I see the latest episode. I’m not a hater, it’s just not of interest to me. I did once love Rolls-Royce cars (and TG amused and educated me greatly a long, long time ago) but when the company has so many talented people working behind the scenes, how can they not produce a true technology showcase?
One word to describe my disappointment with the new, giant R-R coupe: weight. I bashed another BMW Group model a few paragraphs back so I won’t bore you with my own opinions about this new one’s looks. Maybe the forthcoming convertible will be better resolved is all I will say.
Just imagine what a carbon platform and a small capacity but high output engine would do for R-R’s image? Maybe such a model will come in time. Perhaps cars such as the Wraith are necessary to generate the self-funding which Rolls-Royce might have been tasked with as priority number one by its masters in Munich?
After R and R, lots of Esses to talk about now. SEAT and Škoda are like the Princes Harry and William of the VW empire. One is finally being entrusted with fresh funds to launch the new cars it has been denied for some years. Unluckily for it, such models have come through the pipeline and dropped out bang into the middle of a depressed home market. The hopes of a big boost in China and Mexico have been dashed too, with the cars proving worthy but just too expensive.
How can SEAT find a sustainable path to growth? The new Leon SC looks smart but it won’t be a big volume model. I learned also from a contact inside the company that the Exeo replacement has been axed. It’s a worry that it had even been considered: the current car is the Volkswagen Group channelling the thinking which created the Cadillac BLS. OK, enough criticism. The Leon ST (wagon) is very much alive, will be launched at the end of this year and shows that SEAT is being given the products that it needs. But where is the Tribu crossover that has been promised for so very many years?
From the Loved but Luckless, to Prince Charming. Škoda just keeps on pressing all the right buttons with its loyal customers, delivers steady profits, and its sales continue to quietly rise year in year out. The new Octavia has the same confident air about its styling as the outgoing model, and the interior is just as roomy, if not more so. No sign of an updated and/or long wheelbase Yeti, nor of the new Roomster and Scout. Look out for the former at AutoShanghai next month, and the latter at the Frankfurt IAA.
Walking past the Spyker stand I heard a familiar voice and turned to see the lanky frame of a tweed-blazered Victor Muller announcing his B6 concept supercar, while at Subaru, the VIZIV was a design study which points the way to where the brand’s cars’ styling is headed. Point(y) being the operative word. Will we see the diesel-electric hybrid powertrain reaching production? It seems a long shot given Subaru’s tiny presence across European markets, but don’t rule it out.
As for SsangYong, a miracle has been performed in the rebodying of the Rodius. You can now walk around this big minivan confident in the knowledge that just one person was asked to style the entire vehicle. In the case of the original model, I suspect that a committee had been tasked with sketching out different parts of it. A committee which contained perhaps several members who likely entered design discussion meetings tapping the floor with a white cane, whilst clutching their labrador’s harness with the other hand.
Suzuki has never been known for controversially styled cars; instead it has had to deal with criticisms of vanilla vehicles. I’m not sure that the new SX4 will change the minds of those who think its designers tend to spend too much time trying to be inoffensive. This C-segment crossover is radical in some ways for the brand, though. Until now, Suzuki has been trying to attack the segment leading Qashqai armed only with a pure 4×4, the Grand Vitara. The firm’s Hungarian plant will start churning out this additional model from October. Suzuki dealers will be overjoyed to have exactly the product they have wanted for many years.
I feel bad not lingering too long on Toyota but apart from the tiny i-Road, a two-seater concept which leans into corners, there wasn’t anything terribly exciting on display – the fact that the 86 roadster was there but in unattainable concept form somehow just frustrated me. The RAV4 was a regional premiere and its diesel engine a world debut, while the estate version of the Auris was almost identical to the pre-production car at Paris six months ago.
I did see a Lexus that I loved on the Toyota stand and that has never happened before, with the exception of the LF-LC, which I consider a thing of beauty – the original red one was my favourite. The car which caught my eye is the F-Sport version of the new IS sedan. By happy coincidence, it shares its huge grille with the LF-LC. I don’t know where the number plate will go in markets where that is a legal requirement but this is easily the most striking front end for a Lexus series production vehicle. For once, a fantastic detail from a concept has quickly found its way directly to a showroom model.
Try not to notice that I am now moving to VCC and even if I call it Volvo, it should still come after Volkswagen, but I want to keep that brand and one particular VW for last. VCC seems finally to have mastered a way of translating the whole Scandinavian cool design philosophy into both the interiors and exteriors of all of its models. Ironically, the idea of Less Is More somehow seems to apply successfully even as much shiny silver plastic trim appears in places where the 60, 70 and 80 series models did not have it before. For me, the facelifts plus new wheels and colour palettes have worked wonders to update these formerly bland and dated looking big cars. Suddenly, a V70 painted soft silver and on big wheels is surprisingly cool.
