All the gossip from the Geneva motor show
You’ve seen the big stories, now here’s what TG’s ears on the ground picked up
Why the Alfa Giulia was delayed
Alfa Romeo originally intended, when it announced the Giulia, that some Cloverleafs would be in buyers' hands by the end of last year. Three months after that, it's only just coming off the production line. Good news is, so is the rest of the range.
Harald Wester, Alfa CEO, says that the delay was needed to make sure all systems on the car “had the necessary maturity”.
We ask him about a report in a well-sourced industry newspaper that the car was delayed because it failed crash tests. He looks TG dead in the eye and calmly raises a single finger in the air.
So we ask him for a quote. "Nothing of this is true. Absolutely nothing. When it [the story] was written, we had homologation in the US and Europe and we had five stars. The only thing we were working on was the very difficult small-overlap test." He explains they were trying to get a common structure that would work both for the Giulia and the next new Alfa, a heavier crossover. And they succeeded.
A crossover is on course for launch at the turn of the year. During 2017 there will be a bigger saloon, and a bigger crossover by 2018. Alfa now plans to launch four more cars by 2020 (two more SUVs and a likely a coupe and convertible).
Last year the plan called for a rollout of all eight of those cars by 2018, but the dealers said they couldn't cope. "They were complaining it would be difficult for them to manage a new product every five to six months. We need to give them time."Advertisement - Page continues below
Ferrari: fewer 'special series', no autonomous driving
Sergio Marchionne, speaking in his role as CEO of Ferrari, told us there would perhaps be fewer special models (such as the XX cars and the TdF) in future. "We won't do so many that people will take them as a series and go from one to the next. I don't want them to be too available. We need to be more stringent, especially at the price we expect people to pay."
Ferrari might launch other new kinds of car. TG asked Marchionne if Ferrari will carry on the course it has done over the past few years. It has kept to the pattern of a mid-engined V8, a front-engined V8, and two front-engined V12s – each lasting eight years with a mid-life refresh.
Not necessarily, he said. "Ferrari is a malleable brand. We will adapt to market conditions. The rate of our model launches is increasing. But there will be no SUV." His engineers also mentioned more hybridisation.
Answering one of the questions every car boss was asked at Geneva – will there ever be a self-driving Ferrari? – his answer was brief. "Over my dead body."
Production Porsche Mission E will keep the concept’s spec
The Porsche Mission E will be very like the show car, promised Porsche CEO Oliver Blume. "The external design will be very similar. We have to fulfill certain conditions and change some things." So it won't have clap-hands doors? "That's a hard problem, but our idea is to do something very close."
And the awesome performance and range figures of the concept are targets for the production car. "It's not easy but we will do 500km range and a 15-minute charge. We have the technical ability to do it, the hard part is doing it on a whole vehicle.”
"And it's important to transfer all the driving emotion of a Porsche to the electric vehicle," he says. "We can't do an electric vehicle that's branded Porsche if it doesn't fulfill what a customer expects from a Porsche. You can drive the 918 Spyder in EV mode, and that's how it will be to drive the Mission E. It transfers what we learn from motorsport."
One bump in the road is charging stations. He acknowledges that to hit the 15-minute charge, there would need to be 800-volt 150kW chargers, and there's no network of them.
"It's important we have a solution to that. We need standards. We're in contact with Governments and other manufacturers. We now need to invest in a charging network in Europe, the US and China." Doesn't sound like a network will be available at the car's launch, but it can also use more common lower-power chargers that take longer.
Oh and don't worry if you like Porsche petrol sports cars. He also said: "We will have cars like the 911 R as well as digitisation and electrification."Advertisement - Page continues below
The DS E-Tense probably won’t make production
We won't see a carbonfibre electric DS supercar any time soon, according to the ultimate boss of DS, PSA's CEO Carlos Tavares. Geneva’s DS E-Tense, in other words, is a pure concept. He said: "You need time to build pricing power for a brand before you can sell such a big-ticket item." By 'pricing power’ he means being able to sell any DS at a premium price.
But he said DS will go higher than it is now. Asked about the DS9 concept from 2012, he said "there will be a flagship for DS, and DS will go up and up. The E-Tense will show the way, like a north star for the brand."
But is DS really going in the right direction? The small DS3 is the only one that really sells, not the DS 4 or the recently improved DS 5. "The per-unit profits show we are going in the right direction. You need that pricing power to be premium. We're not pushing for volume. If we pushed we would deteriorate the starting position of the brand," Tavares said.
"Why spoil a fantastic opportunity to be the only French luxury brand by pushing too hard now? I said when I joined it's a 30-year job and I have 28 left," he jokes. "At the moment there is no automotive dimension to French luxury – fashion, food, culture.
"We are on the way to new products. They will be global and they will be terrific." The first will be a crossover, next year. "DS will grow as a natural consequence of a well-done job."
But the pretty Opel GT just might
Opel-Vauxhall boss Karl-Thomas Neumann is keen to talk up the production feasibility of the little Opel GT concept. "It would have to be rear-wheel drive, with a modern engine like our three-cylinder." The design, we already know, was done with production in mind.
