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March 2016

2016 Geneva International Motor Show – Part 3: Premium fill up

The most visually appealing cars of a motor show are obvisously the premium brands. The automotive industry is going through major shifts these days and will continue to do so for the coming five to ten years. So how are the premium brands holding up? After all, they are the ones that show as the latest in technology that will eventually trickle down to the ‘normal’ everyday cars.

1) Bugatti Chiron – Continuity or Dinosaur

Let’s start with Bugatti. The brand new Chiron is finally out, and I think it looks stunning. Sure, it looks similar to its predecessor, the Veyron, but that’s a good thing. I especially love the C-shaped side that forms a sort of frame from the roof around the door down to the side skirt. The Chiron is an evolution of the Veyron. It still has the massive W16, 8 litre gasoline engine in the back delivering 1’500 hp to all four wheels and it can speed up to 420 km/h. The last iteration of the Veyron, the Super Sport, produced 1’200 hp and got up to a top speed of 415 km/h. So you might say that the difference is not that big.

Yes and no. When Volkswagen Group bought the brand rights of Bugatti cars in 1998, they had to start from scratch: W16 engine, clutch that could endure the massive 1’250 Nm torque, paint, interior design and materials, customer experience and service – everything had to be created and everything was super expensive. As a matter of fact, Bugatti, hence Volkswagen Group, lost money on every single of the 450 Veyron they sold. Naturally, over the years, different version were built. A Veyron Super Sport cost about € 1.65 million and Volkswagen. I couldn’t find official numbers on their losses, but it’s estimated that they lost around € 4 to 5 million on each car they made. That’s insane!

Anyway, back to the new Chiron! This time, Bugatti wants to make profit on it. They want to build 500 of it and sell them for € 2.4 million each. That’s more like it! But look at this: The Veyron was made between 2005 and 2015. Many motoring journalist ended up stating that it was the last  hurray of the 20th century type gas guzzling supercar. Now the Chiron is here and it’s basically the same thing in a new dress. Don’t get me wrong, the engineers for sure put a lot of effort in it, but it’s still a conventional fuel powered W16 engine – not electric, not hybrid, not autonomous. Let’s say the planned 500 cars will be sold over the coming ten years, so all the way up to 2026. With the car industry trending towards new modes of propulsions, as well as the fast development of connectivity and autonomous driving, the Chiron will still be an engineering marvel, but also obsolete. It’s like keeping developing the best typewriter ever, while everybody is on laptops already.

2) Porsche – Top Marketing

Porsche 2.5l 718 Boxster S engine, Geneva International Motor Show
Porsche 2.5l 718 Boxster S engine, Geneva International Motor Show

One of Porsche‘s new presentations was the redesigned Boxster. It’s not called the 981 anymore, but the 718 Boxster. Why? Simply because they ditched to flat 6 boxer engine and replaced it with a flat 4 boxer unit. What a scandal, what a disgrace, how dare they do that?!!! That’s what every hardcore Porsche fan must have thought when they got the news. Let’s face the facts: Everyone needs to adapt to continuously stricter emission rules. At the same time, they new engines produce much more power that the ones they replace:

  • 718 Boxster: 300 hp (2l) VS 981 Boxster: 265 hp (2.7l)
  • 718 Boxster S: 350 hp (2.5l) VS 981 Boxster S: 315 hp (3.4l)
Porsche 718, Geneva International Motor Show
Porsche 718, Geneva International Motor Show

Isn’t that just insane! Porsche are smart. They usually acknowledge the trends of the industry and find a way to connect it to the past, to make it look like they’re getting even closer to the roots of the respective car. That’s why they renamed it the 718 Boxster. The original 718 was a racing version evolution of the 550. And guess what, it had a flat 4 engine in it as well. The point of this is to trigger the right emotions in the heads of the potential buyers. Although the new engines have more power than the outgoing ones, the reduction of cylinders as well as the smaller displacement could have a negative effect on them. Telling you that it has never been as sporty as that and that it’s now linked to a Porsche legend is what changes everything! Good luck keeping up with the demand, Porsche. 🙂

3) Jaguar – Powerful, more powerful, ridiculously powerful

2016 Jaguar F-Type V6S AWD, Geneva International Motor Show
2016 Jaguar F-Type V6S AWD, Geneva International Motor Show

Jaguar didnt’ bring all that many new models to Geneva. All wheel drive (AWD) in now available across the entire range. The oldest model is the XJ, which got a facelift in 2015. All in all, a very fresh and revatelized brand. Models like the XE and XF will probably sell well, especially the AWD diesel versions. The Sportbrake (estate / station wagon) are not yet out, but they will probably generate even more volume.

