2000 Paris Auto Show, Part I

September 29, 2000


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WE ARE THE WORLD—CAR. The first-generation Mondeo was supposed to usher in a new era of world cars for Ford Motor Co. But it never quite lived up to expectations. Now Ford’s trying again and the second-generation Mondeo is roomier, sleeker and more technically sophisticated. But it will not be sold in one key market—the U.S. The existing American version, the Ford Contour, is phasing out, and the odds are slim the new car will replace it because it would come too close in size and price to the Taurus. In Europe, though, the new Mondeo faces a big challenge. It’s aimed at the heard of the market, where Ford has become, at best, a marginal player. Overall, the automaker has lost more than three points of European market share since 1994, leaving its operations seriously underutilized and deeply in the red. So, "the new Mondeo signals a turning point for Ford of Europe," proclaimed the division’s president, Nick Scheele, during the Paris preview of the 2001 Mondeo.

 

2001 Opel Corsa

2001 Opel Corsa


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OF CORSA. While Ford may be struggling to regain ground with the Mondeo, the little Corsa has proven a big success for General Motors of Europe, which was facing its own problems just a few years ago. Roomier and more technically sophisticated, the ’01 Corsa offers a variety of neat new features, including the "Easytronic" transmission. It’s a manual, but it is automatically shifted, which eliminates the clutch pedal. Opel expects to sell as many as 500,000 Corsas a year, which would make it one of Europe’s best-selling automobiles. In other GM news from Paris, the automaker offered up more details of its evolving relationship with Italy’s Fiat. Look for a Fiat diesel to show up in an Opel product "within 18 months," according to GM Europe President Michael Burns. Meanwhile, the alliance is going to take its time working together on future small car platforms, added GM CEO Rick Wagoner. Fiat and GM want to focus on near-term cost-cutting opportunities for now, though later in the decade, Wagoner suggested, there is likely to be a move to common small car platform development.

 

2000 Porsche Carrera GT concept

2000 Porsche Carrera GT concept


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PORSCHE POWER. You can never have enough horsepower. At least that seems to be the philosophy behind the Porsche Carrera GT, a roadworthy supercar that was shown in Paris in thinly disguised concept form. The open-top sports car features a 558-horsepower, normally-aspirated V-10 (though a Porsche insider hints that the engine is capable of pumping that up as high as 800 hp). Top speed? A blistering 330 kph, though the GT moved along at a much more sedate speed during a dawn roll-out down the Champs Elysees. "Today, this is still a concept car," said Porsche Chairman Wendelin Wiedeking. "In the year 2003, it may become a reality." Fred Schwab, head of the automaker’s U.S. subsidiary, said he expects to sell as many as 200 GTs during a three-year period. Demand should be strong, he added, because "We’ve never been able to bring to the United States a supercar."

 

2000 volvo performance concept

2000 volvo performance concept


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IT’S ALL IN THE CONCEPT. What happens if you pump a little more power into the new Volvo S60 sedan? You can get a good idea from the Volvo Performance Concept Car which made its debut at the Mondial de l’Automobile. It features a 300-horsepower engine developed in-house by the Swedish carmaker, a six-speed manual gearbox, and a Haldex all-wheel-drive system. Perhaps the most notable breakthrough, though, is the concept’s Continuously Controlled Chassis System, which updates its settings 500 times a second. It can be switched to provide a driver with a comfort, sport or advanced sport ride. "This technology could show up in a future performance version of the S60, hinted the automaker’s Lars Erik Lundin.

 

2001 Mercedes C-Class 230 rear

2001 Mercedes C-Class 230 rear


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OLYMPIAN EFFORT. Drawing comparisons with the Olympic athletes performing in Sydney, Mercedes-Benz officials unveiled the newest version of their recently-redesigned C-Class. The C Coupe is just a touch shorter and lower than the C-Class sedan, which was launched earlier in the year. "It takes an Olympic sprinter as a design theme," suggested Mercedes’ product development chief, Juergen Hubbert. But observers may be surprised by some of the very non-traditional design cues, such as the coupe’s rear end, which reminded some Paris observers of a Japanese sports car. The new 2-door features an optional "panoramic" sliding roof that’s about a third bigger than a conventional sunroof, and which can be operated by remote control. There will be four engines available in the European edition, though likely only two will make it to the States. Look for a Spring ’01 roll-out and a price about $1000 below that of the new C-Class sedan.

 

2000 Mercedes Smart Coupe v1 concept

2000 Mercedes Smart Coupe v1 concept


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A SMART IDEA? After its initially slow launch, Mercedes’ Smart Car subsidiary finally seems to be finding a market among motorists who want something small and easy to handle on crowded European streets. The Smart line-up is slowly starting to grow, with a ragtop added to the original City Coupe. And a 2-seat roadster is due out in 2003. It may be joined by the Smart Coupe shown in Paris, suggested the division’s chief, Andreas Renschler. The two vehicles would share the same platform, he stressed, minimizing the cost of adding the new vehicle to the Smart line-up. Officially, Smart is being sold in eight countries right now, though Renschler admitted it’s now on the gray market in 58 countries. There’ve been reports the U.S. might be added to the list, but there are no plans currently, he emphasized. Look for a right-hand version of the existing Smart cars to make a formal debut in the U.K. and Japan, though, before year’s end. Despite the slow roll-out and questions about Smart’s long-term future, Renschler insisted that, if anything, the French-based operation is going to run out of capacity soon—about 100,000 units a year as currently set up.

 

2001 Mini Cooper

2001 Mini Cooper


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MINI ME? Nothing, it seems, can stop the new Mini from making it to market by the Summer of next year. The legendary micro-car is the only piece of its ill-fated Rover acquisition that remains in the BMW portfolio. The long-awaited update will make its initial debut in Great Britain, then began a fast global roll-out. The U.S. version will launch in March of 2002, though American motorists will only get the upgraded Mini Cooper and Mini Cooper S editions. The base model is expected to pump out around 115 horsepower, quite a bit considering its final weight will be just over 2200 pounds. In a surprising move, BMW offered a hint of Mini variants to come, posting internal sketches of several possible future models, including a convertible, and even a pickup. Global capacity will be 100,000 a year, and plans call for sales of around 20,000 annually in America. The Mini has always been a steadier seller in Europe, though it’s anyone’s guess if it will really prove successful State-side. Only about 10,000 officially made it to American shores in the 1960s, but there remains a strong fascination with the tiny little car, with 15 Mini car clubs operating in the U.S. BMW expects to sell Mini through its own distribution channel.

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