Neumann adds: "The question is economics. The market for sports cars is small. And it needs to be affordable to fulfill our brand promise of approachability. We're looking at different paths but I can't say more."
But other people in the company have begun to say more about 'paths' to getting this thing built. One senior engineer told Top Gear it's possible to re-purpose the Corvette's aluminium chassis frame at low cost. Another mentioned the Mokka's driven rear axle as a possible donor component. In other words, looking around the GM empire, it may well be possible to assemble the kit of parts to get the thing built.
But we must always bear in mind the cautionary tale of the Toyota GT86, and its Subaru BRZ twin. They are great cars, but they don't sell many.
No Astons below the Vantage, but there could be a smaller Lagonda saloon
Andy Palmer has confirmed that Aston will never build a car below the Vantage. Nothing too surprising about that, but then he added, without prompting, "well not one that was badged an Aston at least."
Despite our insistence that he elaborated immediately he left us hanging, becoming suddenly tight-lipped. The implication is clear though - a sub-Vantage model is possible, potentially a 5-Series sized Lagonda-badged saloon? Time will tell. For now he's got plenty to keep him busy.
Around a third of Chirons are accounted for
Bugatti has deposits - 200,000 euro ones at that - for around 170 of the 500 Chirons it will make. And six of those are going to just one man, company chief Wolfgang Durheimer told TG the night before the Geneva show.
He also said each Chiron sold will turn a profit (Veyrons infamously sold at a huge loss), and said he has “no interest” in launching a sub-million pound model. “We are the sharpest positioned brand in the Volkswagen group,” he told us, “and we want stay at the very top of the pyramid.”Advertisement - Page continues below
Mazda wants to build the RX Vision
Mazda’s European design boss, Kevin Rice, is rather keen on the gorgeous RX Vision concept making production. No surprise there, then.
“Everyone that we’ve spoken to says ‘just build the damn thing!’ Internally we are all feeling the same thing. It’s not so easy in today’s business climate just to do whatever you fancy, but we’d love to see it.”
Naturally, we harassed him for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a showroom version of the pretty concept from Tokyo 2015. “I can’t really go one way or the other. If it doesn’t come, then everyone will be disappointed, and so will we.”
Nissan boss: no future for fuel cell cars
Will the world still need cars in 20 years time? And what sort of cars will they be? Here’s what Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn suggests.
“We will still need cars, but they will be autonomous, have zero emissions, and deliver much more than just transport. Like a telephone, which now does much more than just voice communication now.”
Ghosn also predicts the death of hydrogen fuel cell cars, theorising “China, Japan and the USA are all improving their electric car infrastructure. If you think electric infrastructure is bad, look at hydrogen. Plus, the wheel-to-well [emissions] of hydrogen is less efficient than electric cars”.
Over to you, Toyota…Advertisement - Page continues below
Alfa hasn’t made its mind up on whether next Giulietta will be front or rear-drive
Alfa Romeo has told us for the past two years that all its future models will be built of the scalable rear-drive/AWD platform that's under the new Giulia. But at Geneva we checked with CEO Harald Wester about the next Giulietta, due around 2019.
"As far as the Giulietta successor is concerned we obviously have two alternatives." In other words you re-generate the current front-drive car or you do one on the rear-drive platform? "The architecture [of the Giulia] is capable and ready to carry such a compact car."
But he's looking at the competition. "It would be after the exit of the BMWs, so it would be a standalone." In other words, the only rear-drive compact hatch. That's because the 1-Series will go to the transverse front-drive setup from the 2-Series Active Tourer. "If BMW exits there was a reason behind this. This is something we are sorting out."
The current Giulietta sits on what was an all-new platform in 2010. "It remained Alfa, there is nothing else on this. It's another available Alfa Romeo proprietary architecture." It was heavily adapted for the Jeep Cherokee and Dodge Dart, but in both cases it ended up almost completely different.
A Vauxhall version of the Opel Ampera E isn’t likely
Could Vauxhall have its own version of the world's first affordable long-range electric car? The Chevrolet Bolt is being re-cast as the Opel Ampera-e for mainland Europe. But it hasn't been engineered for RHD.
We asked Opel-Vauxhall boss Karl-Thomas Neumann if that would be possible. "We could do it but it costs money." It isn't likely but it isn't ruled out. It must depend on the success of the LHD version.
The original petrol-electric Ampera was a feeble seller. "People say it wasn't a success," says Neumann, "But I disagree. It was a great car, maybe too early. And our brand wasn't as strong then as it is now."
Fiat boss: Apple should get someone else to build its car
Fiat-Chrysler boss Sergio Marchionne was his usual quotable self at Geneva. Asked whether FCA will build a Tesla rival he said, "Tesla is a great car company. Musk has done a lot of good for this business. We're close acquaintances. But I don't understand his business model. So I'll refrain from doing that – even though we do have the technical capability."
What about any ambitions Apple has to make a car? "My advice to them is to lie down and wait until the feeling passes. They should use somebody else to build it who has the capacity." But then, that's what Apple has almost always done with its hardware.
