Geneva's conventional: new model intros played down, niches up

GENEVA -- Manufacturers displaying at this year's Geneva Motor Show shied away from key model introductions. Instead they focused on niche markets, new concepts or modified high-performance versions of existing volume vehicles.Arguably the flashiest display comes from the Rover Group plc as gold satin sheets are pulled from the all-new mid-engine MGF Roadster. Its design hints at lines of the near-legendary,


April 1, 1995

7 Min Read
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GENEVA -- Manufacturers displaying at this year's Geneva Motor Show shied away from key model introductions. Instead they focused on niche markets, new concepts or modified high-performance versions of existing volume vehicles.

Arguably the flashiest display comes from the Rover Group plc as gold satin sheets are pulled from the all-new mid-engine MGF Roadster. Its design hints at lines of the near-legendary, circa-1970 MG roadsters, and more noticeable cues from Miata's MX-5.

Rover offers two midship powerplants. A 1.8L 16-valve naturally aspirated 4-cyl. with 5-speed manual transmission produces 118-hp at 5,500 rpm. A variable-valve-control bumps power output to 143 hp at 7,000 rpm. Top speed for the base version is 119 mph (192 km/h) and with VVC that climbs to 130 mph (209 km/h).

Inside, the cockpit reflects the classic MG sport look with large, round analog dials and leather trim. For safety, Rover offers standard ABS and dual air bags.

All the hype and attention, however, could not buy Rover the show's Best Roadster award. Fiat Auto Spa took that honor with its Fiat Barchetta. Geneva was the Italian roadster's world debut, but significant pre-show coverage took away much of the surprise.

Barchetta arrives amid a storm of new products from Turin. Accolades are still audible for the Alfa Romeo Spyder that bowed in Paris, and the new Lancia Kappa sedan continues to gather positive reviews. Wards Auto World asked Fiat Auto President Paolo Cantarella how he plans to energize the lagging Alfa and Lancia divisions. Pointing to the sea of new vehicles, he sums it up with one word: "Cars."

Mr. Cantarella says the Kappa, which debuted a few months ago, and Alfa's new 155 and 146 bowing in Geneva are critical components for a turnaround. "We are launching these in the C-segment, a size that is very important."

The new Alfa 155 gets Fiat's recently developed 150-hp 2L 16-valve Twin Spark engine with electrohydraulic phase variator and counter-rotating balance shafts. Turin designers also increased the vehicle's track for better road handling.

The 146, billed by Fiat as the new executive hatchback, measures only 167 ins. (425 cm) long and sports a racing wedge-shape that hides its 4-door, sedan-like characteristics inside. Four engines will be offered with the 146; three gasoline and one turbodiesel.

At the Lancia booth, the all-new 2-door HPE hatchback made its debut. The performance compact has three engine options and standard air bags and ABS. A variable-rate suspension also is optional.

Ford Motor Co. uses Geneva to officially launch its Galaxy minivan, jointly developed with Volkswagen AG. The Galaxy and VW Sharan made hasty pre-production debuts in Paris, and the relationship between the two manufacturers appeared strained. But at Geneva, both Ford and VW seem to have ironed out any problems.

"Legally, we're not allowed to work as closely on sales as we do in the technical arena," says Don Cook, vice president of sales for Ford of Europe Inc. "But we do meet periodically to talk about how we are going to lead the two organizationss. The philosophy I have is we do not want to go to the marketplace competing with each other. We want to go to market competing with the French, who are in the minivan market now. This is one product as far as I am concerned."

Ford's Galaxy rotated on its carousel next to the U.S.-built Windstar that also will dive into the European minivan market this May in Germany, Switzerland and Sweden. Officials forecast sales at no more than 2,500 a year.

On the passenger-car front, Ford wheels out its restyled European Escort with a new grille, headlights, bumper and a redesigned hood. Ford also says it concentrated on Escort's driveability and road handling, adding improvements to the suspension and steering system. Inside, designers also reworked the seats and instrument panel.

