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2009 Geneva International Motor Show
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Geneva's take on the crisis
Click here to open the slideshowIt is no secret that the automotive industry has hit dire straights. Sales have slowed down considerably, initially due to the banking crisis, which all but froze car loans. On top of that came the full economic crisis that made customers even more hesitant to shed their hard earned cash when their own car really did not need replacing just yet. The manufacturers that already struggled are now on the verge of bankruptcy while the rest have seen their fortunes turned around at a remarkably rapid pace. Costs are cut across the board and one of the 'luxuries' that had to go are many motor shows. There is one shining exception; the annual Geneva Motor Show, underlining its status as the most important and prestigious off all shows.
Nevertheless, it does not take much effort to notice the many subtle changes compared to previous editions. The stands of the struggling manufacturers have dropped in size while those of the likes of KIA and Hyundai have clearly taken up more space. The stands themselves were also more sober with noticeably fewer models accompanying the new releases. What fortunately remained unchanged was the quality of the cars launched in Geneva. Most of them were quick, efficient and quite pleasing to the eye. Once customers do decide to spend, they'll have plenty of great stuff to spend it on.

Small is the future
Alfa Romeo MiTo GTAIn the past decade(s) of opulence the trend in design was 'bigger is better.' As the cars grew in size, they'll also put on a lot of weight. The recent turn to more efficient (greener) vehicles small cars have quickly become more popular. Perhaps forced by their financial problems a few years ago, Fiat was one of the first companies to concentrate purely on these smaller cars. Returning to their roots has worked out fantastically for the Italians. With machines like the Panda, 500 and Grande Punto, they are now performing considerably than the market average. They have also added extra spice to their line-up by reviving the Abarth brand. At Geneva they unveiled the SuperSport version of the Grande Punto, which uses a highly advanced 180 bhp turbocharged engine. Subsidiary Alfa Romeo also branched out into the small car market with the MiTo. Here they took the wraps off the GTA version, which uses a similar engine as the Abarths but with power up to 240 bhp and all that from a displacement of only 1.8 litre. Other new 'hot-hatches' on display in Geneva were the Renault Megane Coupe Sport, the Mazda 3 MPS and the MINI Cooper S John Cooper Works Cabriolet.
Also answering to the 'downsizing call,' be it on a slightly different level, was Rolls-Royce. The British super-luxury manufacturer showed the 200EX concept car. The more modest (relatively of course) dimensions make for a much more elegant car than the similarly styled Phantom. We still have to wait a year before the definitive production version will see the light of day.

Concept car heaven
I.DE.A ERAWhat makes Geneva so special are the many design houses and schools that are present with a new styling concept or engineering prototype. Combining the two was Giorgietto Giugiaro's Italdesign, who showed the Namir Concept. Its lines are clearly inspired by the Quaranta shown a year earlier but with a more aggressive twist. The really interesting bit is found behind the seats; a Frazer Nash rotary engine with a hybrid electric drive. In good Italdesign tradition this is not just a design exercise but a fully working machine.
Milan based coachbuilder Zagato prominently displayed the Perana Z-One. Using bespoke underpinnings (a tubular spaceframe chassis) and a Corvette sourced engine, the South African car is heading for production in the Summer. In this difficult market they have decided to price the car very aggressively at 50,000 Euro ex taxes. That is quite a contrast with the very expensive limit edition models bodied by Zagato in recent years. A Perana representative explained that they are bringing Zagato back to the people.
Back after an absence of ten years was Italian design institute I.DE.A. They celebrated their return with the 'ERA Concept.' The elegant two-seater roadster sports interesting front and rear light treatments. Always in attendance in Geneve are excentric Swiss designers Frank Rinderknecht and Franco Sbarro. Their unusual creations again did not disappoint.

Time to celebrate
Bugatti Veyron Bleu CentenaireIconic manufacturers Morgan and Bugatti both celebrated their 100th anniversary in Geneva. The quirky Brits that amazed last year with the highly advanced LIFEcar now debuted their all new pedal-car. In addition to the mini Morgan they displayed their complete range of roadsters including a bare skin version of the Aero 8. Additionally they showed two great classic Morgans including a sympathetic reconstruction of the very first Morgan built back in 1909. It is amazing that 100 years on the company is still headed by a Morgan; Charles, the grandson of founder H.F.S. Morgan. There is no such lineage at Bugatti; the last relative of Ettore Bugatti left the company well over half a century ago. Current owner Volkswagen did celebrate the centenary in style by constructing the custom Veyron Bleu Centenaire. While it uses the same spec as the 'regular' Veyron, this unique version sports many unique trim pieces. The blue paint of the exterior has the same color-code as the blue originally used for the racing Bugattis. While the car is strictly a one-off, customers can of course order their cars with similar trim and paintscheme.

Supercars
Pagani Zonda RTraditionally supercars take center stage in Geneva and this edition is no exception. Although it must be said that most new supercars are upgrades of existing models. These include the Bentley Continental Supersports and the truly spectacular Pagani Zonda R.
Ferrari launched a new customer racing program this time based around the 599 GTB Fiorano road car. Starting next season, a select group of customers can race eachother in the 599XX. Powered by a 700 bhp V12 engine and equipped with a rather tacky body-kit, the track-day special will cost 1.1 million Euros. Hopefully no one will buy one so Ferrari can concentrate on building proper sports racing cars again. A win at say Le Mans will do so much more for the company in the long run than suckering 30 million Euro out of the pockets of their best customers.
Lamborghini Murcielago SVDutch specialty manufacturer Spyker continued their steady crawl up by launching the production version of the new C8 Aileron. In their own words they have moved from the propellor to the jet era. This is reflected throughout the design where the propellors of old have been replaced by turbine inspired fans. With a slightly longer wheelbase, the Aileron will be able to be fitted with an automatic (paddle operated) gearbox, which Spyker expects to be ordered by 90% of the customers.
Lamborghini will bid farewell to their current top-of-the-range model, the Murcielago in spectacular fashion with the Super Veloce version revealed here. Its 100 kg lighter than the regular production version and also boasts a 30 bhp more powerful version of the V12 engine. Most impressive though is the wild bodykit that is fitted. In many ways it brings back fond memories of its predecessor, the Diablo.

Conclusion
The Geneva Motor Show did not bring an end to the crisis but at least it gave all those involved a welcome break from all the bad news. All the efficient and exciting machines on display here do show that the manufacturers are clearly moving in the right direction; hopefully they will still be around enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Despite the slightly different atmosphere, we greatly enjoyed this year's edition of the Geneva Motor Show. To further discover why, please explore our exclusive 280-shot gallery with all of Geneva's highlights.

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Report by Wouter Melissen and images by Wouter Melissen and Pieter Melissen for Ultimatecarpage.com.