2001 Geneva Show, Part I

February 27, 2001


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Geneva Motor Show coverage

 

BMW CEO Joachim Milberg

BMW CEO Joachim Milberg

ONE-SERIES UPSMANSHIP. BMW will roll out a raft of new product in the coming months, including a new 3-Series Compact currently slated for sale just about everywhere but the United States. It’s also adding a sequentially shifted manual transmission for the high-performance M3. But the biggest news the Bavarian automaker is making in Geneva concerns two vehicles that won’t hit the road until sometime around 2004. At the low end, there’s the 1-Series, which will be sized to compete with high-end vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz A-Class. BMW also intends to revive the dormant 6-Series nameplate, which Chief Executive Joachim Milberg says will be applied to an upmarket coupe—“which is also slated to be offered in a convertible version.” Look for a base price of around $55,000 for the 6-Series Coupe, a source suggested.

LUXURY FOR THE MASSES? In contrast to sluggish sales of mass market vehicles in the U.S. and Europe, luxury brands continue to post strong sales. Nowhere is that more obvious—or surprising—than in Germany, where Mercedes-Benz actually outsold General Motors’ Opel division in January. And BMW came close to topping Ford sales. “One month does not a year make,” cautioned Ford’s European chairman, Nick Scheele, but he admitted the automaker is struggling to reverse several years of declining volume. Observers suggest that despite declines in global stock markets, upscale buyers continue to demand the best, while the general consumer is often putting a new car purchase on hold while waiting to see whether economic conditions turn around.

2001 Opel Astra X-treme concept

2001 Opel Astra X-treme concept

X-TREME OPEL. That’s the new Astra Coupe OPC X-treme, a high-performance compact that took its bow in Geneva along with a sporty OPC version of the Zafira people mover. The Zafira has a date with an assembly line, and will enter production later this year. Its 2.0-liter turbo will push it to a top speed of 220 kph (138 mph). Opel has plenty of product coming to market in an effort to battle back a sharp decline in share and profits—last year’s $250 million loss “is not a result we’re proud of,” said GM’s European chief, Mike Burns. Among the new entries is the Astra Cabrio, a ragtop version of the popular coupe that will go for less than $20,000 in most European markets. Though GM insists its European operations are on the comeback trail, Burns acknowledged it “isn’t going to be easy,” especially considering the flood of product being launched by the competition.

2001 Ford ST Contour concept

2001 Ford ST Contour concept

TRANSFORMATION STRATEGY. Ford of Europe intends to roll out 45 new products between 2000 and 2005—nine this year alone—in what the unit’s president, David Thursfield, dubs a “transformation strategy.” Look for an emphasis on styling and performance, he suggested, pointing to two concept vehicles unveiled in Geneva. The ST Contour Concept is a thinly disguised version of a high-performance Mondeo due out later this year. It features a lowered body and some sexy new sheet metal, as well as a 220-hp Duratec V-6. The production Mondeo 220 will be out later this year.

2001 Ford Street Car concept

2001 Ford Street Car concept

But potential customers will have to wait until 2003 for the highway version of the StreetKa Concept. “It will be faithful to the spirit of the concept,” promised European product chief Martin Leach. The limited-edition vehicle is being developed as part of a new joint venture between Ford and the legendary Italian Pininfarina family.

2002 Jaguar X-Type

2002 Jaguar X-Type

X MARKS THE SPOT. Jaguar lifted the covers on the fourth and newest model in its line-up, the new X-Type sedan. “With the X-Type,” declared company president Jonathon Browing, “we probably have the most important car in the Jaguar line-up.” Well, certainly the one likely to be the brand’s volume nameplate, with sales forecast to eventually top 200,000 a year. The X-Type is derived from the Ford Mondeo, though there’s been significant modification to the chassis and virtually all body panels. As TheCarConnection has previously noted, the X will come standard with all-wheel-drive, and it boasts more rear leg room and trunk space than the more expensive S-Type. Some observers worry the new X-Type could cannibalize sales of high-end Jaguars. And Wolfgang Reitzle, head of Ford Motor Co.’s Premier Automotive Group, admits the X will put pressure on Jaguar designers and engineers to upgrade both the technology and utility of the automaker’s next-generation flagship, the XJ sedan. But, he said, “I like that pressure. It’s better than if it came from other companies.”