General Motors Corp. announces it will begin shipments of the new '96 APV minivan to be built in Doraville, GA, in late 1996 for the '97 model year. The replacement model will hit Europe at the tail end of a long list of minivans coming from almost every major European manufacturer.

This year, Opel beefs up its sport/utility vehicle (SUV) offerings with a revised Frontera. The Isuzu-GM SUV gets several new powerplants: a rebuilt 2L and a new 2.2L. Engineers made significant changes to the suspension and the interior design as well.

Opel also offers a new concept minicar, the MAXX, billing it as a tailor-made vehicle. The base version is only 9.8 ft. (3 m) long, and uses extruded aluminum panels instead of conventional steel. The panels can be removed and replaced with different configurations, transforming the MAXX into one of several body styles: a cabriolet, a pickup, an off-road vehicle, a van and even a taxi model.

Another modular concept comes from Mercedes-Benz AG. The prototype Vareo has four component body styles that can be added to the core body configuration. A driver's choice includes a 4-door sedan, 2-door wagon, a 4-seater cabriolet or a 2-door pickup -- all accomplished by adding the lightweight composite pieces that take just a few minutes to bolt down. M-B also shows off a limited-release version of its SL roadster.

Across the floor, BMW AG announces the 2.8L V-6 as the replacement for its 2.5L powerplant. BMW also unveils its new 3-series touring wagon.

Alpina GmbH debuted a limited-release 381-hp version of the BMW 750i fitted with a 5-speed automatic transmission. Top speed for the sedan is 175 mph.

Renault SA unveiled its Sport Spider 2-seater in Geneva with wing doors, open cockpit and a high roll bar. Despite its concept-car appearance, Renault will produce 400 to 1,000 units a year. A mid-engine 150-hp 2L gives the roadster a 6.5-second 0 to 60 mph time and a 130-mph top speed. The Spider will sell for approximately $40,000.

Only a few manufacturers from the Asia/Pacific take the opportunity to show off new models for key segments. Toyota Motor Corp. unveils the latest version of its popular Corolla 4-wheel-drive wagon and a 5-door version of its RAV sport/utility vehicle.

The Corolla's new 1.8L powerplant generates 109 hp at 5,800 rpm. Toyota adds 8-ins. (210 mm) to the existing RAV4 wheelbase and 16.1 ins. (410 mm) in overall length for its 5-door model. It is equipped with the same full-time 4-wheel-drive drivetrain package as the 3-door model.

Seoul-based Daewoo Motor Co. Ltd. shows off its new Buchrane concept 4-seater 2-door, touting the car as the Korean manufacturer's entry into the R&D bracket of the world market. ItalDesign crafted the sleek exterior shell, set over Daewoo mechanicals.

Mitsubishi Motors Corp. brought its restyled Space minivan to the show. It is higher and longer than the previous generation, and boasts 19 possible configurations with seating, exterior styling and powerplants.

And Honda Motor Co. Ltd. added its mini-van to the European fray, with the Shuttle, sold as the Odyssey in Europe.

In the supercar category, Ferrari SpA's new F50 drew a great deal of attention after its unveiling. The $475,000 2-seater carries a 450-hp powerplant giving the F50 a 3.7-second 0 to 60-mph time and a 202 mph top speed. The V-12 has a 65-degree configuration with five valves per cylinder and four overhead camshafts.

Rolls-Royce Motor Cars replaced its top-of-the line Corniche with the Bentley Azure, a 2-door four-seater convertible. Sales will begin this summer in the U.K. Rolls Royce will build just 118 Azures a year.

Bugatti Automobili SpA's EB 112 4-door did not make it to Geneva. The program has been put on hold due to lack of funding. Chairman Romano Artioli has publicly stated on several occasions that a silent partner has bought 40% of the company, but he maintains the buyer's identity must remain a secret until the fall.

And Automobili Lamborghini showed off its "Baby Diablo" prototype at the show. Underneath the ItalDesign-engineered chassis sits a 580-hp mid-engine powerplant. Production possibilities are still up in the air.

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