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The car industry: 2014 for dummies
WINNERS: INTERESTING HYBRIDS
After all the doom-laden predictions about excessive weight and complexity, the 918, P1 and LaFerrari arrived and blew everyone away. And the BMW i8 appeared on practically every best-of list (including, of course, Top Gear magazine’s car of the year).
The expansion plan is on track. And the Alfieri concept-to-be-made-real made our knees a bit weak. Mind you, it’ll have stern rivals in the AMG GT and F-Type Coupe.
Built their own sports car to go against the 911, and it’s a cracker. Meanwhile, sales of AMG’s super-muscled saloons remain way ahead of expectations too.
Another batch of enjoyable small petrol turbo engines this year, from the tiny 1.0 triple at Vauxhall to the 3.8 V8 in the Ferrari California.
Yup, the 308, with its excellent estate and fine new engines, was European Car of the Year. The 2008 is selling well. Citroen came out with the Cactus – brilliant if quirky, as a Citroen should be. The Citroen brand became more focussed on simply serving real people, while Peugeot showed some fine concepts that’ll have production relevance. And DS will be given the chance to carve its own niche.
WINNERS: REAR ENGINES
WINNERS: THE STUPENDOUS AMERICAN V8
Crikey, 700bhp Dodge saloons, the hyper Corvette Z06 and announcement of a Mustang GT350 that takes the good-ol’ ’Murican V8 off in a new direction with an Italian-style flat-plane crankshaft for 8000rpm screaming.
LOSERS: INTERESTING HYBRIDS
Yes we’ve praised the hypercars to the skies. But away from the 200mph stratosphere, are ‘mainstream’ plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) actually selling? Mostly they’re a very expensive tax-dodge that fail to get particularly special real-world consumption. Cautionary tale: look at the pioneer of the genre, the Chevy Volt/Vauxhall Ampera. It’s about to go off sale and next year’s new version won’t be sold on our side of the Atlantic.
LOSERS: ALFA ROMEO
Another year of drooping sales while we wait for the much promised revival car in 2015. (The 4C was never intended to be anything more than a stopgap to keep the memory alive. It sells in such tiny numbers it certainly won’t keep the brand alive.)
Historic Italian designer and coachbuilder went belly-up. Brilliant back-catalogue, no future.
Growth almost stalled in Europe. They’re at risk of becoming what they set out to destroy: a rather average mid-market player like Peugeot or Vauxhall-Opel. Meanwhile Peugeot and Vauxhall-Opel have woken up and fought back. Hyundai need a more distinct new identity. They don’t want to be ‘sporty’ – that’s Kia’s job – although their WRC programme is doing remarkably well, not least in the hands of a Top Gear magazine member of staff…
As I say, most hybrids don’t save much fuel when you drive them hard. Except for one sort: Formula One cars. The 2014 cars did the same race distance as in 2013, but on 33 percent less fuel. Question is, can that be transferred to road cars?
TOO SOON TO TELL: FRONT-DRIVE BMWS
The first FWD BMW, the 2-series Active Tourer, got a lot of abuse from petrolheads and self-appointed keepers of the ‘ultimate driving machine’ flame. But truth is its biggest offence isn’t being FWD, it’s being an MPV. In 2015 the X1 will go onto this chassis, and gain useful space because of it. And the year after that, the 1-series will do the same. And do we mind about a hot-hatch FWD BMW? Probably not. No-one minds about Mercedes’ A and CLA and GLA having that layout. After all, the Mini shows the Munich engineers can do a good job of it.
TOO SOON TO TELL: FUEL CELLS
We’ve seen promising new FC cars came from Toyota and Hyundai with another to come in a few weeks from Honda. But until there’s a strong supply of renewably-sourced hydrogen and the filling stations to get it to the cars, it could be another false dawn.
TOO SOON TO TELL: VOLVO
The new XC90 is full of clever ideas for a platform and associated powertrains on which to build a whole range. But despite the endless teasing, we haven’t actually driven it yet.
TOO SOON TO TELL: HONDA
MOVERS: COMPANY BOSSES
There was a right kerfuffle in October when Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo departed amid some upset. The Fiat Group’s boss Sergio Marchionne took over on a part-time basis. It seems Marchionne wanted to be at the helm when a portion of Ferrari shares are sold in the new year. Nothing much to do with the cars, but will Marchionne raise output?
Another supercar maker got a new boss when Andy Palmer left a high-profile role at Nissan to run Aston Martin. He’s an engineer, a racer and a local boy made very good. Plus he has good contacts at Mercedes, which will be supplying Aston with AMG engines and electronics.
Palmer wasn’t the only high-profile departure from Carlos Ghosn’s Nissan-Renault tent: Renault chief Carlos Tavares left after suggesting he wanted to take over eventually. He was snapped up by rival Peugeot-Citroen, and quickly set out to cut costs, tidy up the range, boost sales and give DS its freedom.
At Lotus, new boss Jean-Marc Gales is aiming to steady the ship then expand gradually. At Citroen, Linda Jackson wants to look after the customers. The VW brand hasn’t been making enough money (it’s Audi profits that bankroll the Group) so Herbert Diess has been brought in from BMW to shake things up. But it’s too soon to say how.