2005 Geneva Motor Show, Part II

March 1, 2005

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


Toyota Aygo

There’s no question, Toyota is on a roll, having just scored its eighth consecutive year of record car sales in Europe. And the Asian automaker is pushing to keep the momentum going — in part by following the lead of Scion, Toyota’s hip, youth-oriented division back in the U.S. The new Toyota Aygo is a three-door that defies easy categorization, though words like, “sporty,” “crossover,” and “hatchback,” will likely come to the mind of consumers. Among the smallest cars on the market, the new models won’t have much competition, which should help it gain ground fast, suggested Andrea Formica, vice president of sales and marketing for Toyota Motor Marketing Europe. One of 18 cars Toyota is rolling out in a 24-month blitz, the Aygo will boast a new piezoelectric common-rail diesel delivering high mileage, low emissions, and reasonably good performance, launching from 0-100 km/h in just 8.6 seconds. While Toyota has been gaining fans across the continent, it faces a challenge not unlike the situation in the U.S., where it is struggling to win over younger buyers, acknowledged Formica. So, with Aygo, the carmaker won’t go the traditional route when it comes to getting the message out. “We’re taking Aygo out of the showroom and to where (potential customers) hang out.” Formica suggested as much as 60 percent of Aygo’s marketing budget will be spent on Internet advertising, event marketing, and other non-traditional efforts. It’s a strategy borrowed from the U.S. “We have watched the Scion experience very, very closely,” he explained. As with Scion, Aygo will begin with a limited roll-out, in this case, sales launching in ten of Europe’s most hip and youthful cities, including Paris, London, and Barcelona.


Prius Picking Up

After a slow start, European consumers seem to be connecting with hybrid-electric vehicles, Toyota officials suggested Tuesday. To prove their point, they announced an increase in their sales goals for the Prius HEV. If Toyota hits its target, it will reach 20,000 in 2005, a one-third increase from the original forecast of 15,000 sales. In 2004, the automaker sold 8200 copies of the Prius in Europe. Despite the jump, European Prius sales — and hybrid volumes overall — are expected to lag well behind the U.S. market.


Honda Civic Concept

2005 Honda Civic Concept

2005 Honda Civic Concept

There was a time when the typical European concept vehicle was, in the words of one designer, likely to be a “wet dream in chrome.” Not these days. While there are still some wild, wacky, and outrageous prototypes at this year’s Geneva Motor Show, Honda’s Civic Concept underscores the current trend, slapping the “concept” badge on products still about a year away from production. Thought there will almost certainly be changes by the time the real car hits showrooms, the concept “is very close,” acknowledged Takeo Fukui, president and CEO of Honda Motor Co., Ltd. The hatchback prototype being developed specifically for the European market is wider, lower, and sportier than the existing Civic line, Fukui promised. Going forward, he noted, all Civics will get stability control and side curtain airbags. Expect to see the new Civic hatchback hit market early in 2006.


Cadillac BLS

2006 Cadillac BLS

2006 Cadillac BLS

Cadillac has big plans for the newest entry into its lineup, though not for the U.S. market. Sharing many of the edgy design elements of other recent offerings, the new BLS is Caddy’s first car specifically designed for markets outside North America. The front-drive sedan is six inches shorter than the CTS, the brand’s smallest U.S. model. BLS shares its underlying architecture with the Saab 9-3, and like its Scandinavian sibling, the new car will be built at the Trollhattan, Sweden, assembly plant. The BLS will be sold with a 1.9-liter, four-cylinder turbodiesel, a first for the luxury marque. Alternately, buyers will be offered a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine or a 2.8-liter V-6, both also turbocharged. The new Cadillac will feature an array of upscale touches, including Bose audio, a touch-screen navigation system, and a Bluetooth link for using specially equipped cellphones connect with the car’s hands-free communications system. The new model will be available in left- and right-hand drive, potentially giving Cadillac the option of marketing it around the world — though Caddy General Manager Jim Taylor emphasized the BLS will “absolutely not” be brought to the U.S. If nothing else, the weak dollar would force the price of the Swedish-made sedan up into the same turf as the larger CTS, and Taylor said there’s little logic for Cadillac to compete with itself.

In other Cadillac news, division chief Taylor defended the decision to temporarily idle Caddy’s assembly plants in order to slash bulging dealer inventories. “We had to take the PR grief,” Taylor asserted, and do the best thing for the brand. Resorting to the “quick fix” of hefty new incentives might have yielded a quick increase in sales, but such a move could “destroy long-term values.” Detroit’s use of incentives has gotten a lot of the blame for the poor residual value of many Big Three products. Whether Taylor can maintain his resolve remains to be seen. Collectively, General Motors reported a sharp 12-percent sales decline in February, far and away the worst performance of any of the American Big Three.