The only real new model Jaguar brought to Geneva is the F-Type SVR, available as both, coupé and convertible. It’s the first SVR super sports car of many more to come out of Jaguar Land Rover. The same awesome sounding 5.0l V8 engine we have known for a couple of years now is producing 575 hp, accelerating from 0-100 km/h in 3.7s and getting up to a top speed of 322 km/h. As a matter of fact, Jaguar Land Rover is ditching the “R” models and instead is making extra powerful performace cars in their freshly built Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) facility near Coventry. You can look at it like the AMG division of Mercedes-Benz.

I know the F-Pace had its premiere last year in Frankfurt, but because it’s Jaguar’s first ever SUV and because they normally have Land Rover within the same group to focus on SUVs only, this is a big step for Jaguar. No car manufacturer who wants to sell big numbers can afford not to have an SUV in its model range. I’m not a fan of SUVs althogether. Granted, there are a few I’m okay with, like the Range Rover, but only because it started life as a real off road vehicle and it still can. People don’t necessarily want an SUV because they want to drive in the mud, they just want to sit a bit higher than in a sedan and be able to get in and out more easily. Mayby we’ll all drive SUVs only in the near future – or should I say we will let ourselves drive by our autonomous capsules. 🙂

4) Aston Martin – Genesis of a new design language

2016 Aston Martin DB11, Geneva International Motor Show
2016 Aston Martin DB11, Geneva International Motor Show

Aston Martin, a byword for James Bond – British Secret Service, gentlemen, refined GT cars. With the launch of the DB9 in 2004, Aston Martin had finally gotten rid of the old school image of the DB7 and all new, modern era was heralded. Over the years, the entire model range was updated and all of the Aston Martin cars were given the new face. Time moved on and that new face became middle aged itself. Now, with the brand new DB9 successor, the DB11, Aston Martin has found its new design language! I know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so I’ll simply let you judge by yourself. Check out the DB11 in the video below.

5) Tesla – Gimme more models

Tesla Motors started its life with the Roadster, which was based on the Lotus Elise S2. Then in 2012, the first 100% Tesla developed car was delivered. Worldwide expansion of Importers, dealers and most importantly, Supercharger stations has grown significantly. And now that all the early adapters have put their hands on a Model S, it is time for Tesla to move up and expand their model range. Now we also have the much anticipated SUV called the Model X. Although retail customers had to wait until late 2015 instead of 2014, the X with its gullwing back doors is now here. The car that will probably make Tesla Motors profitable in the mid term is the hugely anticipated Model 3, which is a 20% smaller sedan than the Model S. It will be unveiled on 31 March 2016 and deliveries are scheduled to start in late 2017.

Tesla is without a doubt the symbol of the car industry of the future, with the exception that they are already here! Electric, connected, autonomous, self updating, almost maintenance free cars. The automobile industry is going through a massive paradigm shift and the small company of Palo Alto California, which ten years ago was almost nowhere, is pushing hard to lead the next evolution of personal transport.

2016 Geneva International Motor Show – Part 2: The come backs

I’ve been going to the Geneva Motor Show for almost as long as I know that I have a passion for cars. This year, though, was special. As mentioned in the first part, the last couple of shows did feel as exciting to me as they used to. This year however, I felt as though many car companies had risen from the ashes like a phoenix. Let’s take a look at a few of them

1) Volvo – Back to Krisprolls

Volvo S90, 2016 Geneva International Motor Show
Volvo S90, 2016 Geneva International Motor Show

Volvo had a huge, spacious stand, presenting the well known V40, their still very recent and second generation SUV XC90 and finally the much anticipated big S90 (sedan/saloon) and it’s estate version the V90. Never ever in over fifteen years of auto show visiting did I have any desire to explore the Volvo stand. This time, the S90 was the one that took my breath away. Like the XC90, it’s build according to the same clear cut and yet fluent and so typically Volvo design language. The inside, with it’s slim yet comfortable seats is a beautiful thing to be in. I admit, the quality of the interior buttons might not be quite at the top of what the industry has to offer, but it is very good.

Volvo XC90, 2016 Geneva International Motor Show
Volvo XC90, 2016 Geneva International Motor Show

Honestly, when the Chinese Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co., Ltd bought Volvo from Ford in 2009, I didn’t have very much hope for the iconic Swedish car maker. First of all, because the market was already very competitive and second of all, I was afraid that the Chinese wouldn’t keep the essence of what makes a Volvo quentessentially Volvo: their classic simple design combined with the highest safety standards. Strictly speaking, Volvo is pushing very hard to bring their autonomous driving system to the market. In 2017 (yes, that’s very soon!!), they are going to put 100 self driving cars on the streets of Gothenburg, Sweden to test their self driving system in real life conditions. Now that sounds all promising and exciting. I say let’s meet again in a year and check the system out. If the quality of the car and it’s electronic systems prove to be reliable and durable, Volvo just might be at the start of a big roll!

