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2005 Geneva Motor Show, Part III

March 1, 2005

2005 Geneva Motor Show Index by TCC Team (2/13/2005)


GM Launching Three-Day Test Drives in Europe

General Motors will make 35,000 Opel vehicles available for three-day test drives through dealerships in 40 countries across Europe, announced GM Europe chairman Fritz Henderson. Potential customers will be able to take the vehicles home, “and drive them as if the vehicles were their own,” he added, during a presentation at the Geneva Motor Show. The campaign will run for three months, though it will launch at different times across the continent. The campaign is designed to win over a new generation of buyers, said Henderson, and reflects the challenge Opel has had breaking through to those who normally ignore the brand. “We have to work to do to elevate Opel’s image to match the quality of its products,” he acknowledged. Henderson insisted that Opel will not take a big financial hit from the three-day test drive program because it is designed to operate in lieu of a big increase in incentives. Opel has already been testing the new program in its home market of Germany, and has so far logged 30,000 test drives.


Smart Expands Brabus Offerings

Smart is hoping to convince European motorists that small doesn’t necessarily mean slow. The automaker, a division of DaimlerChrysler, rolled out the latest in a series of micro-cars co-branded with Brabus during the Geneva Motor Show. The Brabus Xclusive, a version of the four-seat forfour, will boast a 177-hp motor capable of launching the little five-door from 0-100 km/h in just 6.9 seconds. And while the original Smart City Coupe could barely make minimum speed for the German Autobahn, the new model will deliver a top speed of 221 km/h (138 mph). The suspension of the Xclusiv has been lowered just over one inch for improved handling and aerodynamics. The vehicle also will offer premium features, such as leather seats. Meanwhile, Smart will also introduce a stripped version of the forfour, this model eliminating the stability control system, and priced about 1000 Euros less than the standard model. The automaker, which is based in France, has been struggling to end the losses that have plagued it since its inception. Questions about long-term strategy have led to a delay and possible cancellation of another planned model, the formore, a mini-SUV targeted at the U.S. market.


Alfa, Maserati Won’t Blur, Says Kalbfell

2005 Pininfarina Maserati Birdcage

2005 Pininfarina Maserati Birdcage

Though they may now share one boss, don’t expect Alfa Romeo and Maserati to lose their individual brand identities, asserted CEO Karl-Heinz Kalbfell in an interview with Last month’s decision to strip Maserati away from Ferrari and merge it in with Fiat’s Alfa arm came as one of a series of surprises following Fiat’s $2 billion settlement with General Motors. Originally intended to help Ferrari grow revenues without diluting its own brand, Maserati will now help in the hoped-for revival of long-struggling Alfa, said Kalbfell.

Maserati, he noted, will retain a reasonably degree of autonomy. It will remain based in its ancestral home of Modena, Italy, and will continue to work with Ferrari’s designers and engineers. But Maserati, Kalbfell added, “may enter new product categories and so it would need additional resources.” There will almost certainly be ways for Alfa and Maserati to share, the CEO said, but he intends to ensure that this doesn’t result in so-called “badge-engineered” products that are little more than clones with different sheetmetal skins. The challenge is to maintain a balance between cost and brand DNA, said the former Volkswagen senior executive, noting that VW is an example of how sharing platforms can work — or cause problems.

Kalbfell suggested there are a wide variety of new market segments Maserati could consider. One possibility was shown by the Italian design house, Pininfarina, which brought a show car modeled after the legendary Maserati Birdcage to this year’s Geneva Motor Show. More likely would be something in the crossover/SUV category, along the lines of the Kubang concept vehicle Maserati rolled out several years ago. “We have some projects already in the pipeline,” Kalbfell hinted.

Before the recent realignment, the goal was to steadily build Maserati into a sort of hybrid brand, not quite mass market, not quite as exclusive as Ferrari. Though sales weren’t growing as quickly as hoped for, the target was 10,000 Maseratis annually. “The potential is there to grow much beyond 10,000,” Kalbfell told TCC, quickly adding that the active word was, “potential.” What he has in mind, he described as “the snowball effect. It is hard work in the beginning. I have to roll it and roll it, and then it rapidly grows bigger.”

Maserati returned to the U.S. market several years ago, after more than a decade’s absence. Kalbfell makes no secret of his desire to bring back Alfa, as well. That was one of the original but unachieved goals behind the brief tie-up between Fiat and GM. It is still possible, Kalbfell insisted, but it won’t be easy. “I can make you a business plan for America in two hours,” he said, “but people who know the American market know it won’t work. The American market is unforgiving.” It will take plenty of “homework” before Alfa is ready to lay out a plan, though Kalbfell has said, in recent weeks, he could imagine a U.S. launch anytime before at least 2007.


Alfa Fields New 159, Brera Concept

2005 Alfa Romeo 159

2005 Alfa Romeo 159

First of a new breed for Alfa Romeo, the sporty, silver159 sedan that rolled into PALExpo this week bears the unmistakable stamp of Giorgetto Giugiaro, the legendary Italian designer working with the Alfa Romeo Styling Centre. The look is distinctive, with the traditional, shield-like Alfa grille sandwiched between two tapering banks of headlights. A high tail gives the car a cat-like stance, seemingly ready to pounce. But the sporty exterior is wrapped around a cabin significantly bigger than that of the car it replaces. This sporty “saloon” car “will continue where the (old) 156 left off,” declared Alfa CEO Karl-Heinz Kalbfell. While Alfa has always had an edge on design, Alfa is trying to rebuild its brand by increasing the emphasis on roominess, as well as safety. The new sedan will come with eight standard airbags. Customers can opt for a 3.2-liter V-6, or a 2.4-liter diesel and several other powertrain packages.

2005 Alfa Romeo Brera Concept

2005 Alfa Romeo Brera Concept

Meanwhile, there appear to be plans to put the Brera concept into production, as well, according to some sources. This aggressive two-door, which shares many of the 159’s styling cues, hints at what’s to come from Alfa. Like the new sedan, the Brera was penned by Giugiaro’s ItalDesign. With an all-wheel-drive system beating to a 400-hp V-8 heart, the Brera will reportedly launch from 0-60 in about 4.8 seconds.There had been some speculation that the 159 was part of Alfa’s plan to return to theUnited States. The recent break-up of the relationship between the automaker’s Italian parent, and General Motors has put such a return on hold, however. But Kalbfell said it is still one of his priorities.


New 7er No Retreat, Says Bangle

Chris Bangle had a whimsical look on his face as he wandered around the floor of this year’s Geneva Motor Show. The man who oversees design for all of BMW AG’s many brands and models would prefer to see his work, rather than his wan face, in the spotlight. Yet in recent years, Bangle has gotten more than his share of attention – much of it critical. Credit or blame him, however you prefer, for the edgy look of BMW’s current styling theme, with its cat-like headlight “eyes,” and bustle-back tails. Despite strong sales of the 7-Series model that ushered in the new look, critics have been waiting for this year’s preview of the updated 7er, looking to see whether BMW would back off from the Bangle look. The big sedan at the automaker’s stand does reveal some notable changes. The “eyebrows” over the headlights have been raised, for one thing, and the back end is more curvaceous. But the biggest changes, Bangle suggested, really aren’t immediately visible. Improvements made to the car’s powertrain required the hood to be raised nearly an inch, which to Bangle, just enhances the “drama” of the 7-Series. The ’06 sedan is anything but a retreat, according to Bangle. All they did was “dial back the horns and let the violins come through,” he articulated, “to emphasize the car’s dynamics.”


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