Dodge Caliber

More photos:

2005 Dodge Caliber concept

2005 Dodge Caliber concept

Take a close look at the Dodge Caliber concept vehicle. It’s “not too far off” from the vehicle that will soon replace the aging Dodge Neon subcompact, Chrysler Group marketing chief Joe Eberhard told TheCarConnection.com. The show car had a literally explosive debut at the Geneva Motor Show on Tuesday, and the automaker is hoping it will make an even more noise when a production version rolls into showrooms on both sides of the Atlantic in barely a year. Sporting the big Dodge crosshair grille and sitting atop 19-inch wheels, the Caliber is not just another entry-class sedan. In fact, Chrysler is risking the wrath of American consumers with the five-door design. Hatchbacks are big sellers in Europe, but have been virtual anathema for years in the U.S. Dodge is betting that bold design, sporty performance, and an attractive price point will gain it traction. In Europe , noted Eberhard, consumers should expect the Neon replacement “to be anywhere between five and 15 percent below the main competitors, even the Japanese.” For both sides of the Atlantic, the Neon successor will likely come with several versions of Chrysler’s new global four-cylinder engine, a powertrain developed in cooperation with Japan’s Mitsubishi Motor Co. MMC also helped develop the Neon replacement, as well as the next Dodge Stratus. For Europe , a diesel engine will also be in the engine mix. The new subcompact will mark the launch of the Dodge brand in Europe , and will be followed by the next-generation Neon, along with a production version of the Dodge Nitro SUV, said Eberhard.

With only minor changes, the concept car Dodge unveiled in Genevathis week will soon be going into production. But don’t expect it to carry the old Neon nameplate. “We will not keep Neon,” Chrysler Group marketing director Joe Eberhard. Whether the production car carries the Caliber badge remains to be seen, however, a final decision depending on the reaction of auto show-goers in the months to come.


U.S., Japan Connecting With Euro Buyers

New brands don’t come along very often, but within a surprisingly short span, European motorists have gotten two of them, both hailing from North America. DaimlerChrysler’s launch of Dodge on the continent follows last autumn’s announcement that General Motors would go global with its Chevrolet nameplate. Initial response has been reasonably good, according to Fritz Henderson, who heads GM’s European operations. Chevy has had a minor presence on the eastern side of the Atlantic, most notably through sales of its Corvette sports car. Now it is focusing on the bottom end of the market, beneath GM’s German-based Opel marque. Chevy sales rose 40 percent in Europe last year, and are up 37 percent so far for 2005. The Chrysler Group, meanwhile, is finally gaining some traction after years of trying to connect with European consumers. It sold about 100,000 Chrysler and Jeep-brand vehicles on the continent in 2004, for a modest 0.7 percent market share. But “in five years, “we can go to 1.4 percent,” forecast Chrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche, insisting, “there is no downside; just opportunity.” That still leaves Detroit lagging well behind its Asian rivals. Honda sold a record 255,712 cars in Europe last year, an increase of nearly 18 percent. Toyota , meanwhile, reported its eighth consecutive annual record, sales surging to 916,000 in 2004. That gives it a healthy five-percent share, leaving it breathing down the corporate neck of the struggling Fiat. The two Japanese giants have found the key to success is a mix of localized product and local production. Toyota, for example, now has capacity to assemble 670,000 vehicles in Europe, with another 100,000 units coming online in the Czech Republic. It expects to nudge close to the 1 million sales mark in 2005, even with analysts predicting little growth in Europe, overall.


Zetsche Not Fiddling Around

Dieter Zetsche 2005 Geneva

Dieter Zetsche 2005 Geneva

Anyone who thinks German executives are all business hasn’t met Chrysler Group CEO Dieter Zetsche. Since arriving in Detroit, more than four years ago, the mustachioed chairman has repeatedly played the foil in skits and gags his company has used at auto shows and other events. He has driven cars through walls to introduce a pickup truck, served as good-natured soccer dad to show off new minivans — and in Geneva, on Tuesday, Zetsche took on the roll off bad boy rock-n-roller. To help reveal the new Dodge Caliber concept vehicle, Zetsche borrowed the electric guitar being used by a musician sharing the stage. With a look somewhere between a grin and a grimace, Zetsche swung the “axe” at a ring of plate glass windows concealing the Caliber. Aided by some carefully placed explosive charges, the glass curtain shattered, raining glass all around. After the event, Zetsche admitted it was a bit out of character, for his own instrument of choice is a violin. “But if I swung that into the glass, it would have been the violin that broke.”



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