4 March 2019

All (now not so busy) roads lead to Geneva

The 89th Geneva International Motor Show opens to the press tomorrow (March 5) and while there are some exciting new models and concepts being unveiled, the absence of some major OEMs might make one think the days of the motor show extravaganzas are over.

Sitting this one out will be Ford, Volvo, Jaguar Land Rover and Hyundai, Alpine, Infiniti, DS, MINI, Lotus and Tesla.

Ford do have some new cars and facelifts to unveil soon; the new 280hp Focus ST and an all-new Kuga ST model expected to be launched before the end of 2019, as is a facelifted Mondeo and a new Ranger pick-up. But the carmaker has said that: “Rather than go to Geneva with relatively small news, we would rather do something later that would give us more bang for our buck.”

Volvo has said that it prefers more direct forms of communication, including boutique launches and intimate consumer gatherings; and said that: “Automatic attendance at traditional industry events is no longer viable – we must tailor our communications based on how the options complement our messaging, timing and the nature of the technology we are presenting.”

The Swedish carmaker’s Polestar brand will be out in force at the show, likely considered necessary exposure for a new brand. Polestar will show the second model from its developing line-up, the Polestar 2, which is aimed squarely at Tesla’s Model 3; the Swedish contender will be priced from $40,000.

Jaguar Land Rover have had a fairly torrid last few months, suffering from a 90% diesel-engined model line-up in the face of a European backlash against the fuel, announcing job cuts in the UK and quietly launching its Slovakia production centre so its reticence to be in the public eye is understandable. It is hard for a carmaker who is laying people off and shifting production to a lower labour cost region to justify the $1 million-plus that making a meaningful appearance at a major show costs. It has also just announced that it is axing the Range Rover SV Coupé and that the Discovery SVX concept car would not now make production as had originally been planned. It looks like JLR are concentrating on its ‘foundation models’ - Range Rover, Discovery and the new Defender, probably the best policy for the OEM.

With the accent on new mobility technologies and vehicles, it is perhaps a fitting time for OEMs to concentrate on alternative ways of launching their products; as we see vehicles become more connected to the Internet, each other and to the urban road network infrastructure so it does make sense that more new models will be debuted online or at special one-marque events.

There are two unusual and interesting unveilings from OEMs though; Tata will show two new vehicles plus a concept car. Its Altroz premium hatchback, aimed at segments rivals Maruti Suzuki Baleno, Hyundai i20, Honda Jazz, and Volkswagen Polo, it will be launched in India in mid 2019 and is based on the company's ALFA platform, engine options will include a 1.2-litre turbo petrol and a 1.5-litre turbo diesel. Other unveilings from the Indian carmaker will be the seven-seater version of its Harrier SUV, the H7X. The carmaker will also present the 45X electric concept, with the aim of showcasing the scope of electrifying cars underpinned by the ALFA architecture.

Perhaps the most heartening vehicle at the show, for this slightly sentimental Brit, is the all-new sports car from that jewel of the British automotive crown, Morgan. Showing that technology does not stand still even in Morgan’s traditional hand crafted culture the new model, known internally as the Wide Body, will make use of an all-new, lighter bonded aluminium platform. The company also intriguingly says the car will feature “a powertrain never before installed in a Morgan”.

The Geneva Show thus in some ways illustrates the zeitgeist of tomorrow’s European automotive sphere; new technology coming to the fore with traditional values and craftsmanship still strong, in the face of departing OEMs and the rise of online and more tightly focused marketing.

Simon Duval Smith

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