The 1999 Geneva International Motor Show might be remembered as one of the most eventful car shows in recent history. DaimlerChrysler nixed its plans to invest in Nissan, while Renault eyed its own offer for the beleaguered Japanese brand. Cadillac promised it would return to race at Le Mans for the first time in 50 years. And for once, the slew of exotic, expensive makes didn’t detract from some important mass-market coupes and sedans ready to roll on Europe’s narrow streets. The highlights from the show follow here, presented by our stable of TCC international reporters.
OPEL EYES SPEEDSTER. Don’t blink, or you could miss the Opel Speedster. The concept two-seater is designed to race from 0-100 kph (0-62.5 mph) in "under six seconds," according to Opel Chairman Bob Hendry. It’s powered by a brand-new 2.2-liter four-cylinder aluminum engine — the same powerplant that will drive a wide range of future Opel products. Officially, the new Speedster is just a concept car, but that could change depending on the reaction the roadster gets from Geneva showgoers. — PAE
SHOOTING FOR SHARE. Opel has invested $350 million in a new assembly line to build the Speedster’s engine. But that’s only a small piece of the $9 billion GM intends to invest in Europe over the next five years in order to revive its sagging market share, according to GM Europe President Michael Burns. GM’s market share slipped to 10.9 percent in 1998, down roughly 2 points from the mid-‘90s peak. Burns is optimistic GM Europe will take share away "from a lot of different people" with a variety of new and improved products, such as the new Zafira. For lack of a better term, you might call the Zafira a mini-minivan. It has flexible seating for up to seven, yet it has the exterior footprint of a conventional European compact. Zafira’s seating can be reconfigured in a variety of different ways to make room for plenty of luggage and cargo. Like other automakers, Opel is looking to reduce the number of basic product platforms it uses, but it will expand the variety of vehicles it offers. The strategy should help cut costs while increasing the number of market segments GM can target. "That’s the way you’re going to win in this business," Burns said. He added that his "stretch goal" is to reach $840 million in earnings this year, up from $419 million in 1998. — PAE
Mercedes CL 500
Mercedes CL 500
PRANCING PONY. You’d need X-ray eyes to see the most significant new feature of the Ferrari 360 Modena. The Italian automaker’s new entry in Geneva is built around an all-aluminum body structure developed as part of a five-year joint venture between Ferrari and aluminum supplier Alcoa. The 360 Modena replaces Ferrari’s top-selling F355 and is meant to keep sales running at record levels for a third year in a row. The price tag for the new car is $170,000, up 5 percent from the old car. Drivers will discover an extra 20 horsepower, which should make a significant difference considering the 360 Modena is 220 pounds lighter than the old F355. A racing-style automatic gearshift system can change gears in a lightning-fast 150 milliseconds. The F355 was Ferrari’s most successful model ever, accounting for sales of 2,000 units a year, about half the total volume for the carmaker, which is 87 percent owned by Fiat SpA. — PAE