2003 Geneva Show, Part II

March 4, 2003

 

 

TCC's Auto Show Index by TCC Team (2/23/2003)
Our coverage of the world's major auto shows, year to year.

2003 Geneva Motor Show Index by TCC Team (3/3/2003)
All the best from the Swiss car event of the year
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Bentley Conti GT Is $149,900

2004 Bentley Continental GT

2004 Bentley Continental GT

Wait no longer for the way to spend your casino winnings — Bentley says its new Continental GT coupe will come at a relative ultra-luxury bargain price of $149,900. The Continental GT, being shown around the Geneva Motor Show ongoing today, sports a twin-turbo 6.0-liter V-12 good for 0-to-60 mph in 4.7 seconds and a top speed of more than 190 mph. The GT gets a standard six-speed automatic, custom leather interior, and your choice of walnut or oak veneers. The Conti GT is the first Bentley developed wholly in conjuction with its new parents at Volkswagen.

 

Hyundai On The Hunt

Remember all the jokes about Hyundai? Nobody’s taking those seriously anymore — at least not with the Korean carmaker rolling up record sales of 1.85 million vehicles last year, an increase of 15 percent. “Our goal is clear,” asserted Chairman and CEO Dong Jim Kim. “We will belong to the top five global carmakers in this decade.” This year, he revealed, Hyundai is aiming for worldwide sales of 3.3 million vehicles. And Europe, Kim said, is a critical piece in the growth plans. That’s why Hyundai is looking at the possibility of a Korean assembly plant, though he cautioned, “We are still some time away from that decision.”  One of the big challenges, added the automaker’s continental chief, Werner Frey, is that “We know we still have to work on our brand image in Europe.” The automaker has been trying to build a following through its aggressive support of European football — soccer to Americans. And Hyundai and soccer officials jointly pulled the wraps off an updated version of the XG sedan.

 

Going Topless At Mercedes

2004 Mercedes-Benz CLK 500

2004 Mercedes-Benz CLK 500

The CLK Cabrio is as close as Mercedes-Benz comes to an “affordable” convertible. Dubbing it “one of the classic cars of tomorrow,” the brand’s boss, Juergen Hubbert, pulled the covers off the newest version of the CLK Cabrio, which will be offered with a range of five engines worldwide, including the high-performance CLK55 AMG. While Mercedes has been moving to retractable hardtops on many of its cabrios, the CLK keeps a cloth top. Improved aerodynamics should translate into both better mileage and reduced wind noise. The Cabrio boasts a range of high-tech safety hardware, including a rollover protection system.

 

Airflite May Take Wing

2003 Chrysler Airflite concept

2003 Chrysler Airflite concept

The new Chrysler Airlfite provides a strong hint of the new styling direction under development at the U.S. arm of DaimlerChrysler AG, who dubs it “functional art.” Think of the five-door hatchback as a four-seat Chrysler Crossfire, suggested design director Trevor Creed. The comparison is obvious, thanks to the sloping roof line carrying the Crossfire’s trademark center crease. Each leather seat appears to float individually off the unusual wood floor with aluminum accent strips. The look recalls the “classic era of wooden boats,” added Creed. The Airflite received a strong reception during its Tuesday preview, a good sign as far as Chrysler President and COO Wolfgang Bernhard is concerned. The executive said the reaction at the show will strongly influence his decision on where to go with the Airflite concept. Noting “it has the seed of feasibility,” Bernhard admitted serious interest in putting the show car into production, “if we get the right feedback.” He conceded that key design and engineering issues already “have been figured out,” though he cautioned that even with a go-ahead, it would take “nothing short of three years” to bring Airflite to market.

 

Mitsubishi Aims High

2003 Mitsubishi Scissor 2 concept

2003 Mitsubishi Scissor 2 concept

For years, Asian importers have been all but locked out of the European market. But they’re suddenly finding cracks in the wall. Mitsubishi is one of those planning a serious assault on the continental market, with a total of fourteen new models targeted for Europe over the next five years. But the Japanese arm of DaimlerChrysler is seeking growth opportunities all over the globe, stressed President and CEO Rolf Eckrodt. Mitsu has fourteen new products on tap for Japan, as well, eleven for North America and twelve for the rest of the world, he revealed. Among the possibilities are models patterned after such concept vehicles as the Tarmac Spyder, first shown in Detroit in January, and the Scissor 2 Cabriolet, which made its world premier at the last Tokyo Motor Show.

