Automakers push into new niches
Debuts from Ferrari, McLaren supercars to Renault, Peugeot crossovers show the way to maximize profits
This year's Geneva auto show highlights how automakers are increasingly pushing into new market niches as they seek to maximize showroom sales and profits.
Ultraluxury niche models such as the Rolls-Royce Wraith will debut alongside limited-edition supercars by Ferrari and McLaren. In the volume segment, French automakers will try to tap into the expanding small SUV/crossover niche with the Peugeot 2008 and Renault Captur, both based on existing subcompact cars.
Alfa Romeo fans finally get to see the 4C production coupe. Chinese automaker Qoros will unveil its 3 sedan ahead of the car's sales launch in Europe and China later this year.
The 4C small sports car debuts in production guise. The rear-drive, two-seat coupe retains the styling of the concept vehicle that won acclaim at the Geneva show two years ago.
The 4C will go on sale in global markets including Europe and the United States by year end, giving Alfa an image boost. Alfa will build a limited run of about 2,500 4C models a year. Of those, 1,000 will be sold in Europe, 1,000 in the United States, with the balance going to other global markets. A styling model that hints at the forthcoming Alfa Romeo Giulia mid-sized car will be displayed on the stand of the European Design Institute (IED). The concept is a collaboration between the Alfa Styling Center and the IED. Due to launch in Europe, Asia and the United States in 2015, the Giulia is a crucial part of Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne's plan to boost Alfa Romeo's sales to 300,000 units by 2016 from about 100,000 last year. The Giulia will be sold as a sedan and wagon and replaces the Europe-only Alfa 159 model line that was discontinued in late 2011.
Audi will show a plug-in hybrid of its A3 hatchback, the A3 e-tron, which is set to go on sale next year. The car has a 1.4-liter gasoline engine and electric motor. It has a top speed of 130kph (81 mph) and has a range of 50km (32 miles) driven in electric mode. The 204-hp car uses 1.5 liters of fuel per 100km (157 U.S. mpg; 188 UK mpg) and has average CO2 emissions of 35 grams per kilometer. Audi also focuses on high-performance cars by unveiling the RS Q3, which will become the flagship of the brand's Q3 compact crossover line. It is powered by a 310-hp, 2.5-liter, five-cylinder gasoline engine. The five-door S3 Sportback hatchback also debuts.
Bentley says its second-generation Flying Spur is faster, more powerful and more fuel efficient than the current model. The four-door sedan has a lower, wider appearance and a more aggressive stance. The sedan is powered by a 6.0-liter, twin turbocharged W-12 engine coupled to a ZF eight-speed transmission that develops 616 hp, up from 552 hp in the current car.
Italian design house Bertone will unveil a one-off wagon-like version of the Aston Martin Rapide sports car. Bertone stretched the four-door sedan to create a roomier cabin and add cargo space. The Aston Martin Rapide Bertone was done for a British car collector.
BMW touts the 3-series GT as a practical yet sleek-looking variant of its 3-series lineup. The 3-series GT is longer, wider and taller than the 3-series Touring station wagon on which it is based.
The car will arrive in showrooms in Europe and the United States around June with prices starting at 36,150 euros ($49,000) in Germany, 1,800 euros more than the 3-series Touring. The 3-series GT will be BMW's first model to have an active rear spoiler that extends automatically when the car reaches 110kph (68 mph). BMW first entered the niche for practical sporty models with the larger 5-series GT launched in 2009. BMW will also show coupe concepts of its i3 and i8 electric cars, along with the M6 Gran Coupe, a third body variant of the M6 high-performance line that will join the the existing coupe and convertible models.
Chevrolet will unveil a convertible version of the Corvette Stingray coupe, which debuted at January's Detroit auto show. The convertible will deliver the same balance of technology, design and performance introduced on the coupe, the carmaker says. The convertible is expected to go into production late this year and could reach dealer showrooms by December. Chevrolet will also show the face-lifted Captiva SUV and a battery powered version of its Spark minicar that will be sold in selected European markets starting in 2014.
