2005 Geneva Motor Show, Part I

March 1, 2005

2005 Geneva Motor Show Index by TCC Team (2/28/2005)

 

Geneva’s motor show now follows the Detroit example of a rigid schedule of press conferences that sees journalists travelling through the halls of the show like a herd of migrating wildebeests, looking desperately for the information on which they feed. Every fifteen minutes they pause to graze where the show organizers and the PR people lay on a supply of news, be it fresh and nourishing or outdated and lacking in nutrients for their laptops.

 

SEAT Leon Prototype

After starting at 8:00 a.m. and visiting Opel, Saab, Chevrolet and Cadillac, Subaru, and Audi, the herd fell upon SEAT. VW’s Spanish brand is in the midst of renewing and refreshing its range, and the fodder put in front of the press was a concept that closely foreshadows the way the next generation of the company’s Leon performance sedan will look.

SEAT has a habit of showing concepts that are very close to production reality; its Altea mini MPV is almost exactly the same as the concept car that preceeded it, and the Leon Prototype is almost certainly a very close approximation of the car that will be produced in the not-too-distant future. With an aggressive snout carrying low-slung air-intakes obviously designed to hint at power, the Prototype has a turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder engine under the hood that produces 200 hp. It drives the front wheels through VW’s highly efficient DSG gearbox and gives the car a top speed of over 145 mph.

2005 SEAT Leon concept

2005 SEAT Leon concept

Inside, the car is equipped as a 2+2, a format that could carry through to production. But this is a concept, so there have to be some way-out features that won't see the light of day. In the case of the Leon Prototype, it's the four TV cameras that provide views from the front, rear and side of the car to in-car displays that enable the rear-seat passengers to play editor and produce their own road movie on a screen mounted on the center console.

 

 

 

Bentley Continental Flying Spur

2006 Bentley Flying Spur

2006 Bentley Flying Spur

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The SEAT was a concept foreshadowing a production car. Half an hour later, Bentley presented the wandering journos with a production sedan that had been foreshadowed by a production coupe. The Continental GT coupe has breathed a new zest into Bentley under VW ownership, and sales are higher than at any time in the company’s history. It’s been common knowledge for some time now that a four-door sedan was on its way, and Bentley chose Geneva as its launchpad.

The importance of the event was underlined by the fract that as Bentley’s Chairman Dr. Franz-Josef Paefgen made his introductory speech, he was being watched by current VW boss Bernd Pischetsrieder and the man who drove VW’s purchase of Bentley, former VW chairman Dr. Ferdinand Piech. Piech is now retired, but he is still a force on the VW board and obviously takes a close interest in what is possibly the most successful of his luxury-brand purchases.

Despite its German owners, chairman, and engineering boss, Bentley is fiercely British, a fact underlined by the military bearing of the group that marched out to lift the silk sheet that covered the new car. They were members of the team that developed the car they call the Continental Flying Spur, but their military bearing and the precision with which they lifted the sheet and then folded it would have been a credit to Her Majesty’s Guards.

The car they revealed has been seen in photos that have been well-received, but in the metal it looks even better. The wheelbase hasn’t been stretched to accomodate two extra doors, but the car doesn’t look awkward. It’s an unusual move, to convert a coupe to a sedan; usually it’s the other way around. In this case, however, it has come off very well. The look of the car is nicely balanced, and the extra length of the roof sits well in the area that in the coupe is a flowing fastback.

The four-door has been in development ever since the coupe first went into the design process, and Bentley design director Dirk van Braekel says that running the cars through the design process side-by-side made sure that there was an unmistakeable relationship between them. There is definitely a new Bentley design language at work here, and the company’s new, younger, clients are likely to be happy with the new car, which shares the coupe’s 525-hp V-12 engine and four-wheel drive and offers performance that will ensure it lives up to what is expected of  Bentley.

The car will go into production in April, and it’s likely that it will be seen as good value in the super-luxury sedan class. In Britain, it will cost 115,000 pounds, just a few percentage points above the price of the coupe. Bearing in mind that there’s a bigger passenger area to trim — each Flying Spur will need eleven hides to upholster it — the car’s a bit of a bargain.

 

Renault Zoe

2005 Renault Zoe concept

2005 Renault Zoe concept

Later in the day the herd descended on Renault, a company that has succeeded in bringing a new and individual design language to its range. The man responsible for that design language, design director Patrick Le Quement, introduced his studios’ latest concept by pointing out that the average car in a city contains 1.4 occupants. The answer to this, according to Renault, is to provide space for twice as many occupants — three — in a compact minicar with some interesting features. Just under 136 inches in length, the car, named Zoe, uses the space that would have been taken up by the fourth seat to provide ample baggage space for three. Alternatively, the passenger seat can be folded to give space for the occasional long load.

The passenger door follows a trend that is growing, albeit slowly, in Europe toward electrical operation. A two-hinge three-axis system allows the door to open sufficiently to give easy access to the rear seat, while a two-part rear hatch makes the rear baggage area very easy to load with small or large items. The driver’s door is of a conventional design, but both doors feature mini ‘gullwing’ panels that lift to give additional headroom on entry and exit.

The interior features rounded shapes and soft contours to give a warm and welcoming feel, enhanced by a system that gives each driver an individual choice of seat adjustment, music selection, and even ambient interior lighting at the flick of a switch. The car is powered by a new 1.2-liter engine that develops 100 hp, driving the front wheels through a robotized five-speed box controlled by steering-wheel-mounted paddles.

Will the Zoe see production? Unlikely in this form. But Renault does have a city-sized car, the Twingo, that’s due for replacement in the next year or so. It’s a fairly sure bet that some of the concept’s features will show up on the next-generation Twingo.

