Thursday 10th Mar 2016
This year, perhaps more than any other, the Geneva Motor Show reeked of money. From the wealthy customers allowed to mingle with the less well-attired journalists on press day, to show-boating cars like the new Aston Martin DB11, the floor was awash with cash. But the whole edifice would collapse if the more affordable cars weren’t on the money too – we assess the show’s hits and misses.
The big theme was SUVs – not surprising, given their surge in Europe and particularly here in the UK. Last year we bought more than any other European country, even Germany, according to figures from market analysist JATO Dynamics.
At the top end, Maserati launched its slightly awkward looking Levante, and from there the SUVs cascaded down in size to Audi’s new supermini-based Q2, a surefire hit if ever there was one.
This was the show when Toyota finally addressed its long-slipping grasp on the SUV sector with its hybrid-powered C-HR, a dramatic and mostly successful attack on the Nissan Juke that marked the moment the often-staid maker finally nailed current European design trends.
Others played it more safe. The Seat Ateca is a re-bodied VW Tiguan that finally launched the Spanish maker into the Nissan Qashqai sector with a design well short of its recent styling flair. Skoda’s version of the same car will be bigger, with seven seats instead of five, and looks a lot better, or at least that’s what the Vision S concept promised. We’ll find out for sure later this year.
Their parent company VW, meanwhile, has still yet to enter the small SUV sector below the Tiguan, instead showing yet another concept. The firm tried to look on-trend by cutting the roof off its T-cross Breeze show car (think junior Range Rover Evoque Convertible), but as one European CEO said to me, its dealers must be going crazy that they still don’t have a rival to the likes of the incredibly popular Renault Captur and the newly facelifted Vauxhall Mokka.
Even Renault’s new Scenic people carrier was taking cues from the SUV craze. Out went some practicality, including the old triple-split rear bench, and in came some design sexiness – the result was surprisingly appealing.
Elsewhere, Volvo’s recent run of design bullseyes continued with the V90 estate, a handsome car that’ll compete directly with the likes of the BMW 5-series Touring.
Also trying to achieve some spotlight space among the German premiums was Alfa Romeo, which showed saloon versions of the long-awaited Giulia rival to the BMW 3-Series. Very smart it looked too, and there’s a fleet-savvy diesel option recording under 100g/km of CO2.
Lower down the price list, Fiat went back to its budget-car basics with the Turkish-built Tipo hatchback and estate. We don’t know the exact price of this Ford Focus rival yet, but the way Fiat is talking, think Dacia levels.
If the Tipo were to start at, say, £11,000, you’ll be able to buy a fleet of 173 of them for the price of the most expensive road car at the show: the new Bugatti Chiron at £1.9m. This replacement to the Veyron sticks with a turbocharged 16-cylinder engine but somehow increases the power to 1500hp. Best car in the world? Depends what your requirements are, I guess.
For those plutocrats for whom life isn’t all about winning the ultimate drag race, Aston Martin showed it could still blend crisply tailored design and alpha-male muscle with the new DB11. The crowds clogging the thoroughfare next to the stand dreamed of experiencing the car’s turbocharged 5.2-litre V12, but I bet they weren’t aware of the DB11’s soft-centred secret: the rear can accommodate child seats for the first time.
Vying for a space in the fantasy garage was McLaren, whose 10/10ths approach was dialed down a notch in favour of usable luxury in the 570GT – a supercar with a hatchback to reveal additional space for a couple of squashy leather bags. A weekend-break special, if you will.
In the interview rooms away from the show-floor dazzle, the talk from CEOs was how best to stay relevant in a future where autonomous cars are the norm and we just whistle up our ride from Uber. But that’s a long way down the road. As Geneva 2016 showed, the present reflects the past and the medium-term future. To be successful in this business, you need first and foremost to build attractive cars, whether they cost £10,000 or £1 million.
- Nick Gibbs, a journalist who writes about cars and the car industry for the Daily Telegraph and others