The Technospace concept previews the next C4 Picasso medium minivan that will arrive in showrooms in the second half. The five-seat Technospace is slightly shorter and lower than the current C4 Picasso but it has a longer wheelbase, which gives the vehicle more interior room.
Citroen says the concept has class-leading interior space with a trunk space of 537 liters, 37 liters more than the C4 Picasso provides. The production version of the Technospace will be PSA/Peugeot-Citroen's first vehicle underpinned by the automaker's Efficient Modular Platform 2 (EMP2). The Technospace will also be the basis for the longer, seven-seat Grand C4 Picasso. Citroen will also unveil its C3 subcompact with a mid-life face-lift.
Dacia will debut a new version of its Logan MCV station wagon, along with a face-lifted Duster SUV. The seven-seat Logan wagon will have more trunk space than the current car. It will also have the brand's new leaner, crisper styling that debuted on the Logan sedan at the Paris auto show last September. The Duster gets a fresh front grille design and a revised interior.
The Enzo successor, code-named F150, which debuts in Geneva, is already sold out, according to Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne. Volume is expected to be limited to 499 cars, 100 more units than the Enzo. The increase is being made to meet growing demand for the brand in Asia, particularly China. The limited run will keep the car's value high. When launched in 2002 the Enzo's starting price was 665,000 euros (about $891,000) with taxes in Italy. Used Enzo models currently sell for more than 1 million euros. Sources say the Enzo replacement will deliver more than 900 hp, combining a new V-12 normally aspirated direct-injection gasoline engine with an electric motor.
Fiat will give the 500L Trekking a European debut ahead of its market launch in the region in June. The 500L Trekking is a variant of the 500L small minivan and has SUV features such as higher ground clearance, bigger wheels, rugged wheel arches and an electronically controlled front differential that increases traction on slippery surfaces. Fiat is also displaying in Geneva its battery-powered 500e, which will go be sold only in the United States. The 500e has an 111-hp electric motor and a 140km range. Its battery pack can be recharged in less than four hours.
Ford is counting on the EcoSport to help counter the company's falling sales in Europe.
The subcompact SUV will compete against models such as the Renault Captur and Peugeot 2008, which debut in Geneva, and the Opel Mokka, in an expanding segment in Europe as increasing numbers of customers opt for high-riding crossovers over minivans and wagons. Ford said the EcoSport will go on sale in Europe at the end of the year, joining the recently launched new Kuga compact SUV. The European EcoSport is visually unchanged from the version that is already on sale in Brazil, where it was developed. Ford is expected to announce European production plans for the EcoSport in Geneva.
Honda will unveil a concept for a station wagon version of its Civic hatchback. A production version will go on sale early next year, marking Honda's return to the European compact station wagon market. Honda stopped selling a Civic wagon in Europe in 2001 but rival Toyota is launching its first wagon version of the Auris compact this year as Asian automakers target a market segment dominated by European models such as the Skoda Octavia, Opel/Vauxhall Astra, Ford Focus and Renault Megane.
Hyundai will show the seven-seat Grand Santa Fe large SUV that will join the brand's European range alongside the five-seat Santa Fe.
The Infiniti Q50 sedan gets a European debut with new four-cylinder gasoline and diesel powertrains from Renault-Nissan's industrial partnership with Daimler. The Q50, first shown at January's Detroit show, is the first Infiniti to have the brand's new design direction and "Q" name. Infiniti's stand will also showcase the brand's battery-powered LE Concept.
