Two years ago, I spoke with a Martian who gave me an interesting perspective on the Geneva show as seen through the eyes of an alien. The Martian's acute observations drew considerable praise; I was simply the humble reporter of his views.
This time, I shared a ride home to Turin from Geneva with a very old but very wise Latin philosopher. As we cruised down the highway in a BMW X5 diesel, he was truly impressed how much cars had improved since the Roman empire's heyday. He also gave me four useful insights about the Geneva show.
1. Sic transit gloria mundi (Thus passes the glory of the world)
For many years, Toyota Europe monopolized the InterContinental hotel's huge ballroom for a flashy preview on the eve of the show.
This year, Toyota gathered a couple of dozen reporters in a tiny room for three quick roundtables. The InterConti ballroom had been commandeered by Kia, which showcased its newest European weapons, the Picanto minicar and Rio subcompact. Another sign of changing times?
2. Verba volant, scripta manent (Spoken words fly away, written words endure)
Since the Paris show in October, four of Fiat's car brands (Fiat, Lancia, Alfa Romeo and Abarth) have adopted Web-only press kits, arguing that going paperless is better for the environment.
Although admirable, this policy backfired on Tuesday. At about 9:45 a.m. Alfa Romeo CEO Harald Wester introduced the stunning 4C coupe concept. After the presentation, there were no paper press kits for the 4C. All the information and photos were supposed to be on the Web. So the reporters rushed to the Geneva pressroom, which was one of the only reliable places with wi-fi access. The problem: Alfa didn't post the photos until 10:13 a.m.!
By the way, Fiat-owned Ferrari and Maserati didn't seem to be too worried about the environment, since they continued to provide paper press kits.
The press kit for the Ferrari FF should someday generate good money on eBay — if you're able to find one. The crowd was so massive that our philosopher gave up.
3. Nemo propheta in patria (No one is a prophet in his own country)
On the eve of the show, Volkswagen AG invited 2,500 journalists for a two-hour-long presentation to let everybody know it still wants to be the world's largest automaker by 2018.
Over the weekend, the VW executives had carefully rehearsed their speeches and presentations. But it didn't occur to anybody that 2,500 journalists plus a million kilowatts of lighting would create enough heat to transform the Espace Secheron venue into a giant toaster.
Next time you announce plans to dominate the world, Volkswagen, remember to get some air conditioning. Your hungry, sweating audience would appreciate it.
4. Nondum matura est (It is not mature yet)
Design legend Giorgetto Giugiaro recently had to switch from his beloved Lexus 450h hybrid to an Audi A8L limousine. Giugiaro was following a policy of Volkswagen, which purchased a 90 percent share of his styling firm, Italdesign Giugiaro, last spring.
Giugiaro recently publicly criticized Fiat-Chrysler Sergio Marchionne CEO for being a finance guy who has no sense when it comes to product. VW, on the other hand, prides itself on being a product-first company.
But in a classic twist of fate, Giugiaro's A8 suddenly went dead on the way into the Mont Blanc tunnel, which is one of the busiest in Europe. The stationary A8 snarled traffic for kilometers. Police could only let cars past the A8 when there was a break in the oncoming traffic, which was seldom.
As we waited our turn to get past Giugiaro's car, the Latin philosopher openly wondered: Did he choose the right model within VW's imperial product lineup?