Hotter Abarth hatchbacks are coming
Abarth is promising a track-bred leap in performance for its new Fiat 500-derived hot hatches due later in 2016. The fast Fiat offshoot’s boss Paulo Gagliardo told us that juicy components from the bonkers 695 Biposto - including the mechanical limited-slip front differential, upgraded brakes and a more powerful 1.4-litre engine - will all feature.
Sadly, the delightful dog ring gearbox won’t be offered because it costs a dizzying €10,000 per car. Gagliardo told TG: “I like that people think of Abarth as being a little bit crazy. We are like the kid in school who got the tattoos.”
And Abarth wants to bring slidey rallying back
Abarth boss Paulo Gagliardo is also leading a one-man crusade to bring oversteer back to motorsport. “It was never a consideration to make the 124 Spider rally car four-wheel drive”, he tells TG.
“The people are tired of seeing a car just going through a corner fast. So we have 300bhp, and rear-wheel drive.” As he talks, he mimes the fervent hand movements of a driver correcting a heroic powerslide…
The Skoda Vision S is inspired by glassmaking
Did you know that Skoda’s chief designer, Josef Kaban, penned the exterior of the Bugatti Veyron long before he created the Vision S concept? TG had to ask the Czech what he thought of the new Chiron’s styling. “Um, I like it – I think it will sell,” was the short but sweet reply.
Kaban is something of an oddity in modern car design in that he says he’s inspired more by artwork than modern trendsetting tech products when it comes to sketching a car.
His homeland’s rich history in glassmaking is the main inspiration for Skoda’s edgy new look, which has reached its pointiest form yet with the Vision S. Kaban also tells TG he’s not worried by fellow VW Group members Seat and Audi also going for a sharp-suited, edgy design language. “I think competition is healthy. I love the rivalry,” he smiles.
Jeep nearly quit the UK, now it’s breaking records
Jeep almost quit the UK in November 2012, says Steve Zanlunghi, the company’s chief in Europe. “Do we stay in the UK or do we exit? We were this close,” he told us, while pinching his thumb and forefinger very closely together.
It’s a jolly good job Jeep stuck around, though: 2015 heralded record UK sales, with the Renegade taking some of the credit. In fact, 2015’s numbers bettered 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 put together…
Jeep will launch Qashqai and Range Rover rivals
Expect numbers to rise further as more models arrive, too. Next year sees a Nissan Qashqai rival (albeit one with proper off-road ability) join the Jeep range, while the following year sees a Grand Wagoneer arrive, a big seven-seat rival to the Range Rover, albeit at a much lower price.
“We’re looking to capitalise everywhere we can”, says Zanlunghi. And that means the possibility of more Wranglers (pictured) coming to the UK to satisfy the “white space” left by the late Land Rover Defender…
Renault and Nissan won’t leave Russia
Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn was quick to stamp on rumours of the brands pulling out of the freefalling Russian car market, despite reporting an eye-watering €600m loss in 2015. “There is no carmaker in Russia today making money. None,” he announced bullishly.
“The entire market is down fifty per cent. If you’re a carmaker in Russia today making money, you deserve some kind of award...but I don’t think they make one.”
The Fiat Tipo is coming!
VFM fans rejoice: the new Fiat Tipo is coming to the UK! “We are going to introduce the hatch first, in September, then the station wagon soon after,” European boss Steve Zanlunghi told us. “We’re going to see how it goes and we may add the saloon”.
The price point hasn’t been decided, other than it will be “competitive”. It won’t be as bargain basement as Dacia, but expect it to be notably less than the Golf, Focus et al. Like it?
97% of Rolls-Royces leave the factory uniquely specced
‘Bespoke is Rolls-Royce’ read a slightly Yoda-esque statement on the side of the British firm’s Geneva show stand. But our chat with its design director Giles Taylor revealed those words aren’t out of place, either.
“Ninety seven per cent of our cars are sold bespoke,” he revealed, “and every Phantom is.”
Alongside the Dawn convertible, the big RR story at Geneva was its new Black Badge cars, more powerful and more assertively styled versions of the Ghost and Wraith. But the next Phantom won’t get such treatment, Taylor saying it wouldn’t be appropriate for his firm’s biggest limo.
Koenigsegg won't build an SUV, but is working on a four-door model
Christian von Koenigsegg isn't interested in building a 'wild', hyper-SUV. Even if he thinks it is technically feasible. “To make our carbon chassis into an SUV, you’d have to stretch that chassis,” he told us. “You’d keep the front and rear ends as they are, go more extreme on the thickness of the honeycomb, you’d put a carbon cage structure up top… technically I don’t see a big issue with it.
“It’d be a pretty wild SUV because you’d have a big tunnel in the centre, huge sills, bucket seats. I think it could be a thing the market could accept. But I’m just not a fan of SUVs. To me they are fundamentally flawed. Sure we could sell them, but I don’t want to,” he added.
So there you have it. No Koenigsegg SUV. And isn’t there a little part of you that’s happy about that? While there won’t be an SUV, there will be a four-door Koenigsegg in the near future. “That’s very much on the drawing board,” Christian told TG.
He also noted the potential for a harder version of the Regera - way, way down the line - while noting that his camless engine tech is building momentum...