Diversity Rules

No one should question the standing of the Geneva Motor Show in the hierarchy of the world's international automotive exhibitions. Last month, more than 30 auto makers seized the stage in Geneva to unveil new products for the first time anywhere in the world. The unveils were dizzying, representing every niche of Europe's diverse automotive market small cars, sports cars, sedans, coupes, multipurpose

No one should question the standing of the Geneva Motor Show in the hierarchy of the world's international automotive exhibitions. Last month, more than 30 auto makers seized the stage in Geneva to unveil new products for the first time anywhere in the world.

The unveils were dizzying, representing every niche of Europe's diverse automotive market — small cars, sports cars, sedans, coupes, multipurpose vehicles, luxury cars, cabrios and exotics.

PSA Peugeot Citroen is counting on the new Peugeot 407 unveiled at Geneva to sell 1.5 million units in the next seven years. The 407 relies on looks, road handling and safety as key sales points. It goes on sale in late April as a sedan, and in the summer as the 407SW station wagon.

Project Manager John Millie says European fleet buyers and dealers believe the SW version will account for 40% of sales. “We're going to move a lot of sedan buyers into the SW,” says Millie, even in fleets.

Peugeot also presented a concept rally version of the 407, the Silhouette, which recalls the brand's efforts to beat its sister, Citroen, in the World Rally Championship this year.

Peugeot unveiled the 3-box 307 sedan, too. It goes into production in China later this year at the Dongfeng Peugeot Citroen Automobiles Ltd. joint venture in Wuhan.

Volkswagen AG will expand its convertible lineup beyond the Beetle to include a new model based off the Concept C, which bowed at Geneva. The concept provides a clear interpretation of new styling cues to appear on future Volkswagen-brand vehicles.

VW plans to continue producing its Beetle convertible, while adding the yet unnamed 4-seat convertible to its product range. VW Chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder confirms the new convertible has been given approval for production within the next two years.

The Concept C's front fascia is VW's new face, with its aluminum V-shaped radiator grille and round headlamps. Concept C's 5-level electro-hydraulic hardtop system can be fully retracted, but the roof also incorporates a power sunroof.

Likewise, BMW AG's Mini brand went topless at Geneva, as the long-awaited Mini convertible dazzled youthful buyers.

The soft top is part of Mini's plans to keep public attention focused on the small-car brand, which has been a success in Europe and the U.S. The latest Mini will feature a power folding top and seating for four passengers.

Fiat Auto SpA takes its quirky Multipla down a more conventional path. The facelifted model, launched at Geneva, goes on sale in Europe in June and gets a totally new front fascia.

Out goes the weird arrangement that set the eight individual lights at three different levels on the previous model. Also gone: the deep beltline below the windshield and the near-flat liftgate.

Instead, the Multipla gets Fiat's latest corporate grille, large one-piece lights and a sloping liftgate. The rear fascia features new taillights and bumper. Fiat blames the Multipla's controversial styling for the model's modest sales success and believes the more conformist appearance will give sales a much-needed lift.

Renault SA unveiled its long-awaited J77 supermini minivan, dubbed Modus. With the Twingo, Espace and Scenic, Renault was the founder of new monospace segments. But in this small car/van segment, the Opel Meriva and Ford Fusion have a head start in providing families with more space.

The Modus has a chance to take over the market leadership, says Georges Douin, Renault's executive vice president, although he does not reveal the company's sales goals. The car will be built at the Valladolid, Spain, plant.

The Modus goes on sale this fall as the first Renault using the Renault-Nissan Platform B. It shares about 70% of its components with the Nissan March, Micra and Cube.

Mercedes-Benz took the wraps off its new CLS-Class sedan, flanked on stage by the newly redesigned SLK roadster and a refreshed C-Class line.

The CLS takes most of its styling cues from the Vision CLS concept that bowed at the Frankfurt auto show in 2003. It provides Mercedes with a long-awaited coupe-like sedan. The interior of the CLS features an abundance of leather and wood trim.

For those with performance needs, the up-level CLS 500 will be fitted with a 5.0L V-8, generating 306 hp and 339 lb.-ft. (460 Nm) of torque.

The all-new SLK roadster shares some of the styling cues of the high-performance SLR. The SLK's engine lineup includes three new powerplants that produce between 163 hp and 360 hp. The most notable addition is the 360-hp 8-cyl. from Mercedes' AMG performance unit.

Other notables:

  • ItalDesign SpA introduced a show car that combines the sleekness of a sports car with the hybrid powertrain technology of the Toyota Prius. The Alessandro Volta is an elegant 3-seat coupe, with a low roof. The engine is Toyota Motor Corp.'s naturally aspirated gasoline 3.3L V-6 installed transversely behind the passenger compartment.
  • Citroen introduced the shape of the Citroen C4 that will replace the Xsara at the end of 2004 under the guise of its rally version at Geneva. The C4 Citroen Sport concept, with its rear wheels at the end of the body and short front overhang, accurately forecasts the coming C4 production cars.
  • Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd. presented the Tucson SUV and the EQ Concept car, which presages an upper-middle entry due later this year.
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