 

Lexus IS

2005 Lexus IS

2005 Lexus IS

Lexus showed its LF-A concept in Detroit, but it saved its new IS sedan for Geneva, where its size, and more importantly its new diesel engine, are more likely to grab European headlines. Small by U.S. Lexus standards, the IS is a real competitor in the important business car sector in Europe. Lexus’ compact sports sedan has had a complete redesign, with sweeping exterior shapes on a car that is almost four inches longer and three inches wider than its predecessor.

Lexus hasn’t conquered Europe the way it has the USA, but company management expects the brand to grow as a stronger sales effort is put into establishing it as a credible luxury line. There are plans for 340 Lexus outlets in Europe, and by 2010 the company anticipates that sales will have risen to three or four times their current levels in Europe. But sales success in Europe these days, even in the luxury sector, depends on the availability of a diesel engine.

According to Karl Schlicht, Vice President of Lexus Europe, “Diesel is critical to any brand’s success in Europe. Our first diesel engine will open the market to us and it will put Lexus on a level playing field.” The engine is a 2.2-liter in-line four that makes use of state-of-the-art diesel technology and develops 177 hp with the usual superb torque that, together with its fuel-efficiency, gives this kind of engine its appeal.

The alternative gasoline unit is a 2.5-liter V-6 with an output of 204 hp, which is more in line with the IS’s pretensions to being a sports sedan. Lexus claims the diesel is the most powerful in its displacement category, but it is up against strong competition from rivals like Mercedes, BMW, Audi, and even Jaguar. The task of converting Europeans to Toyota’s luxury brand could be more difficult than creating a sector-topping success was in the U.S.

 

Aston Martin V8 Vantage

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2006 Aston Martin V8 Vantage

2006 Aston Martin V8 Vantage

Aston Martin showed us the new V8 Vantage the evening before the press days of the Geneva Auto Show. Dr. Ulrich Bez was proud to announce that the new car meant a small step for the automotive industry, but a big one for Aston Martin. Since his arrival at Aston Martin in 2000, the company has undergone a big transformation, with a new engine pant and twice as many employees. “But the brand is still very recognizable by its hand-built sports cars,” Mr. Bez said during the debut of the car.

The company, which in 1992 only produced 42 cars, is getting more and more successful. In the past three years Aston Martin introduced new cars including the DB9, which is the first model on a new all-aluminium platform. Last year, two thousand DB9s were produced and sold. In North America alone, in the first two months of 2005, more than 300 cars were delivered and Aston Martin expects that number to rise to 1100 by the end of 2005, most of the cars being convertibles.

The new V8 Vantage is the most important car in Aston Martin’s history. It will be the most affordable Aston ever with a price in the range of $150,000. A firm price in dollars will be announced at the end of the year when the car goes on sale in North America.

The V8 Vantage is basically identical to the concept car that was unveiled last year in Los Angeles and is built on the unique Aston Martin VH-platform. The company expects to build about 3000 V8 Vantages in a full production year. The new car is smaller and lighter than the DB9. Its 4.3-liter V-8 is teamed to a six-speed stick shift. The engine produces 380 hp and has 302 lb-ft of torque. The car reaches a maximum speed of 175 mph and accelerates from 0-60 mph in 4.8 seconds.

Ford SAV Concept

2005 Ford SAV Concept

2005 Ford SAV Concept

Another world premiere for Ford at the Geneva show is the SAV Concept. This is meant to be the successor of the Galaxy, a minivan that Ford built for the European market and that shared its platform with the Volkswagen Sharan.

The Sport Activity Concept has new proportions with a stretched silhouette and a sportier stance. It also gives a first indication of the future Ford of Europe design direction. The bolder lines in particular, and the fuller body sections, are signals for the upcoming design theme.
“We believe that within the family car market there is great potential for a non-traditional vehicle with the profile, proportions, and appearance that reflect an active lifestyle,” according to Martin Smith, Ford of Europe’s recently appointed Executive Director of Design.

The concept has a flexible rear seating system as first introduced in the Focus C-Max, but it is now remote-controlled and has an integral stowage system. By touching a button, the three seats that form the rear seat row can be reconfigured. Electric motors let the middle seat slide rearward into a central location between integrated, fitted luggage trolleys that provide the armrests for the third-row passenger. The two outer seats then shift inward slightly to provide more space for the occupants.

The interior gets contoured sport seats and a sculpted steering wheel with electronic buttons for shifting, brushed aluminum pedals with rubber inserts, and bright orange accents.

 

Ford Focus ST

2005 Ford Focus ST

2005 Ford Focus ST

Ford is showing the sporty version of the Focus ST, that is an answer to the new Golf GTI and the Astra OPC. The ST is still a design study, but the production version will be unveiled at the IAA auto show in Frankfurt in September.

To be able to beat the competition the new Focus ST is equipped with a 2.5-liter turbo five-cylinder engine with 220 hp, that we already know from the Volvo S40/V50 T5. In the Focus ST the engine is teamed to a manual six-speed transmission. The ST also features a sport suspension.
The electric orange Focus ST concept gets its sporty looks from the roof spoiler and special front and rear fascias. The prototype has 18-inch wheels and rubber in the size 225/40. We may expect the production version to be shod with tires of the same size.
The interior also shows the ST genes with an extra set of gauges for turbo pressure, oil temperature, and oil pressure. The speedometer reaches 161 mph.
Ford’s CEO Jim Padilla told us that there are no plans yet to introduce the Focus ST on the North American market. “But it is not unlikely, given the fact that there is so much interest in customizing the Focus, as we saw at SEMA. We are looking at the possibilities.”

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