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2003 Geneva Show, Part IV



TCC's Auto Show Index by TCC Team (2/23/2003)
Our coverage of the world's major auto shows, year to year.

2003 Geneva Motor Show Index by TCC Team (3/3/2003)
All the best from the Swiss car event of the year



BMW Design Chief Stays The Course

2003 BMW xActivity Vehicle concept

2003 BMW xActivity Vehicle concept

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“People expect us to be controversial,” said Chris Bangle, and there’s no question that BMW’s design director has lived up to expectations. He caused a furor that continues to resonate more than a year after the introduction of the new 7-Series, and the styling of the recently launched Z4 roadster has also generated much debate. But Bangle told TheCarConnection he expects things to settle down a bit, even as observers wait for the launch of the reborn 6-er, as well as the next-generation 5-Series. Neither is likely to be as shocking as the 7-Series, he hinted, suggesting that when it comes to breaking ground, “the 7 did all the snowplowing.” With these upcoming launches, BMW will settle into a sort of “harmonization process” across the lineup, added Bangle. But don’t expect the ever-edgy design chief to simply settle back. “We’ll keep seeing change,” he promised.


Name That Tune?

2003 Chrysler Airflite concept

2003 Chrysler Airflite concept

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In years past, industry leaders seemed to race to find catchy slogans that quickly capture the themes of their big ideas. Chrysler’s “cab-forward” design theme was easy to visualize, and the Ford 2000 program underscored former Chairman Alex Trotman’s dream of pulling together a global company for the 21st century. But suddenly, manufacturers are shying away from sloganeering. “We consciously decided against coming up with a name” to describe the new design direction at Chrysler, said one company official. “Cab rearward” has been suggested for vehicles like the Airflite concept unveiled in Geneva, but he admitted it just didn’t have the same ring. Ford, meanwhile, is consciously avoiding any effort to put a formal name on its new product development and manufacturing program, even though it could eventually reduce vehicle costs by as much as 30 percent. There’ve been a few too many big ideas at Ford over the last decade, one senior executive admitted, and once the shine wore off, he concluded, they became catchphrases for failure.


Fiat’s New Cars: Bigger Than They First Appear

Struggling Italian automaker Fiat took the wraps off a variety of new products during the Geneva Motor Show, including two mini-MPVs, the Idea and the Gingo, which replace aging models such as the Seicento and the ancient Panda. Despite their small size, they’ve got a big job ahead of them, stressed Gianni Coda, head of the Fiat, Lancia and light commercial vehicle unit, helping launch the humbled carmaker’s comeback. Fiat has more than $400 million invested in the Idea, which will be produced at its Mirafiori plant. It hopes to sell up to 120,000 a year. Gingo, meanwhile, will roll out of the automaker’s plant in Tychy, Poland. For an investment of about $550 million, Fiat is hoping for annual sales of around 200,000. “We want to reclaim (lost) ground,” said Coda, but considering the automaker’s steady loss of share in recent years, observers warned it won’t be easy, even with a new line-up. The Stilo, launched in late 2001 to much fanfare, has scored a much poorer reception than expected, one reason for Fiat’s current problems.


More GM/Fiat Ventures?

Fiat CEO Gianni Coda

Fiat CEO Gianni Coda

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Fiat Auto President Gianni Coda declined to discuss the status of negotiations with General Motors over the so-called “put option.” It could potentially force GM to acquire a failing Fiat. Well-placed sources at the Geneva Motor Show said the two sides are looking for an alternative that would avoid a sell-out but still provide the Italian company with some much-needed assistance. That could involve expanding the current series of joint ventures between the two companies. “Collaboration will continue (to expand) where opportunities emerge,” Coda declared in answer to a question from TheCarConnection. Among other things, Fiat and GM are now sharing development of parts purchasing and powertrain development and production in Europe and Latin America. And they’re jointly developing a new series of small cars, such as the next-generation Fiat Punto and Opel Corsa. They’ve also put a lot of effort into a new luxury car program. But while that platform will be used for the Alfa-Romeo 156 replacement, GM has written off the project. The “business case failed,” Rick Wagoner, the U.S. automaker’s CEO, told a TCC correspondent. “Saab couldn’t afford it.”


Talks To Resume

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