Henny HemmesHenny Hemmes
European Bureau Chief
Best New Concept: The Honda Civic Concept would be best, provided it was not so close to production. So instead, I will go for the Bertone Villa, the concept of a space wagon based on the Cadillac SRX. It is realistic with lots of interior space and doors that flip up to the front and rear, so that even in narrow parking spots it would be easy to get in or out. If Cadillac is really daring it would build a car like the Villa. European buyers in this segment like new ideas, as is proven by the success of the Renault Scénic.
2006 Mazda MiataBest New Production Car: The Mazda Miata. There is no doubt the original roadster is still here, but new lines and inboard lights have given the Miata a fresh new look. Mazda may not be able to surpass the success of the former Miata, which totaled 700,000 sales, but it will be able to hold on to a fair slice of the roadster pie.
2006 Mazda MiataEnlarge Photo
Most Significant Production Vehicle: The triplets born of the joint venture of Toyota and the PSA Group. The Citroën C1, Peugeot 107, and the Toyota Aygo made their debut in Geneva and have to compete in Europe's small segment, which is getting more popular since prices of all cars have been rising and small cars have matured. Despite sharing the platform and a lot of technology, the three car manufacturers well succeeded in going their own way design-wise.
Best Press Conference: Dodge, which already announced that it would reintroduce the brand in Europe in 2006. We expected Dieter Zetsche to “grab life by the horns” and come on stage on a bull, but the unveiling of the Caliber with a lot of broken glass was probably also quite challenging for Chrysler’s charismatic CEO.
Worst Press Conference: Hyundai. During the world premiere of the HED-1 concept and the Grandeur, the video accidentally stopped, while the talk went on. Not practiced enough would be a bad excuse, failure is even worse.
Who's On Top: Toyota, not only in the U.S., but also in Europe and Lexus will follow in its wake. With a more aggressive marketing program and the availability of a diesel engine for the new IS, Lexus will be able to score much better in the business class.
Who's In The Barrel: More than a year after the Mercedes was on the hot seat because of the quality glitches, sales are still sliding in Europe. Although most problems have been solved, Mercedes should have campaigned more aggressively to get its customers back. Now it seems they are still in the downward spiral. Sales in the first two months of 2005 went down by more than 12 percent.
Personal Best: The Aston Martin V8 Vantage, no doubt. But I also like the Alfa Brera, which will be more affordable than the Aston Martin. Alfa may even come back to North America, as rumors grow the company is looking at the possibilities to do so by the end of 2007.
Prediction for 2005: In Europe, car sales will not top those of 2004 but should not be too bad for Toyota and the South Koreans. Audi and BMW and also the sports car manufacturers such as Porsche and Aston Martin may not be hurt too much either, as they all are introducing new models this year and the more expensive cars still sold well during the first two months of this year.
Biggest News Story: Saab, GM’s troubled division, is safe. Just before the Geneva show opened for the media, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said that GM will not stop building and selling Saabs. GM needs a global premium brand and will have to stop the heavy losses by the plants where Saabs and Opels are built. In Geneva Saab unveiled the 9-3 Estate, important for the European lease segment.