Hilton Holloway’s show diary
Musings from Geneva
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?
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?
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%.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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