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

Enlarge Photo

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 TheCarConnection.com. 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.

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