You are here

Geneva show: meeting the bosses

  1. A big motor show press day is like speed dating. Um, I would imagine.

    All over Geneva’s Palexpo, slightly hot and bothered hacks squeeze into glass booths, and start pumping important executive types for information. These sessions are known as ‘round tables’, although the tables are rarely that shape. I did six back-to-back. Not road-digging, granted, but full-on.

    Here’s how the day unfolded.

  2. New Peugeot Citroen boss Carlos Tavares’ table was glass-topped and rectangular, while the man behind it swiftly revealed himself to be very good news indeed for the officially beleaguered French combine.

    Having fallen out in grand style with his former employer, Renault-Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn, Tavares has jumped ship, and despite having barely got his feet under the table (not sure what shape that one is), displayed the sort of honest, intuitive grasp of PSA’s portfolio and issues that suggests a turnaround is surely imminent.

    ‘Peugeot offers the perfect convergence between the rigour and seriousness you associate with Germans cars and a Latin emotion,’ he told us. ‘Citroen is about comfort, useful innovation, and has the potential to surprise you on the conceptual side. Cynical people might say the Cactus (above) is simplistic. I say it is simple.’

    The French government and Chinese partner Dong Feng have both had to bail PSA out, but Tavares is adamant the company hasn’t hawked the family silver to save its arse. French and Chinese engineers can work together well, he insists, and smarter supplier partnerships and sourcing will help save money.

    He praises Peugeot’s people, but wants a sharper profit culture.

    Tavares is also a highly competent weekend racer, rates Peugeot Sport’s efforts highly, and thinks Pikes Peak and the WTCC are more cost effective ways of boosting the brands than, say, Le Mans. So there’ll be nothing there in the medium term, never mind a return to F1. Boo.

  3. Wolfgang Schreiber is one of the VW group’s leading lights, with the DSG and Bugatti Veyron on his CV. Bentley’s motor show stand is like some sort of modernist country club, with a bridge and leather armchairs and all sorts.

    Schreiber is less naturally pin-striped than his predecessors Wolfgang Durheimer and Franz-Josef Paefgen, but he knows his shizzle. The Bentley SUV is signed off, thankfully in wholly different form from 2012’s aberrant concept monstrosity.

    It’ll be the first Bentley to feature a hybrid power-train – a plug-in system, offering up to 30 miles of electric propulsion alone, arrives in 2017 – and it’ll be made in Crewe, creating 1000 new jobs at the factory and in the supplier infrastructure (the man from the Daily Mail was delighted).

    ‘Hybrid is probably the easiest solution for our customers to understand,’ Schreiber says, ‘and offers the most Bentley-like solution to our performance needs.’

    Downsizing is unlikely to happen here, though. ‘I can’t imagine a four-cylinder, 2.0-litre in a Bentley,’ the boss says. Nor will there be a super sports car to fill the stratospheric gap between the Lamborghini Aventador and Bugatti Veyron, though Schreiber admits he’s looking at the space below the Continental GT.

  4. Maserati generated some welcome heat with its sweet Alfieri concept. A session with the boss, Harald Wester, is never to be missed, mainly because he speaks his mind, and his mind tends to be rather impatient.

    Especially if you mention the word ‘hybrid’ or ‘electric’. He is not a fan. ‘As long as there is no legislative reason to do it,’ he says, ‘we won’t do it. This isn’t me being dogmatic, it’s pragmatic.’

    Hmm. Maybe a little bit dogmatic, Harald. But that’s OK.

    ‘There is a lot of politics and a lot of nonsense talked [about hybrids]. As we sit here, there is no benefit to the electric car. It just moves the problem somewhere else.’

    In other news, the Levante SUV won’t be a Jeep in drag, but will use QP and Ghibli components. The Alfieri, he says, is the ‘proper car to round out Maserati’s product range’, but insists it’s not a GranTurismo replacement. That soldiers on until no one is buying them any more.

  5. I had a fascinating 20 minutes with Porsche’s LMP1 technical director, and former Red Bull advanced engineering man, Alex Hitzinger.

    Clearly struggling to contain his planet-sized brain within the confines of his head, he refuted my suggestion that top-flight motorsport is getting too complicated for its audience. His answer was fabulously complicated in itself, but let’s just say he doesn’t share Harald Wester’s antipathy for hybrid technology.

    The longest run the Porsche 919 has completed in testing is 3000km, but Hitzinger says they still just don’t know how reliable the car is yet, especially in a Le Mans scenario. My guess is that Porsche will rein in ultimate performance in favour of getting the thing to the end of the race.  So don’t expect fireworks out of the box, but no immolating batteries, either.

  6. JLR’s amiable global marketing director Phil Popham is sitting pretty with a fantastic range of cars, a company that’s making industry-leading margins on them (17 per cent, it’s rumoured, more even than Ferrari), while ploughing a huge chunk of the profit back into R&D.

    Good news for UK PLC, good news all-round. Next year’s all-new Discovery (the current gen is pictured above) will spin off lots of different versions, he says, and versatility is one of the guiding mantras.

    I just hope that Land Rover’s design team can formulate a new functional modernism for the Disco and the Defender after that. LR is a wholly different proposition to Range Rover. No jewellery, please.

  7. Fresh from unveiling the 919 and 911 RSR, Porsche granted me five minutes with Hollywood actor Patrick Dempsey.

    Dempsey, like Paul Newman and Steve McQueen before him, is so devoted to motor racing that acting is a means to an end. He even traded Sunday’s Oscar ceremony in favour of the Geneva show, where he was announced as one of the works drivers in the new RSR.

    ‘I’d go full time if I could,’ he told me. ‘The new car’s more stable than the one I raced at Le Mans last year, because of the longer wheelbase. So you don’t have to hustle it as much.’ Truly, he is one of us, just richer and much better looking. Hopefully Jennifer Lawrence will get the bug some time soon.

  8. Cars of the show? The Volvo Concept Estate was gorgeous, inside and out. At the show in which Apple announced its CarPlay iPhone integration, the new XC90 is going to lift infotainment to a new level.

    I liked the Maserati Alfieri from the doors back, particularly the dissonant little kick below the window line. The Merc S-class coupe hides its heft amazingly well.

    And let’s hope that the new Civic Type R mirrors the brilliantly OTT concept. Honda’s re-emergence from the dark ages is going to be fun to watch. Roll on 2014.

What do you think?

This service is provided by Disqus and is subject to their privacy policy and terms of use. Please read Top Gear’s code of conduct (link below) before posting.

Promoted content