 

That’s D For Diesel

2004 MINI One D

2004 MINI One D

The One D is the newest addition to the expanding Mini lineup. Priced at just 16,000 Euros and delivering 59.5 mpg, the Mini One D should help the British arm of BMW participate in the fast-growing European diesel market. In some markets, the high-mileage engines now account for nearly 80 percent of demand. Company officials have hinted other variants of the Mini are underway, and TheCarConnection has captured spy shots of the upcoming Cabrio version. So far, buyers have been opting in large numbers for the top-line Mini models, the Cooper accounting for 56 percent of Mini’s global sales last year.

 

Saab Sees Light At End Of Tunnel

2004 Saab 9-3 Convertible

2004 Saab 9-3 Convertible

It’s been tough times for the Swedish automaker, but company officials are betting things will start getting better when they roll out the next variation on the all-new 9-3 theme. The compact convertible is expected to capture 15 percent of Saab 9-3 sales worldwide, and about 25 percent in the U.S. Saab has always been strong in the cabrio market, and currently captures about four in ten sales of four-seat ragtops. The 9-3’s hydraulically-powered cloth top is the fastest in its class, taking just 20 seconds to deploy. It features several other unusual touches, including a unique “cargo wing” that serves double duty, either as a spoiler or a carrier for skis and other cargo. Then there’s the Cargo Set, basically the trunk equivalent of an expanding suitcase. When room for extra cargo is needed, the deck lid raises up several inches. The 9-3 convertible will be customized at the Magna-Steyr plant in Graz, Austria.

 

GM Planning Product Assault

Rick Wagoner Geneva 2003

Rick Wagoner Geneva 2003

Looking to regain lost momentum in Europe, as well as other parts of the world, GM officials announced a wide array of new products during Geneva press days, including a turbo version of the go-kart-like Opel Speedster, the new mini-compact Opel/Vauxhall Meriva, the new Signum, with its unusual exterior design and flexible rear seating, and the upcoming Vectra Wagon. For 2004, announced CEO Rick Wagoner, GM intends to introduce a new Opel Coupe and a completely redesigned version of the compact Astra.

 

No New Fiat Deal

The media may not be sure what’s happening, but despite some conversations, the status quo remains in place with troubled Italian automaker Fiat, stressed GM CEO Rick Wagoner. “We have not agreed to do anything” other than the existing agreement, he stressed during a formal question-and-answer session. During the same meeting with reporters, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz also took aim at media reports suggesting the SUV craze could be peaking. “Every bit of data we can collect,” he asserted, “show that trend towards SUVs is absolutely unbroken. Anything to the contrary is media-created.” Lutz acknowledged some potential buyers are holding back on their purchases right now because of war and economic jitters, but he insisted that is affecting all automotive market segments.

Separately, Lutz acknowledged that the long-sought replacement for the aged Chevrolet Cavalier has finally been given the go-ahead, and the codename GMX001. But while the Pontiac Solstice roadster has gained strong support from the GM Board, it has yet to win a formal place in the product plan. According to Lutz, a critical issue is holding costs down on a final production version. “We’re still shooting for under $20,000,” as originally promised, he said. “That makes the challenge greater.”

 

Peugeot Ripe For Return?

"You can’t ignore the U.S. market because it’s still about the largest market in the world,” said Jean-Martin Folz, Chairman of PSA, in an interview with a TCC contributor. He acknowledged that the French automaker has been holding talks with U.S. suppliers and potential dealers, something that has triggered reports Peugeot is getting ready to return after more than a decade of absence from the States. “But I repeat,” stressed Folz, “we have not taken a decision to go.” It would not be a move made lightly, added the PSA chief, noting, “We’ve had bad experiences in the past.”

 

 

 

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