Launching so many updated models at once will be expensive and tricky, but VCC let the V70, XC70 and S80 get very old without even one facelift until now. Giving the younger S60, V60 and XC60 makeovers at the same time proves too that the firm has learned its lesson. Is it any wonder that sales fell steeply last year with so many models in need of refreshing? The second half of 2013 and into 2014 should see a handy boost for Volvo, especially if as seems likely, the XC60 and a special S60 L (long wheelbase) enter production in China. The XC90 successor follows from late 2014 on the new SPA architecture, and then the S80, V70 and XC70 replacements in 2015.
At last we come to Europe’s most popular brand. I know I should talk about the Golf but perhaps I’ll just say it’s novel to see the regional car of the year award going to a model whose destiny it is to be anything but a sales disaster. It is a curious phenomenon to note just how many previous winners have failed to set the sales charts aflame despite having become COTY. The Golf will make this award relevant again.
One of the more memorable people I met at this year’s Geneva was a man from Volkswagen Suisse/Schweiz. Clearly, he needs to get out even more than I do. My evidence for this accusation? He instructed me in the art of telling the new standard Golf GTI (220PS) from the higher power version (230PS). OK, I’ll admit it: I asked.
Somewhere deep within the Death Star, it was decided that the cars would have but one visual differentiator. And it is the initials GTI on the brake callipers of the 230PS version. I had to crouch down and look through the wheel to see those three small letters. If you have some OCDs that can be put to positive use, clearly they’re waiting for you to join them in Wolfsburg, so fire off your CV at once.
I might enjoy the occasional bit of gentle amusement at VW’s expense but don’t think for a moment that I am not an enormous admirer of this brand and its parent company. As long as you have people making sure costs are under control and profits are being maximised, where is the harm in allowing certain obsessive tendencies to be indulged when it comes to the details of new models?
There is a strong case to be made for the argument that a VW which allows or encourages such things as painting a near-invisible GTI logo on a brake component is a company that long ago got the big things right and is now refining even the smallest details. I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle.
Do I leave it there or mention the XL1? This piece is already overly long, but this is an important car so let’s give it a look. I stood and drank in the details for many minutes, and I hadn’t expected to do that. Can’t think of another production car which has cameras instead of outside mirrors, and you really need them as this thing is LOW, plus it has no rear window. I saw two people in it – you sit beside one another, not in tandem as in some of the earlier concepts of this, the so-called One Litre (per hundred kilometres) car.
A few weeks back, there was a press release about this vehicle which ran to 30 pages. I won’t even attempt to summarise but even the advanced construction methods were talked about in detail – VW seems to want its rivals to know how to build cars like this: ultralight cars that are safe too. Speaking of crash survival, if you somehow flip the XL1, fear not, you won’t be trapped: the same system as in the Benz SLS automatically sets off tiny explosive charges which shoot out the hinges of the butterfly doors.
Be cynical if you must and say that the XL1 will be a money-losing frivolity. The Volkswagen Group rakes in multiple billions year in, year out but it nearly went bankrupt a long time ago, mostly due to a failure to take risks and invest in new products. Relying on the Beetle and its derivatives for decades nearly did for VW, but the company was saved when it saw the need to reinvent itself with the Golf.
Like Toyota, BMW and other such firms that have had that near death experience, Volkswagen is, despite the stock market listing, a family business. These people look way into the future, and they recall previous strategic errors and learn from them.
Remember one thing as you consider the XL1, whatever you think of it. I myself consider it easily the most important car to be launched at the 2013 Geneva motor show. Here’s the thing: in the coming months, the Volkswagen Group will begin assembling a model at the old Karmann works in Osnabrück which will do almost 300mpg. AND, it’s a great looking car so people will want to buy it.
I keep hearing that the members of the Digital Generation are mostly disinterested in cars, which they believe to be planet-damaging. I’m convinced that such a view will eventually be proved wrong. A big chunk of the Millenials will become bored of being gamers and want to start re-engaging with their mates, maybe even finding that a cool car to go visit them in – a car which uses minimal fossil fuel – is suddenly the must-have accessory. The XL1 won’t be cheap and planned production volumes are small. But, it does give me hope that our industry is showing the first signs that the next major phase of its endless reinvention has begun. I’m counting the sleeps until the next big motor show.