Blog: Dave LeggettMontreux – ANE Congress

Dave Leggett | 30 June 2004

The couple of days spent in Montreux at Automotive News Europe’s annual congress were worthwhile, as usual. For me, the informal stuff is at least as useful as the formal proceedings – but the latter is not to be discounted either. Even if some of the presentations come across as ‘marketing jobs’, the Q&A can be revealing. The whole event serves as a good bellwether for the state of the auto industry. There’s a vibe to tap into.

A few impressions for here, first thing. Number one: it’s tough out there. Downward pricing pressures in Europe, rising consumer expectations, future regulatory issues and a global playing field that isn’t getting any easier. Bob Lutz, after dinner speaker on Monday evening (and good value for money) shook the audience up a bit. West Europeans are apparently lazy, enjoying the good life and need to adapt fast. The Chinese, he said, are bearing down on us ‘like a freight train’ and he kept saying that we had better wear our warm clothes. Their ability to reverse engineer is terrific and quality is not an issue anymore. The motorisation shift from two wheelers to cars is taking place in a compressed schedule in China – three to four years rather than the twenty that might be expected. They’re getting the volume and the products for world markets are coming. Thanks for the reality check Bob.

Point number two: future powertrain technology. Where is it going? Which will be the winning technologies? Gasoline-electric hybrids? Diesels? Diesel-electric hybirds? Bio-fuels? CNG? Next generation gasoline? How long before fuel-cells? The whole area is very uncertain, with manufacturers keeping options open. Maybe there will be no global winner, but rather a patchwork of solutions for different markets. Future tougher emissions standards in North America (Bin 5) and Europe (the expensive to comply with Euro 5) will also shape things. Diesel in North America gets much more difficult and maybe it even becomes less cost-effective to invest in diesel technology for small cars in Europe. The regulators clearly have a big responsibility here.

There are many challenges ahead, but maybe we shouldn’t be too gloomy. This industry always appears ready to adapt to new challenges and Professor Garel Rhys pointed out that, according to some forecasts, there will be more vehicles made in the next twenty years than in the previous 110-year history of the industry.

In terms of the informal side of things, Montreux proved, as expected, to be an agreeable place to spend a few days. An upmarket but relaxed resort with a funky edge (jazz festival starts today I think). And you can never tire of looking at and across the lake - the changing light changes its mood through the day.

There were plenty of people to meet and catch-up with of course. And the weather was hot – Monday especially. It seemed that the rather magnificent and venerable venue – Le Montreux Palace Hotel – was having a little trouble with its air-con. But well done to the Crain organisation. They put on another smooth show and, as I’ve said before, there’s no event quite like it in Europe. And it is Barcelona next year – May 11-15th – to coincide with the GP.

Incidentally, there was a rumour going around that there'd been some weekend to-ings and fro-ings at Fiat and Martin Leach was about to move to a position within Fiat Auto - the top job. He scotched that one in fairly convincing manner when I asked him about it ('absolutely groundless'). He's got a nice job at Maserati and after all the Ford aggro, probably would like to spend a little time just getting on with things there. But his presentation on product development issues - especially relating to organisation and management - left me thinking that, ultimately, his value to the Fiat Group will be higher with Fiat Auto. And maybe when a decent time has elapsed and the Ford issue has gone away, the plan is for that to happen. Enjoy Maserati while you can Martin. 

There will be a more detailed feature on this year’s proceedings to follow. 


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