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2004 Paris Auto Show, Part VI


Confused in Paris

Cheesecake

Cheesecake

The most frequent topic of conversation among automotive scribes attending this year’s Paris Motor Show was what, if anything, was the common thread. Several dozen new vehicles made their debut in the City of Lights, from the little Citroën C2 to Ferrari’s big F430. Yet there were none of the blockbuster introductions traditionally found during Europe’s big autumn show. And perhaps that was the real thread linking the industry together. Where manufacturers have traditionally sought the automotive equivalent of a home run, that’s no longer the way the game is being played. The European market has become, if possible, even more competitive. The continental economy is soft, real prices have been slipping a percentage point or more each year, and the Asians are positioning themselves for the same sort of assault that gobbled up vast amounts of share in the U.S. So, if anything, European automakers are striving for solid singles and doubles. They’re filling in the gaps between model segments with products like the Mercedes Grand Sport Tourer and Lancia’s B-Kini. Innovations are often small and modest, like the fixed center hub in the little Citroën, which allows some of the indicator lights to be displayed on the steering wheel, rather than on an overcrowded instrument panel. With even more marques than the U.S., analysts have long predicted a shake-up in the European market. The problems faced by mass-market brands, such as Fiat, Ford, and Opel, suggest that it’s getting tough to survive. But as this year’s Paris Motor Show makes clear, no one is ready to roll over. And as far as consumers are concerned, that’s good news, because there’s more product than ever, targeted at every possible niche.

Breaking News: Sex Still Sells

“Cheesecake” was in clear view on the floor of the Paris convention center. Models in revealing wear helped draw crowds even if the cars on display wound up being ignored. Nowhere was the flesh factor more obvious than in the corner of the hall controlled by Italy’s Fiat group. At the Ferrari stand, the models’ custom-designed race outfits likely would have distracted even the ever-focused Michael Schumacher. At Lancia, several young women pushed the envelope, emulating the risqué Russian girl group, Tatu. Not all automakers opted to use skin to sell. At the Opel stand, many of the models were outfitted in lumpy jumpsuits that seemed better suited to the antiseptic sci-fi flick THX 1138. Meanwhile, BMW proved that it’s good to appeal to the distaff side of showgoers, too. The Bavarian marque had photographers posing male models, with carefully cultivated stubble on their well-sculpted chins.

2006 Porsche Boxster

2006 Porsche Boxster

Enlarge Photo

Porsche Previews Boxster, Outlines Plans

After an eight-year run, the original Porsche Boxster is about to be replaced, but the second-generation roadster is not likely to catch you by surprise. The goal was "evolution versus revolution," insists the automaker's CEO, Dr. Wendelin Wiedeking. "Our focus is on small steps, but those we take more consistently and frequently." A more careful inspection reveals the '05 Boxster to be a bit more aerodynamic and sophisticated, with a wider track and wider wheels and tires. Two engines are being offered, including a 2.7-liter, 240-hp boxer and the 3.2-liter flat six for the Boxster S. At 280 hp, it will launch from 0-100 km/h (0-62.5 mph) in 5.5 seconds. The new roadster will offer a wide range of standard and optional features, including available ceramic brake discs. All versions will feature six airbags, including what Porsche claims is the world's first application of head bags in a convertible. In a tip of the hat to the competitive nature of the sports car market, European prices will be reduced six to nine percent. In theU.S., explained Porsche Board Member Hans Reidel, there will be a similar increase in the "price/value equation" of the new Boxster. Prices will go up about $800, or 1.9 percent, but the car will come with about $4000 in new equipment, including the airbag system, four-caliper brakes, a new audio system, and the Porsche Stability Package.

2006 Porsche Boxster

2006 Porsche Boxster

Enlarge Photo

The Boxster has been a critical piece in the Porsche strategy. Indeed, without the roadster, "Porsche would almost certainly not be in business today as an independent company," conceded Wiedeking, during a Wednesday evening press preview. But times have not been quite so good for the Boxster lately. Originally launched in 1996, it has seen sales fall from a peak of 27,900 to just 13,000 this last year. "It's been a tough nine months for us," acknowledged Riedel, because "people knew (the replacement) was coming." Going forward, Porsche is trying to develop a more cadenced product roll-out strategy, the marketing and sales chief explained to TheCarConnection.com. That will mean a new product or variant, on average, every six months going forward. Where might a fourth major product fit into that line-up? A formal decision will not be made until 2005, Riedel insisted, though "we know what we want to do." The only clue is that, "Porsche will not have a model priced below Boxster," hinted Wiedeking. - TCC Team

Hyundai’s Fifth Sonata

Paris served as the backdrop for Hyundai to take the wraps off its fifth-generation Sonata sedan. South Korea’s largest automaker has some ambitious plans for the increasingly sophisticated four-door, and hopes to position the new Sonata as a global Camry fighter. The vehicle will be produced in a variety of markets, including Korea, China, and the U.S., where it will be the first model to roll off Hyundai’s new assembly line in Montgomery, Alabama. The $1 billion plant will begin production next spring. Virtually everything about the new Sonata has been upgraded, including sheetmetal and suspension, as well as the powertrain. The U.S. market — where the car will be sold as a 2006 model — will get both a base, 2.4-liter, DOHC in-line four engine, as well as a 3.3-liter V-6. The new Sonata follows industry trends, and measures about two inches longer, two inches taller, and about a half-inch wider. Most of that will translate into a roomier new interior. And to give its Asian and American competitors a headache, the new car is expected to include a wide range of standard safety features, including side-impact airbags and traction control. With rare exception, that technology is typically optional on all but top-line midsize models.

With the launch of a European version of the Sonata, Hyundai is aiming to capture about 2.2 percent of the European market, company officials declared during the Paris Motor Show. They could be especially well positioned in light of the sharp run-up of the Euro. Gaining ground in Europe will also provide a market for vehicles Hyundai will no longer export from South Korea once its new U.S. assembly plant opens next year. To gain traction in Europe, the automaker expects to broaden its lineup, and is especially interested in moving up-market, Werner Frey, vice president of Hyundai Motor Europe, explained during an industry conference in Paris. “Shifting to higher-segment products is a key strategy for us in Europe,” he said, adding that Hyundai’s goal is to offer vehicles ranging from 9000 to 35,000 euros (around $11,000 to $43,000).


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