It is no secret that the automotive industry has been particularly hard hit by the current economic crisis. The dramatic decline in sales have come on top of ever stricter environmental regulations. The big investments required to keep up threatened the future of many manufacturers. The dire conditions really put a damper on the 2009 Geneva International Motorshow but with the first signs of recovery, all exhibitors bounced back in great style for the 80th edition of the Swiss show. The sober stands of a year ago have been replaced by the familiar, well stacked displays full with shiny new cars, livened up by the largest number of models we have ever seen in Geneva. Sustainable and environmentally friendly cars have taken an even more prominent place with the likes of Ferrari and Porsche also going 'green'. Fortunately there was enough room left alongside all the sensible releases for wild styling exercises and ridiculously powerful supercars.
Make or break?
Although there are clear signs of recovery most of the manufacturers can not afford to make many mistakes in the foreseeable future. The new production cars launched in Geneva really have to succeed. That is certainly the case for the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, which is due to replace the 147 in the compact luxury segment. Celebrating their centenary this year, the Italian company decided to bring back the legendary Giulietta name. The original, launched in 1954, turned the fortunes of Alfa Romeo around just like is needed right now. The 8C Competizione inspired styling will certainly be one of the car's biggest selling points.
It is also difficult to find faults in the recent engines from the Fiat Group. Both the petrol and diesel engines are clean and very efficient. Destined for the 500, Fiat launched a new two-cylinder engine here. Dubbed the 'Twin-Air', it is considerably smaller and lighter than four cylinder engines with comparable performance figures. The turbo-charged unit displaces 900 cc yet produces 85 bhp.
Another major release is the all new Volvo S60. It is still every bit a Volvo but its styling is a dramatic departure from its predecessor. Gone is the understated design, replaced instead by a much more flamboyant style first seen on the company's recent concept cars. The biggest change is found at the front of the car, which sports a pronounced grille and large headlights.
Japanese manufacturers Lexus and Honda both branched out into new markets with hybrid-powered machines. Toyota's luxury subsidiary will take on the Giulietta and the likes of BMW and Audi in the compact segment with the CT 200h. It exclusively uses a petrol-hybrid engine and a continuous variable transmission.
First seen in Detroit, Honda's CR-Z offers much of the same. The small sports car is the spiritual successor of the CRX of the 1980s and is available only with an 'IMA' hybrid engine that produces a combined 122 bhp. This is all very clean and sensible but fans of the original CRX will certainly demand more power to really warm up to the CR-Z.
BMW's MINI has been an incredible success over the last few years but it will now have to face stronger competition than ever before. The 'attack' comes from two different direction CitroŽn and Audi. The French MINI alternative is the funky DS3 of which the very potent and limited 'Racing' was shown in Geneva. Audi's answer is the A1, which was first shown in concept form almost two years ago. In addition to conventional engined versions, Audi also showed the A1 'E-Tron' fitted only with electric motors.
Hybrids come in various flavours
The original hybrids to hit the streets used a conventional drivetrain with an additional electric motor that used the energy recovered during braking for an additional punch. In recent years a more efficient system has been developed where the conventional engine only serves as a generator for the electric motors. This will sound completely normal to anyone familiar with ship and train drivetrains. Although it is the superior solution, it is hard to convince consumers to get into cars that use those quiet and 'boring' electric motors. General Motors will be the first major manufacturer to use the system in mass produced vehicles; the Chevrolet Volt in North America and the Opel/Vauxhall Ampera here in Europe.
Lotus's engineering arm have now also developed a hybrid system along the same lines. Fitted to the 'Evora 414E Concept', it uses two electric motors and a petrol fueled generator that was specifically developed for this purpose. The prototype is also equipped with a system that simulates a seven-speed gearbox complete with steering wheel mounted paddle-shifters. The lack of engine sounds is compensated by a sound system that is synced to the 'gearbox' and simulates the revving engine.
During the 2009 Formula 1 World Championship several teams fielded racers with Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) that were in many ways similar to the original hybrid road cars. Among them was Ferrari and they have now integrated KERS into one of their production cars; the 599 GTB. The Italians' first hybrid has been very cleverly integrated into the Grand Tourer. The installation of the various components did not come at the expense of interior or luggage space. All of the additional weight has been compensated by the increased performance of the electric motors. The Hybrid 599 was appropriately painted green.
