Business as usual (almost)
It is no secret that the automotive industry was hit hard by the recent global recession. With remarkably few victims the industry bounced back and the numbers are very close to the pre-crisis period. Some of the consequences were very visible at this year's edition of the annual Geneva Motor Show. For the first time in many years, the familiar layout of the show was revised, reflecting the ownership changes. Most notably, Porsche were now found with the rest of the VAG on the top floor and the Chrysler brands as well as Ferrari and Maserati were moved to the Fiat area. Other than that it was business as usual again with so many releases that manufacturers were forced to share a slot on the press conference schedule. With brand new cars from the likes of Ferrari, Lamborghini and Pagani, the Geneva Motor Show was certainly not just up in numbers either. We roamed the floors of the 'Geneva PalExpo' exhibition centre for the best of two days, which has resulted in this exclusive 330-shot gallery
At the company's press conference, a Toyota executive explained that the number of customers seriously considering buying a hybrid as their next car has doubled over the last two years (up from 8% to 16%). They will find that in those two year the number of hybrid models on offer has increased at a much higher rate. If this show is anything to go by, that trend is set to continue. On Toyota's stand, for example, all but one car was a hybrid. This one exception was the second version of the FT-86 concept car, which is due to enter production in 2012. According to Toyota it serves as proof that the passion is back at the Japanese manufacturer. Subaru also displayed a preview of their version of that same car.
An ever growing number of manufacturers are following in Toyota's pioneering foot-steps, ranging from Artega to Rolls-Royce. The latter showed the 102EX experimental vehicle based on the Phantom but equipped with electric motors only. It is due to be tested by potential clients in the near future to assess production feasibility. A Rolls-Royce representative explained to us that currently the limited range is the car's biggest problem.
Porsche added a second model to their hybrid line-up; the Panamera Hybrid S. This features a new supercharged V6 engine together with an electric motor that produces a further 47 bhp, resulting in a combined 380 bhp. Even more impressive was the unveiling of a replica of the Lohner-Porsche Semper Vivus originally launched back in 1900. Engineered by Ferdinand Porsche, this was the very first working hybrid car in the world. It features a petrol engine that generates electricity for the two motors mounted in the front wheels.
That hybrids are not just about frugal city driving is a point Peugeot is eager to prove. They announced plans to enter a hybrid equipped 908 Le Mans Prototype in the official Le Mans test in April. Using the recently announced V8 diesel engined machine as a basis, the car features a developed version of the hybrid system demonstrated almost three years ago at Silverstone. The energy under braking is stored in batteries and subsequently used for a 80 bhp motor. There are no plans to race the car this season but it will most likely make its competitive debut in 2012.
For a variety of reasons, the British manufacturers took centre stage this year. Jaguar marked the fiftieth anniversary of the E-Type's world debut at the Geneva Motor Show. The E-Type is Jaguar's most iconic model and it ranks near the very top on most enthusiasts' all-time favourites lists. They showed the very car that was on display back in 1961. The fifth car off the line, it was long believed to be missing until it appeared in a Swiss 'for sale' ad in 1999. The historic E-Type was quickly snapped up by the current owner, who is an avid collector of Jaguars. It was shown alongside the latest Jaguar sports car, the XKR-S. Jaguar also featured on the Bertone stand where the B99 concept car was shown. This classically elegant machine uses a cutting edge electric drivetrain. It was shown together with a racing version, which sported a very bright finish and a rather massive rear diffuser.
Leaving Ford has certainly not slowed Aston Martin down. In Geneva they revealed the Virage sports car, which slots into the line-up between the DBS and the DB9. Although clearly sharing the same basic design with the rest of the range, the very clean Virage sports unique cues like the One-77 sourced grille, 'hidden' rear diffuser and a more integrated front splitter. Also on display was one of the 19 Zagato bodied DB4 GTs built in the early 1960s. This served as a preview for the Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este where a brand new Zagato Aston Martin will make its world debut.
One of the most traditional of all manufacturers, Morgan, used Geneva to relaunch the legendary Threewheeler. Considered a motorcycle by the authorities, it was originally built to circumvent the higher taxes for cars. Production ceased decades ago but the quirky machine remained one of the company's most famous models. When Morgan announced the rebirth of the model, we were not quite sure if they were entirely serious. The two examples on display here show that they certainly are and judging by the 350 orders, they are backed by their customers. We can't wait to give one a try as the driving experience should be unlike any other car on the market today.
Since Paris last October, Lotus is easily the most ambitious of all British based manufacturers. There they announced a full range of new cars and in the following months also revealed an extended racing program that includes title-sponsorship of the Renault Formula team. In Geneva the focus was back on the existing cars but a place was reserved for the new 'Lotus' F1 car, which was displayed alongside a similarly liveried Evora.
As usual the icing on the cake was provided by the Italian manufacturers. Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Pagani all launched spectacular and very interesting new machines. The Alfa Romeo 4C on display was still a concept car but it will almost certainly follow its compatriots into production. Using a modified version of the Dallara built KTM X-Bow chassis, it is set to move into Porsche Boxster and Lotus Elise territory. The very light carbon-fibre monocoque is clothed in an attractive body that incorporates many styling elements from the highly acclaimed 8C Competizione. Before the car will hit the market, some changes to chassis are still required. When it does, it will by far be the cheapest carbon-fibre road car available.
One of the most controversial cars launched in Geneva this year is most certainly the Ferrari FF, which will replace the 612 Scaglietti. Breaking with a long tradition, the new 2+2 features four-wheel drive and a fastback roof. Both add a considerable amount of practicality but have not gone down too well with the purists. The all-wheel drive system itself is also far from conventional as it consists of a traditional drivetrain with a transaxle gearbox and a separate electronic clutch to feed the power to the front wheels. The system automatically detects when the rear wheels break traction and that unused power will then be transferred to the front wheels.
Among the most highly anticipated introductions was that of the Pagani Huayra, which is the company's first all-new model since the Zonda was launched here back in 1999. Like its predecessor, the new Pagani is an absolute work of art executed mostly in carbon-fibre and aluminium. The details, like the exposed gearshift linkage, are second to none. The exterior styling may take some getting used but then it took some time before the bold design of the Zonda grew on us. Powered by a 700 bhp engine and fitted with an adaptive aerodynamic system, it will no doubt be startlingly quick. At the time of writing, Pagani already received 51 orders for the car that retails well into the seven figures in most currencies. By comparison, the company only produced around 150 Zondas in the last decade.
Exactly ten years after the E-Type was launched, Lamborghini unveiled the Countach in Geneva. This year the company was presumably too busy to mark that anniversary. The focus instead was on the new range-topping Aventador LP700-4. The new car's angular styling does owe more to Countach's wild design than to any other Lamborghini built since. The Aventador definitely stands as the most evocative machines produced by Lamborghini under Audi ownership. Under the striking body, the car features a carbon-fibre tub, F1-derived push-rod suspension and a 700 bhp version of the familiar V12 engine. By using exotic materials throughout, the Lamborghini engineers have managed to keep the weight to very reasonable levels.
As the most important motor show of the year, Geneva proved to be remarkably recession-proof. This year, however, it was very clear that the industry as a whole is back on its feet. The number and quality of the releases was up again compared to last year. There was also room again for some exuberance, highlighted by Koenigsegg's bespoke skis with matching ski-box.