2005 Geneva Show: TCC’s Top Picks

March 5, 2005

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

Best New Concept: Okay, there were plenty of really good concepts in Geneva, like the Dodge Caliber, Honda Civic Concept, and Peugeot’s 407 Concept Coupe, but most were just thinly-disguised production vehicles. Nothing compared with Pininfarina’s truly over-the-top remake of the legendary Maserati Birdcage. Of course, I wouldn’t mind seeing it built, either.

Best New Production Car: If you’re talking limited-production, I’m in love with Aston Martin’s DB9. In the mainstream, Toyota’s stylishly simply Aygo caught this reporter’s eye. It’s another step in the Japanese maker’s long-haul effort to duplicate its American success in Europe.

Most Significant Production Vehicle: I may get some letters for this one, but I’m going to give the nod to the new Cadillac BLS. Caddy has been frantic to gain traction in the European market. This Saab-built sedan could be a make-or-break venture for America’s classic luxury brand.

Best Press Conference: Dodge. Again. Actually, the introduction of the Caliber was one of the automaker’s best auto show events in quite some time. Special honors, in the good sport category, have to go to Chrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche, who could only hope he wouldn’t be impaled by a falling shard of glass.

Worst Press Conference: Fiat’s introduction of the Croma. The opening comments, meant to sound defiant actually came across as desperate. So did the bizarre “unveiling,” executed sans curtains. Instead, a dozen dancers held up chromed cardboard sheets and floundered around onstage wearing bizarre, stapled-and-taped costumes Ed Wood wouldn’t have settled for in Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Who's On Top: Wow, Japan, the U.S., and now Europe. The automaker is ready to roll past the one million mark. Is there anything that can stop Toyota’s global blitz?

Who's In The Barrel: The real question is, who’s standing on whose shoulders? Clearly on the bottom is Fiat which, despite GM’s $2 billion payoff, shows no signs of turning things around soon. There’s Volkswagen, which desperately needs to turn things around if it hopes to remain Europe’s market-share leader. And there’s Mercedes. Lots of new products, lots of nice designs. Now get costs and quality in line or watch buyers run for competing showrooms.

Personal Best: If you’re talking product, give kudos to the Ford SAV, a show car we’d love to see in production. When it comes to car makers, the gold statuette goes to the global alliance between Nissan and Renault. Or maybe it should be platinum. How did a combination of Japan’s most troubled manufacturer and a French carmaker become the world’s most profitable automotive operation? If only company policy allowed us to own shares!

Prediction for 2005: The general consensus is that European sales will be flat for 2005, or grow only a modest couple percent, at best. I predict the continent will become the sort of competitive battleground we’ve seen in the U.S., and just like the situation on the other side of the Atlantic, imports will gobble up record share. Toyota bigger than Fiat in European sales? Probably not this year, but it won’t be long.

Biggest News Story: Okay, it did take place a couple weeks before Geneva press days, but despite all the other news coming out of this year’s show, the most frequently-discussed topic still seemed to be the $2 billion settlement of the GM-Fiat dispute. It takes time for it to really sink in when a company like General Motors screws up that badly.

Henny Hemmes

Henny Hemmes

Henny Hemmes
European Bureau Chief

Best New Concept: The Honda Civic Concept would be best, provided it was not so close to production. So instead, I will go for the Bertone Villa, the concept of a space wagon based on the Cadillac SRX. It is realistic with lots of interior space and doors that flip up to the front and rear, so that even in narrow parking spots it would be easy to get in or out. If Cadillac is really daring it would build a car like the Villa. European buyers in this segment like new ideas, as is proven by the success of the Renault Scénic.

2006 Mazda Miata

2006 Mazda Miata

Best New Production Car: The Mazda Miata. There is no doubt the original roadster is still here, but new lines and inboard lights have given the Miata a fresh new look. Mazda may not be able to surpass the success of the former Miata, which totaled 700,000 sales, but it will be able to hold on to a fair slice of the roadster pie.

Most Significant Production Vehicle: The triplets born of the joint venture of Toyota and the PSA Group. The Citroën C1, Peugeot 107, and the Toyota Aygo made their debut in Geneva and have to compete in Europe's small segment, which is getting more popular since prices of all cars have been rising and small cars have matured. Despite sharing the platform and a lot of technology, the three car manufacturers well succeeded in going their own way design-wise.

Best Press Conference: Dodge, which already announced that it would reintroduce the brand in Europe in 2006. We expected Dieter Zetsche to “grab life by the horns” and come on stage on a bull, but the unveiling of the Caliber with a lot of broken glass was probably also quite challenging for Chrysler’s charismatic CEO.

Worst Press Conference: Hyundai. During the world premiere of the HED-1 concept and the Grandeur, the video accidentally stopped, while the talk went on. Not practiced enough would be a bad excuse, failure is even worse.

Who's On Top: Toyota, not only in the U.S., but also in Europe and Lexus will follow in its wake. With a more aggressive marketing program and the availability of a diesel engine for the new IS, Lexus will be able to score much better in the business class.

Who's In The Barrel: More than a year after the Mercedes was on the hot seat because of the quality glitches, sales are still sliding in Europe. Although most problems have been solved, Mercedes should have campaigned more aggressively to get its customers back. Now it seems they are still in the downward spiral. Sales in the first two months of 2005 went down by more than 12 percent.

Personal Best: The Aston Martin V8 Vantage, no doubt. But I also like the Alfa Brera, which will be more affordable than the Aston Martin. Alfa may even come back to North America, as rumors grow the company is looking at the possibilities to do so by the end of 2007.

Prediction for 2005: In Europe, car sales will not top those of 2004 but should not be too bad for Toyota and the South Koreans. Audi and BMW and also the sports car manufacturers such as Porsche and Aston Martin may not be hurt too much either, as they all are introducing new models this year and the more expensive cars still sold well during the first two months of this year.

Biggest News Story: Saab, GM’s troubled division, is safe. Just before the Geneva show opened for the media, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said that GM will not stop building and selling Saabs. GM needs a global premium brand and will have to stop the heavy losses by the plants where Saabs and Opels are built. In Geneva Saab unveiled the 9-3 Estate, important for the European lease segment.

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