This week we'll see what is — since Switzerland has no home-based industry to hog the limelight — the only truly international show in the world. As it opens in Geneva, maybe the world’s most relaxed motor show will as usual have some interesting introductions.
For the real car buffs, the highlight will be the Ferrari stand, where the new F360M Spider convertible will be making its first public appearance. Geneva has become Ferrari's favorite spot for introductions in recent years, and it's not just because of the worldwide media focus the show attracts. Geneva's press days are always notable for the presence of large numbers of people who are far too well dressed to be automotive writers — or even auto industry executives. These are the glitterati who make Switzerland their home or their tax haven, and Ferrari knows that by launching a car here, it will not only pick up oceans of ink and miles of video footage, it will also pick up a few orders to help cover the expenses.
What's going to sell the F360? Performance, in the form of a 185-mph top speed and 0-to-60 mph acceleration in 4.7 seconds. Also, there is technology, in the form of an aluminum-based construction that cuts weight — always a problem in convertibles — by 39 percent compared to its predecessor, the F355. There's convenience, in the form of the first all-electric top on a Ferrari, and there's style, in the form of a smooth body penned by Pininfarina, Ferrari's oldest and best collaborator. The checks those well-dressed fans will be signing for their own F360M will be for around $150,000.
2000 Jaguar F-type concept
Still in the realms of speed and style, Geneva will give the Europeans the first opportunity to see Jaguar's F-Type, the car that conquered Detroit, in the metal. "The world is our focus group," said Jaguar boss Jonathan Browning when he unveiled the sleek roadster. Geneva was to be a second opinion on the car that Jaguar had built to see whether a market existed for a Jaguar the size of a Porsche Boxster. Detroit said there was, and Geneva will surely echo that opinion. There's little doubt that in Coventry they are already working on turning the concept into reality.
Yesterday's concept, tomorrow's purchase
2000 Opel VX220 sports car concept
Another concept that's turning into reality will be on the stand of Opel,
GM's main European brand, in the shape of the VX220 sports car. Developed
in association with Lotus and carrying a lot of Lotus Elise in its DNA profile,
the new two-seater will go on sale in Europe later this year after first
appearing as a concept at Geneva last year. Power for the open-topped, 140-mph
two-seater comes from a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine built in the U.S. There
are those who say that some of those engines will be
heading back home again at some time in the not-too-distant future. Rumor has it that a U.S.-spec version of the car will sell under one of GM's hotter nameplates.
The Renault stand will show one more production version of a previous concept. The Avantime, also due on the market later this year, is the French manufacturer's take on a long-distance high-speed road cruiser. Designed to take on the role created by the classic GT cars of the past, the Avantime combines 140-mph performance with the style and convenience of a luxury MPV — with just four seats.
Renault likes to show concepts at Geneva, and this year they will have the Koleos, a stylish 4x4 that's more off-roader than luxury SUV. Now that Renault is closely tied to Nissan, we have to consider the possibilities of the company's concept vehicles having a future under the Japanese brand. Koleos uses a lot of Nissan 4x4 know-how, and if it was to be produced it could be as a Nissan — which could put it onto U.S. showroom floors, so keep an eye on this one.
Geneva's position as a focus for European interest makes it a popular spot for launching production models as well as concepts, and the Japanese industry often uses the show as a launch pad for new cars. This year Mazda will show the Tribute, a Euro-influenced SUV, and will give a European debut to the Demio mini-MPV. Nissan will show a new QX, a sedan with close ties to the U.S. Maxima, which sells in Europe as a luxury sedan.
A uniquely British tradition
In the realms of true luxury, Rolls-Royce will show a long-wheelbase version of the Silver Seraph sedan, and at the other end of the British scale, Morgan will be doing something it only does once every two or three generations — unveiling a new model. The company is being very close-mouthed about what form the new car will take, but promises that Netheads will be among the first to know the details. As soon as the car is shown in Geneva on February 29th, details will be posted on the company's site, www.morgan-motor.co.uk.
2000 Cadillac Imaj concept
At the other end of the size scale from Morgan, GM will continue the relentless flow of concepts that has seen new design studies introduced in Detroit, L.A. and Chicago. The Geneva contribution comes from Cadillac, in the form of the Imaj, a luxury SUV influenced by what is becoming one of the most important market sub-segments in the US. The vehicle was styled in Birmingham, England, at General Motors' Concept Design Studios. Head man there is Briton Simon Cox, who is best known for his work for Isuzu,
including the radically styled VehiCROSS. The Imaj, powered by a 425-hp version of Caddy's Northstar V-8 has angular styling cues reminiscent of the Evoq sports car and luxury fitments that make it a true Cadillac. Peugeot will be showing a concept sports car based on its top of the line 607 sedan, and Giorgetto Giugiaro, the man named in a recent journalists' poll as the stylist of the century, will unveil a big (over 16 feet long) MPV with mechanical components from Maserati.
The big technical news of the show should, unless it is overshadowed by a surprise announcement, come from Saab. The Swedish company that's now wholly owned by GM is announcing what it calls a unique engine concept. The Saab Variable Compression Engine varies the engine's compression ratio (the ratio between the maximum volume of the cylinder, when the piston is at the bottom of its stroke, and the minimum volume, when the piston is at top dead center). This means that the engine allows much greater operating efficiency, offering improvements in useable power and fuel consumption. It also offers the possibility to run on various types of fuel, meaning that those stickers reading "Use Premium Unleaded Only" could be a thing of the past.