Kia says its 200-hp Provo concept of a coupe-style hatchback shows the brand's thinking for a future subcompact vehicle. The concept is based on the Rio subcompact hatchback. It has a four-wheel drive powertrain with 1.6-liter gasoline engine and an electric motor that delivers extra power surge to the rear wheels when required and also allows low-speed electric-only motion. The concept also debuts Kia's first seven-speed dual clutch transmission. The concept is not scheduled for production but it could hint at a potential rival to the Nissan Juke crossover or a competitor to the high-performance Fiat 500 Abarth. The brand will also unveil a three-door version of the Cee'd compact, the Pro Cee'd, and the Cee'd GT, a high-performance variant.
Land Rover debuts a Range Rover Evoque fitted with a nine-speed automatic transmission. The 9HP transmission will replace the existing six-speed gearbox in all-wheel-drive versions of the Evoque. Land Rover says increasing the number of gear ratios to nine from six gives significant improvement in fuel economy. Land Rover will also show versions of its Defender SUV with a 70kW (94-hp) electric motor twinned with a lithium-ion battery. The battery-powered Defenders, which have an 80km (50 miles) range, have been built for field trials not production.
The production McLaren P1 that debuts in Geneva will compete with Ferrari's Enzo successor.
The 903-hp McLaren P1 is powered by mid-mounted 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 gasoline engine and an electric motor. McLaren will build 375 units of the P1. It will cost 866,000 pounds ($1.3 million). The two-seater will be McLaren's third supercar following the 12C and 12C Spider. The P1 can also be driven in electric mode for up to 20km in city driving at an average speed of 48kph.
After showing the CLA coupe-styled sedan to journalists at the Detroit auto show in January, Mercedes-Benz will give a public debut to the CLA. Production of the four-door CLA has already started at Mercedes' plant in Hungary alongside the B class. The CLA will go on sale in Europe in mid April. Mercedes will also debut a version of the A45 AMG, the smallest Mercedes ever tuned by AMG. The car is a derivative of the brand's new A class compact premium and is powered by a 360-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline engine. Mercedes hopes to attract more younger buyers with the A45.
Mitsubishi will unveil the CA-MiEV concept, which is a further development of the i-MiEV battery powered minicar that went on sale three years ago. The concept showcases technologies for next-generation electric cars for cities and it has a 300km range. Another concept will be the GR-HEV, which for the first time applies the company's diesel hybrid technology to a one-ton pickup. Also on the automaker's stand will be the new Outlander plug-in hybrid.
Nissan has given its Note subcompact a stronger focus on design and technology appeal to expand its customer base beyond its core small minivan buyers. The new Note will go on sale in Europe this autumn with features such as the automaker's multicamera parking aid called Around View Monitor that gives the driver a bird's-eye view of the surroundings to help maneuver into a parking spot.
The system has blind-spot and lane departure warning. Nissan will also show a revised version of its Leaf electric car with a range of 200km (129 miles), up from 175km. The Leaf range is also expected to have a new entry-level version. Production for European markets will being in April at the automaker's plant in Sunderland, northeast England. The factory also builds the Note.
General Motors' European unit will launch the Cascada mid-sized convertible as part of its push into new product segments for the Opel/Vauxhall brands. The Cascada follows the recent launches of the Mokka compact crossover, a sibling of the Buick Encore, and the Adam minicar. With the two-door, four-seat Cascada, Opel hopes to attract buyers looking for a cheaper alternative to premium drop-tops such as the Audi A5 convertible. Opel also will show the Adam Rocks concept previewing a potential rival to the Fiat 500C convertible. The concept is based on the Adam hatchback and has SUV styling and a fold-back fabric sunroof.
Peugeot will display 31 production vehicles and concept cars on its stand, including the 2008 SUV-styled subcompact crossover, a vehicle that is expected by IHS Automotive to become the No. 1 seller in its segment in Europe after its summer launch. The 2008 is also aimed at growing markets outside Europe and is the first Peugeot designed, developed and engineered in Europe, China and Latin America.
