Hil­ton Hol­loway’s show di­ary

Mus­ings from Geneva

Auto Car (UK) - - THIS WEEK - HIL­TON HOL­LOWAY’S

9.30 am

I ex­pected this year’s Geneva mo­tor show to be a fairly straight­for­ward mix of up­mar­ket SUVS and post-shock gos­sip about GM’S de­ci­sion to dump its Euro­pean arm. What I didn’t ex­pect was to stum­ble over an af­ford­able engi­neer­ing so­lu­tion to the prob­lem of lowco2 and low-pol­lu­tion driv­ing.

But here it is, as large as life on Audi’s stand. Along with the new A5, the com­pany is show­ing the new com­pressed nat­u­ral gas-pow­ered ver­sion of the MLB plat­form. The en­gi­neer in charge of the project tells me that with a 167bhp, 199lb ft 2.0-litre petrol en­gine, the CNG set-up would have CO2 emis­sions of just 100g/km. It would be even lower, he says, if the four gas tanks weren’t backed up by a 25-litre emer­gency petrol tank.

With­out that, a Cng­pow­ered A4 could be rated at around 80g/km, close to the cur­rent CO2 rat­ing for an EV plugged into the Euro­pean mains. As for par­tic­u­lates and NOX, burn­ing CNG pro­duces vir­tu­ally none of ei­ther. You get 310-mile range from the CNG tanks and 280 miles from the petrol tank, I’m told. All of Europe has a gas de­liv­ery net­work and Europe has 250 years’ worth of gas un­der­ground. Why is this not the fu­ture?

10.30am

Subaru un­veils its all-new XV. The model gets a new plat­form, which prom­ises sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits for safety (long a Subaru strong point), re­fine­ment and hand­ing pre­ci­sion. There’s also a new­gen­er­a­tion Boxer en­gine with di­rect fuel in­jec­tion. Trou­ble is, the XV’S ex­te­rior looks more like a facelift than should be the case with a new car. I’m a fan of these mini off-road­ers and they are huge in the US mar­ket. But Subaru Europe sells just 40,000 cars out of global to­tal of 1.02 mil­lion. How is it that the in­ven­tors of the road-friendly cross­over have missed out on Europe’s SUV boom?

11.00am

Chats with the bosses of Toy­ota and Lexus, both of whom are qui­etly happy with the Euro­pean mar­kets. Lexus EU boss Alain Uyt­ten­hoven tells me that last year was Lexus’s best year in Europe, with 74,300 sales. The new RX SUV tripled the pre­vi­ous year’s sales of the old model, while the NX shifted around 28,000 units. He’s also happy about the av­er­age trans­ac­tion prices of be­tween £56k and £60k for the RX and £39k and £43k for the NX. “Peo­ple who buy SUVS seem to like op­tions,” he says.

Karl Sch­licht, sales and mar­ket­ing chief at Toy­ota Europe, has some amaz­ing fig­ures for hy­brid take-up. While Euro­pean diesel sales have dipped a lit­tle since the emis­sions scan­dal, Toy­ota has seen a leap in the up­take of hy­brid pow­er­trains. In 2015, 25% of Toy­ota sales were hy­brid; last year it went up to 32%. In the first two months of 2017, it’s at 39%.

1.10pm

As I wan­der across the Geneva show stands I no­tice a sur­pris­ing num­ber of ral­lyre­lated com­pe­ti­tion cars and mad pick-ups on dis­play. Ford has rolled out the jacked-up Fo­cus WRC car that won the 1999 Sa­fari Rally, while Fiat has its su­per-cool Panda 2017 Dakar en­trant. With crossovers so dom­i­nant, ral­ly­ing might yet cap­ture the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion as For­mula 1 loses it.

2.00pm

While the new In­signia makes its de­but on the Opel stand, GM’S foot­print in the huge Euro­pean mar­ket is now lim­ited to Cadillac and Chevro­let. Caddy has a big stand show­cas­ing the Es­cala su­per-lux­ury con­cept, but far more im­por­tant is the mas­sive Es­calade SUV. Some es­ti­mates say Caddy con­trib­uted $1bn (£800m) in profit to GM in 2015, with a big slice of that com­ing from the Es­calade alone. With this one ve­hi­cle out­earn­ing by some way the whole of Opel/vaux­hall, the brands’ sale was prob­a­bly in­evitable.

3.00pm

A cer­tain sym­pa­thy for Volvo. On a new model roll, its stand is op­po­site the Range Rover stand and the at­ten­tion­grab­bing new Ve­lar. The new XC60 is a fine and el­e­gant re­place­ment for the brand’s best seller, but the Ve­lar is on an­other level. All I can say is wait un­til you see it for real. Volvo, how­ever, is whet­ting ap­petites with a fab­u­lous con­cept for a fu­ture road car in­te­rior. Is this the in­side of the new S60? Let’s hope so.

3.30pm

Soak­ing up the Ve­lar’s lovely in­te­rior, I run into Land Rover chief de­signer Gerry Mcgovern. “If you like this, wait un­til you see the next-gen­er­a­tion Range Rover,” he says. Have they topped the Ve­lar? And will the new flag­ship ar­rive in 2019?

4.00pm

There’s some sur­pris­ing cross­over nos­tal­gia on a stand dis­play­ing Swiss Mon­teverdi clas­sics. The 1977 V8 Sa­fari rings dis­tant bells and looks like a clear homage to the orig­i­nal Range Rover. It was based on Amer­i­can brand In­ter­na­tional Har­vester’s Scout off-roader — which was said to have been an in­spi­ra­tion for the Range Rover it­self.

4.30pm

Much of the GM-PSA chat is cen­tred on how the five brands in the new PSA Group will dis­tin­guish them­selves. One thing is for cer­tain, Citroën re­ally does seem to have found its feet after years of brand un­cer­tainty. The show stand is bright, clear and mod­ern and would — pre­sum­ably — trans­late into an in­ex­pen­sive be­spoke show­room. Opel/vaux­hall need to take note for the fu­ture.

With the Cadillac Es­calade out­earn­ing the whole of Opel/vaux­hall, the brands’ sale was in­evitable

No alarms, no sur­prises: the Geneva show kicks off 9.30am

4.00pm Mon­teverdi Sa­fari evokes orig­i­nal Range Rover

Citroën’s stand pre­views new show­room aes­thetic 4.30pm

Cadillac Es­calade helps to fly GM’S pared-back flag in Europe 2.00pm

Fiat Panda Dakar racer epit­o­mises rally-car cool 1.10pm

Im­pressed by the Ve­lar? We ain’t seen noth­ing yet 3.30pm

New Subaru XV de­serves a greater slice of sales 10.30am

1999 Fo­cus WRC car still man­ages to turn heads 1.10pm

New S60’s cabin? We hope so 3.00pm

Is Audi’s CNG tech the fu­ture? 9.30am

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