This month’s Geneva Motor Show usually provides a good look at the direction the European auto industry will be taking over the next few years. So casual showgoers might be excused if they come away from the annual event more than a bit confused. At one extreme, motorists are demanding more—more power and more technology in more expensive vehicles. At the other extreme, customers are seeking less—in the form of smaller vehicles that are more fuel efficient and less expensive.
The reality is that there’s a big split among European car buyers. With fuel prices running as high as $5 a gallon in countries such as Italy and Great Britain, it’s no wonder that diesels are all the rage. New common-rail technology and turbos have achieved the seemingly impossible: improving fuel economy while making the newest diesels peppy and surprisingly quiet, with none of the smoke and smell you might remember from diesels of the past. When you add in the tax benefits some countries offer diesel buyers, it’s not surprising that sales are soaring. Right now, diesels account for a third of Ford’s European sales, and that number’s likely to climb even higher this year as Ford starts up a new joint venture with Peugeot, which will supply it with an even more modern diesel design.
Despite high fuel prices, there are plenty of European motorists who put an emphasis on performance. And this year’s Geneva show brings the debut of Volkswagen’s long-awaited W-12 engine. Unlike conventional 12-cylinder designs, it is arranged in three banks of four cylinders. That means the W-12 is unusually compact—indeed, it’s shorter than a conventional in-line six. The 6.0-liter engine will go into a special “L” version of Audi’s top-of-the-line A8.
But it is by no means the biggest engine at this year’s show. Bugatti has confirmed it will build a version of its Veyron sports car. It also will boast a 12-cylinder engine, but in this case, one putting out more than 1000 horsepower. Expect the Veyron to be one of the world’s most expensive automobiles, with a price tag of three-quarters of a million dollars.
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