Peugeot will also showcase its new HYbrid Air technology that cuts fuel use by using a compressed air system to assist or take the place of a gasoline engine when a vehicles moves off or accelerates, phases which consume the most energy. The brand also debuts the 208 GTi and 208 XY. These are three-door hatchbacks designed to promote the brand's strategy to move more upmarket. The 208 GTi has a 200-hp 1.6-liter gasoline engine. Also on the stand will be the RCZ R, the brand's most powerful production car.
Pininfarina will show a concept car named Sergio to pay tribute to the company's longtime CEO Sergio Pininfarina, who died last July at age 85. Pininfarina's pre-show teaser image hints at a mid-rear engine coupe whose engine hood is reminiscent of the Pininfarina Ferrari 512S Modulo unveiled at the 1970 Geneva show. The Modulo was probably the most extreme concept car in Pininfarina's history. It had a black engine hood with circular holes to allow air recirculation in the engine bay. The Sergio concept appears to use the same technical solution, but with holes of different sizes.
Chinese brand Qoros will unveil its Qoros 3 compact production sedan, alongside two concepts previewing a crossover hatchback and a station wagon. The GQ3 will go on sale in China and Europe later this year. Qoros says it will sell cars built and engineered to Western standards at affordable prices. It has recruited around a dozen executives who had long careers with Western car companies, including Volker Steinwascher, a former head of Volkswagen in the United States, as deputy CEO, and Gert Hildebrand, former head of styling at Mini, as its design director. Qoros is jointly owned by Chery Automotive and investment company Israel Corp. Chinese cars offered in European have previously performed badly in EuroNCAP crash tests, but Qoros says it is targeting "top scores" for the GQ3 in both the European and Chinese tests.
Renault will join the fast-growing subcompact crossover segment with the Captur. The Captur is based on the new Clio hatchback. Renault will build the Captur in its factory Valladolid, Spain, where it has installed a capacity of 90,000 units a year. Renault will also debut the Scenic XMOD, a variant of the Scenic minivan with SUV-styling.
Rolls-Royce will debut the Wraith, a coupe version of Rolls' Ghost four-door sedan. Wraith deliveries will start in the fourth quarter.
The latest Octavia wagon that debuts in Geneva is 90 mm longer and 45 mm wider than its predecessor with a longer wheelbase, resulting in rear-seat passenger legroom that Skoda says is the highest in the compact segment. The trunk's 610 liter capacity, rising to 1,740 liters with the back seats down, is also a segment leader, the brand says. All that may help Skoda win buyers from the mid-sized segment. The wagon goes on sale in the summer and follows the launch of the new Octavia hatchback in January. The Octavia is the latest Volkswagen model underpinned by the MQB platform, which is also the basis for the VW Golf, Audi A3 and Seat Leon.
Toyota's FT-86 Open concept previews a possible convertible version of the GT86/ Scion FR-S coupe that was launched last year as part of the automaker's push to widen its appeal to younger consumers.
The 2+2 concept has a softtop that folds down behind the fixed rear seats. Its external dimensions are the same as the coupe and it has the same 2.0-liter naturally aspirated, four-cylinder boxer engine, mated to a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. Toyota said weight saving measures kept the car's weight to 1257kg, giving it a power-to-weight ratio of around 160 hp per metric ton. Also on Toyota's stand will be the Auris Touring Sports, a production version of the brand's new compact station wagon and a two-seat electric concept called i-Road. Toyota will give the new RAV4 a European debut.
VW will show a production version of the XL1 plug-in hybrid two-seater, which closely resembles the concept unveiled in 2011. The aerodynamic body features fully covered rear wheels and rearview mirrors integrated into the door skin. About 1,000 will be built annually in Osnabruck, Germany. VW will also show new variants of the seventh-generation Golf. These will include high performance Golf GTI and GTD models, a Golf plug-in hybrid and a Golf wagon.
Luca Ciferri, Bruce Gain, Nick Gibbs and AutoWeek contributed to this report
You can reach Paul McVeigh at email@example.com.