2002 Aston Martin Vanquish

2002 Aston Martin Vanquish

VANQUISHED. It hasn’t exactly been a well-kept secret. TheCarConnection.com already has given readers a sneak peek at the eagerly awaited Aston Martin Vanquish. With Geneva, the wraps are formally off the $228,000 supercar, which will go on sale in Europe in June and the States in September. Vanquish features a high-tech body of aluminum and carbon fiber, a 460-horsepower V-12, and a Formula One-style sequentially shifted gearbox. Aston Martin is about three things, declared CEO Ulrich Bez: “power, beauty and soul.” But with Vanquish, it’s after some big growth—albeit off some small starting numbers. Aston sales hit a record 1029 last year and are projected to reach 1300 in 2002, when the Vanquish hits full line speed—about 300 annually rolling off the modernized line in Newport Pagnell.

2002 Fiat Stilo

2002 Fiat Stilo

THREE FOR ONE. Fiat and its upscale brands, Alfa Romeo and Lancia, rolled out three new vehicles at the annual motor show. The mass-market entry from Fiat is the sleek-styled Stilo, a high-tech model aiming for young buyers and starting families. Offered in three- and five-door versions, it features eight airbags and other advanced safety features, as well as an MP3 player.

2002 Alfa 147

2002 Alfa 147

Alfa’s newest addition is the five-door version of the downsized 147. With the launch of the new Thesis, meanwhile, Lancia is trying to revive its lagging fortunes while firmly positioning itself as the flagship brand in the Italian automaker’s empire. The three vehicles demonstrate “all the best of being Italian,” boasted Fiat’s marketing director, Juan Jose Diaz Ruiz.

Dieter Zetsche geneva 2001

Dieter Zetsche geneva 2001

FRIENDS HELPING FRIENDS. Following on the announcement Monday of the Chrysler Turnaround Plan, the automaker’s CEO, Dieter Zetsche clarified what is likely to be a growing swap of components between Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz. “We can basically use every component from Mercedes in a Chrysler vehicle up to (and including) the engine. We do not want to share entire platforms.” That, instead, will become the role of Mitsubishi Motors, the third member in the global DaimlerChrysler group. Together, Mitsubishi and Chrysler will eliminate half their current 26 platforms, and Zetsche suggested that the Japanese marque will likely take responsibility for the smaller products in the lineup, probably including the next-generation Chrysler Neon. DC has already confirmed plans to produce a Chrysler version of the Mercedes sequentially shifted manual gearbox, as well as a Mercedes diesel for the European PT Cruiser. What else is on tap? That remains to be seen, but Zetsche cautioned Chrysler cannot afford to use Mercedes’ most advanced engines because they would add too much to the cost of its vehicles.

Sonobe and Eckrodt

Sonobe and Eckrodt

SHOTGUN MARRIAGE. There’s a great irony to the new bonds between Chrysler and Mitsubishi. It’s really much the same relationship the two automakers seemed to be forming throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. Indeed, the two companies came close to approving a merger of their own on several occasions, though in recent years, they’d been drifting apart. “The intention to work together is real strong now,” said Rolf Eckrodt, the Japanese carmaker’s DaimlerChrysler-appointed COO. Considering the condition the two troubled companies are in, they really have no choice, he added, during a meeting with reporters co-hosted by Mitsubishi CEO Takashi Sonobe. “There is a new spirit of cooperation and that helps a lot. We don’t want to take over Mitsubishi or create some Germanic culture or more it (like the) U.S. We want to bundle the companies and…turn them around.”

BROAD BRAND. In direct contradiction to the controversial strategy of its parent, General Motors, Opel is abandoning the marketing strategy that positions every individual product as its own brand. GM has spent billions of dollars developing and marketing its American products under this approach. But Alain Uyttenhoven, Opel’s brand chief, says that approach doesn’t work—at least not in Europe. “The individual models will have less importance in the future,” he told Reuters news service. Instead, Opel will focus on what Uttenhoven described as “tribe marketing.” We “have to focus on the umbrella brand (Opel), and not so much on individual products.” GM’s North American operations slowly seem to be moving back to that approach, though the core unit’s president, Ron Zarrella, continues to defend his five-year-old strategy, which has failed to staunch the automaker’s steady slide in American market share. 

TAKEOVER? WHAT TAKEOVER? DaimlerChrysler’s embattled chief executive, Juergen Schrempp, took the offensive Tuesday, as he began a two-week bid to regain the confidence of skeptical European investors. A day after announcing a massive turnaround plan for the global carmaker’s troubled Chrysler and Mitsubishi divisions, Schrempp declared “We are restructuring specialists.” The comment was a reminder of the earlier reorganization Schrempp led that helped then-Daimler-Benz reverse massive losses. “I hope what I’m doing now is the last restructuring I do at DaimlerChrysler,” Schrempp admitted, and most analysts agree he’s unlikely to get another chance. Insiders suggest he has been given, at most a year to turn things around at Chrysler and Mitsubishi. “It is obvious,” Schrempp acknowledged, “if you commit yourself and don’t deliver, what the result is.”

 

For more Geneva Show coverage, click here.

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