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2003 Geneva Show, Part IV Page 2


Thursday will bring another round of discussions between senior GM and Fiat officials, though it is not clear if the Italian company’s new Chairman, family heir Umberto Agnelli, will join in. He is scheduled to be attending the annual auto show in Geneva, where the talks will take place. Things are becoming more intense for both sides. It is just about a year from when Fiat could theoretically exercise its put option, forcing a takeover by GM. But despite promises of an imminent turnaround, the financial picture for the Italian firm goes from bleak to bleaker. With Standard & Poor’s and Fitch joining fellow debt rating agency Moody in downgrading Fiat, the company’s debt is trading somewhere between non-investment and junk bond grade. It has been reported Fiat would like help from GM as it attempts to recapitalize. But so far, the U.S. company is resisting.

 

Maserati Follows Ferrari’s Lead For ‘Gentlemen Racers’

2003 Maserati Trofeo

2003 Maserati Trofeo

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Maserati is underlining its racing heritage as part of its business revival as a close companion marque to Ferrari. The first step is to create a one-make racing series aimed at Maserati owners. This echoes Ferrari’s policy, which for some years has seen championships open only to Ferraris. These have given those owners who are skilled enough and wealthy enough the chance to enjoy the thrills of racing by competing against similar cars and drivers whose abilities behind the wheel are in most cases competent but not outstanding. Ferrari runs championships for what are called in Europe ‘Gentleman Drivers’ (although women have also competed) in Europe and the USA, and at the end of each racing season there is a season run-off that decides the overall champions. The competition is tough, but efficient organization ensures that the competitors and their supporters are treated in the way that those who are able to buy a Ferrari expect to be, with on-track entertainment facilities and an enjoyable social scene.

The formula has worked well for Ferrari, and this year Maserati owners will be getting the same treatment. The firm is building a special lightweight version of its road-going Cambiocorsa model that has been equipped with racing safety devices and will be called the Trofeo (Trophy). Twenty-six of the cars have been built so far, and buyers will have the opportunity to race them in a series of six races that will take place at major international race meetings including two Formula 1 Grand Prix events, at Silverstone in Britain and Monza in Italy.

The races will be of one hour’s duration, making them mini endurance races. This gives a clue to the future plans for Ferrari’s sister marque. While the world champions concentrate on F1, Maserati’s future role will be to carry the Italian flag in long-distance races like the classic Le Mans 24-hours.

 

Europe Takes The Top Down

2004 Renault Megane Cabriolet

2004 Renault Megane Cabriolet

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Convertibles have always been the poor relations in the ranges of major European manufacturers, but that seems to be changing as younger buyers get more money and the market becomes split in to so many niches. Today, majors like Ford, GM, Peugeot, Citroen and Renault need a convertible in the middle of the range, rather than as a minority offering at the top of the price structure. Ford is about to start deliveries of its cute Streetka, built for it by Pininfarina, and Renault has used the show to unveil the drop-top version of the new Megane, which will go on sale toward the fall. The Megane is a ‘coupe convertible’, a new breed that is caching the eye of wealthier young buyers in a big way. Instead of the traditional fabric top, the coupe convertible has a metal hardtop that folds automatically, providing a weatherproof cover for bad times and a full open-air experience for the sunny days and balmy nights. Mercedes started the trend with its SLK, but Peugeot brought it right down market with the 206CC, an open-topped two-seater with a folding top developed by French coachbuilders Heuliez. Geneva saw another variation on this theme, the 307CC, which takes Peugeot’s compact and applies the same top technology to a four seater. Renault’s entry in the coupe convertible battle, the Megane, uses technology from Germany’s Karmann, but the aim is the same — a cosy top that opens up at the touch of a button when the weather is right.

Citroen showed its convertible last year, and deliveries are starting now. It’s called the Pluriel, and it offers a variety of options for open-topped motoring, all the way from a roll-back roof similar to that of the legendary Citroen 2CV to lift-off side supports that make the car into a completely topless four-seater. Unfortunately, there’s no way to put the roof up if it rains while you are in full open mode because the roof supprts have to be left behind in the garage; but who cares if you are driving your Pluriel round St Tropez?


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