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1999 Geneva Motor Show


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 Speedster

Opel Speedster

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

COUPE COUP. Coupes were the hot ticket for several automakers this year. Mercedes-Benz offered up the new V-12-powered CL600, and a V-8 version, the CL500. The CL600, which goes on sale later this year, will carry a $90,000 price tag. It boasts 367 horsepower and shares the same suspension as Mercedes’ new S-Class. Both new CL models will feature DaimlerChrysler’s new active body control, essentially an automatic suspension system intended to smooth out the pitch-and-roll movements of cornering, accelerating and braking. Audi, meanwhile, offered up several coupes of its own, as well as a Roadster version of the hot new TT. And the German automaker unveiled a new V-8-powered A6, which is expected to significantly expand the sedan’s appeal in the power-hungry American market. — PAE

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

LeMans Cadillac.

LeMans Cadillac.

CADILLAC, WE HAVE RETURNED. America’s best-selling luxury brand will be returning to the grueling Le Mans racecourse in June 2000, a full 50 years after its last appearance. The automaker used the Geneva Motor Show to unveil a scale model of its Northstar LMP (short for Le Mans prototype) racer. The open-cockpit LMP will be powered by a 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged version of the Northstar V-8 used in such production models as the Caddy Seville. Insiders suggest it will make about 650 horsepower in racing trim. "The idea of returning to Le Mans after 50 years … could put on display some of the virtues that made us great," announced Cadillac General Manager John F. Smith. It should also provide extra visibility for the General Motors division, which is trying to orchestrate a rapid expansion of its miniscule European market. — PAE

Bentley LeMans

Bentley LeMans

BENTLEY AT LE MANS, TOO? Volkswagen plans to race the Bentley supercar it developed at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 2000. VW officially hasn't said a thing, but we cornered VW Chairman Ferdinand Piech at the Volkswagen dinner in the Noga Hilton Hotel and asked: "Are you going to race the Bentley at Le Mans?" "Yes." "When? Next year?" "Yes. It could be." The Bentley shown at the stand is a 630-hp V-16 with a lot of torque at low revs, just the kind of thing Bentley bragged about when it won at Le Mans in 1924, 1927, 1928, 1929, and 1930. The Bentley is named "Hunaudieres," the name of the straightaway at the track, but all that torque will be an advantage coming out of the curves. — WD


 
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