Porsche already offered a hybrid version of the Cayenne but the German manufacturer took the world by surprise with the '918 Spyder' shown in Geneva. It combines a very evocative styled exterior and the drivetrain to back it up. The open Porsche is clearly inspired by the great sports racers of the past liked the 718 and 917 Spyders. The power comes from a mid-mounted V8, derived from the all-conquering RS Spyder Le Mans racers. This 500+ bhp unit is backed up by electric motors, good for another 218 horses. The spectacular concept was flanked by the all new Cayenne S Hybrid and the hybrid equipped 997 GT3 R that is headed for the NŁrburgring later in the year.
All mainstream manufacturers underlined their green credentials and there were few stands without some sort of hybrid vehicle. Mercedes-Benz debuted a diesel hybrid for the C-Class while Audi showed one of their all new A8s with hybrid propulsion.
Italian flair and Swedish brawl
Geneva has always been the show best attended by the design houses and the supercar manufacturers and this year certainly was not exception. After a two year absence, Italian Carrozzeria Bertone returned to the Geneva show-floor to rejoin the likes of Pininfarina, Giugiaro-Italdesign and Zagato. Celebrating Alfa's 100th anniversary both Bertone and Pininfarina showed Alfa Romeo based show cars; the Pandion and the 2uettottanta respectively. The former sports a very expressive design with prominent organic shapes and large glass surfaces, while the latter is a rather more understated Spyder design. Particularly the Bertone Pandion is a work of art with exceptional details inside and out.
Giugiaro and Zagato launched similarly sized city cars. Malaysian manufacturer Proton commissioned Giugiaro to design the exterior around a Lotus engineered hybrid drivetrain. The result is the Emas, of which one complete example was on display. Larger and smaller variants were placed on either side of the show car but were 1:1 scale models only. Zagato's 'Joule' is a production ready electric car that will be offered by the 'Optimal Energy' company from South Africa. It has a 300 km range on a full charge of batteries.
Italian supercar manufacturer Pagani has a hard time to say goodbye to the Zonda and once again displayed a new version of the now 10-year old machine. This one-off 'Tricolore' underlines that Pagani's reluctance certainly is not a bad thing. Built to mark the 50th anniversary of the 'Frecce Tricolori' aerobatic team. Tricolore literally means three colours and is a reference to the red, white and green on the Italian flag. Like the planes used by the 'Frecce Tricolori' the special Zonda is painted dark blue with red, white and green accents. A new feature on the car is a fin mounted on the engine cover.
Of a similar age as the Zonda is the current range of Koenigsegg products. The original styling received some tweaks over the years but finally a new model has been added to the line-up. Dubbed the Agera, it is still clearly based on the existing CCX but features an extensively restyled exterior. The more curvaceous Agera also packs a bigger punch; 910 bhp to be precise.
It seems to happen every couple of years in Geneva but a new Hispano Suiza badged car appeared. If history repeats itself, chances are it will be the last time the so far unnamed, Gallardo-based machine will be seen in public. Porsche tuner RUF managed to squeeze a V8 into the 997 body, which may very well be a prelude to the 911 of the future. Carlsson debuted the C25, which is the Mercedes tuner's first proper car of their own. Only 25 examples will be built, each delivered to a different country to ensure absolute exclusivety. The one on show is headed for France.
Compared to the 2009 edition, both the quantity and quality of the cars on display were up. It is great to see the manufacturers fight back after an absolutely disastrous year. Several of the companies that brought new cars to Geneva could just as well have gone belly up. Last year we noticed a decrease in the number of models on the stand but we are happy to report that the attendance was back to normal. The new production car that impressed us the most was Alfa Romeo's new Giulietta, which has everything to be a real alternative for the German cars that dominate its market. Peugeot also deserves an honourable mention for the SR1 design study built to celebrate the company's bicentenary. Tied for favourite of the show are Bertone's Pandion and Porsche's 918 Spyder. Both feature extraordinary styling and created the biggest buzz around the show. The next step would be to get both cars into production but unfortunately we reckon the chances are slim.
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