1999 Geneva Motor Show Page 3

March 14, 1999

WHEELING AND DEALING. "This isn’t an auto show. It’s a bazaar," said a senior Ford executive as he surveyed the floor of the Geneva International Auto Show. "Everyone here is either for sale or looking for someone to buy." While the spotlight focused on DaimlerChrysler, Renault, and Nissan, it was clear that the industry, as a whole, remains in the grip of merger mania. A senior Ford official hinted his company might be looking at another acquisition in Japan. Industry scuttlebutt suggested both Mitsubishi and Fuji Heavy Industries — which produces Subaru cars — could be seeking partners. After long expressing an interest in remaining independent, PSA Peugeot Citroen Chairman Jean-Martin Folz said his group also might consider a merger if the deal promised rapid industrial benefits. And, of course, there’s BMW, which many believe to be seeking a well-funded partner to help it recover from the financial problems of its British subsidiary, Rover. In his first major appearance, BMW’s new Chief Executive, Joachim Milberg, took pains to say his company wants to remain independent. Perhaps, but the BMW rumors show no sign of abating. — PAE

LUXURIATING AT FORD. Ford Motor Co. plans to boost luxury car sales from 200,000 to 1 million a year over the course of the next decade, company officials announced following the conclusion of Ford’s acquisition of Volvo Cars. Stockholders voted overwhelmingly to accept to $6.5 billion deal announced earlier this year. The 1 million unit target will require Ford to expand operations at all its luxury brands, including Lincoln, Volvo and Jaguar, noted Richard Parry-Jones, Ford Motor Co.'s group vice president for product development. But the automaker used its slot at Geneva’s press days to show it is targeting other segments of the market. The Mondeo ST250 ECO concept car is a supercharged version of the Ford sedan that can run on standard gasoline or liquefied petroleum gas. Then there’s the TH!NK, a zero-emission electric-powered, plastic-bodied car that will go on sale in Scandinavian countries before the end of this year. "High performance and care for the environment are not necessarily competing interests," Parry-Jones said. — PAE

VOLVO WINS INNOVATIVE PRIZE. Last Wednesday Auto Europe announced that the winner of this year’s Innovation Prize is the whiplash protection system, WHIPS, from Volvo. With WHIPS, the seating system of the Volvo S80 reduces acceleration forces in the neck by about 50 percent. Auto experts and engineers from 12 countries nominated new technologies for the prize, while the editors in chief of the various European Auto magazines voted for the winner. The Innovation Prize is for new technology of any type, from service to safety and from engines to car concepts. Last year Mitsubishi won the prize for its GDI (gas direct-injection) system. — HH

EUROPE GETS SMART? Smart is attracting the customers it wanted to, but not as many as it wanted, said Hans-Juerg Schaer, the executive vice president for marketing and sales at Micro Compact Car smart GmbH. Schaer said Smart buyers like the microcar’s roominess, maneuverability and style, but don't like the somewhat harsh quality of the suspension, the price/value relationship, or the car’s fuel consumption. Smart is doing something about the criticisms: it's added equipment and cut prices on most models. A basic Smart now costs about $9,300 in France and Italy. It has also introduced a new diesel engine that gets more than 50 miles per gallon. The stiff ride is here to stay, most likely, a result of the safety measures enacted to keep the car from rolling over in emergency high-speed lane changes. — WD

Reporting: Henny Hemmes (HH), William Diem (WD), TCC Team (PAE)

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