2) PSA – Back in the Race

Peugeot 308 R Hybrid, 2016 Geneva International Motor Show
Peugeot 308 R Hybrid, 2016 Geneva International Motor Show

PSA Peugeot Citroën have come a long way and are now showing clear signs of recovery after the crisis years of the early 2010’s. Carlos Tavares, the Chairman of the Managing Board since March 2014 has been working hard on pushing his “Back in the Race” program to make PSA financially fit again, built up DS as a standalone premium brand and differentiate the brand positioning clearly between Peugeot, Citroën and DS.

I admit, having grown up around Peugeot and Citroën cars, I tend to be a bit subjective about this group and am pleased to see they are showing clear signs of recovery. PSA’s 2015 annual report says that they made a group loss of € 555 mio by the end of 2014. Only one year later they had achieved a profit of € 1’202 mio. This is amazing. Tavares himself announced on an interview in February on the French radio channel RTL that PSA is now completely debt free and that they were giving their French workforce an extra bonus of around € 2’000 per employee.

This is a nice gesture and a sign of relieve for the entire group. However, the hard work isn’t over yet. The crucial thing for them to succeed will be keep the momentum and continue working just as hard on their three brands and invest in future technologies and market trends.

In short, Peugeot has rejuvenated its model range. During the press conference Peugeot’s CEO Maxime Picat announced that they would be presenting four more SUVs for the global market. Connectivity and electrification via hybrid models will be other major investment area for the coming years. I was glad to get the confirmation for a road going version of the 308 R Hybrid concept. It is based on the 308 GTi and enhanced with two electric motors of each 115 hp, producing a total of 500 hp.

When it comes to Citroën’s future model range, they still keep their cards pretty close to their chest. Of course, they presented the all new electric E-Méhari, which they developed together with conglomerate Bolloré. All we know for sure is that they will continue to bring new models that follow the “Créative Technologie” spirit of the successful C4 Cactus; cars who simply make you feel good. The brand new C3 is set to be presented at the Paris Motor Show this september. I’m hoping to see a road going version of the Aircross concept next year and am curious to see what they will come up to replace the aging C4 and C5. Citroën’s hydropneumatic suspension is set to retire together with the C5 but Citroën CEO Linda Jackson has already announced a brand new revolutionary suspension technology for 2017.

Finally, DS is the little and young brand that has yet to prove what it’s made of. They just finished restyling the existing model range: The little hot hatch DS 3 has recently lost its Chevron and adopted the “DS Wings” front, as well as the same interior updates as the DS 4 & 5 regarding touch screen and Mirror Link / Car Play smartphone connectivity. The entire range does however start to show it’s age, although it isn’t really that old. The DS 3 & 4 were launched in 2010, followed by the DS 5 in 2011. The mentioned facelifts have also given them new engines and gearboxes. Nevertheless, I can’t wait what they have planned to bring in the future as DS’ CEO Yves Bonnefont announced during the DS press conference that the range will be made out of six globally sold cars by the end of 2020. The clock is ticking!

I do however have high hopes for the brand. The stunning all electric E-Tense concept car they presented almost looks like it could be mass produced as is. Obviously, they will probably focus on SUVs, hatchbacks and saloons/sedans first, but the important things we have to see here are the technology elements that should be carried over to the production cars. I believe that the early involvement in the young but steadily more popular Formula E with the DS Virgin Racing Team is a statement in the right direction.

3) Opel – Love your car

Opel is a car brand I usually don’t follow with much interest. But as I was walking through their stand I thought that their entire model range looked really good! The Insignia has been with us since 2008 and slightly redesigned in 2013. The brand new generation is bound to hit the roads in late 2017. The current model still looks up to date, though. So does the rest of the range: The Astra, it’s topless sister Cascada, the Adam and it’s even smaller brother Karl – a blend of fresh and colorfol models. Sure, there fit and finish is not best in class but is good and you know what? They present themselves as what they are: A mass producer of cars for the middle class, without pretending to be a Rolls Royce competitor.

Furthermore, the Opel GT concept is probably one of the highlights to remember from this year’s Geneva Motor Show: Small, simple, elegant and desirable!

4) Fiat and Alfa Romeo

After Sergio Marchionne made Fiat and Chrysler merged in 2014 following Chysler’s bankruptcy, the new Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) concentrated it’s efforts on Jeep and Chrysler. With the exception of the hugely successful Fiat 500 and subsequent 500X, the Fiat model range was basically non existend. Sure, some Chrysler models were garnished with a Fiat badge but that didn’t fool anyone. The same story happened to Alfa Romeo. In recent years, the Guiletta and the MiTo were pretty much all Alfa had to offer. Of course there was and still is the prestigious 4C, but that’s more an image booster than a big seller.

Today I’m glad to see that they have finally brought the Alfa Romeo Giulia and the more sporty Giulia Quadrifoglio. Fiat is getting back to the roots also, with the Tipo and a slightly redesigned Mazda MX-5 named the 124 Spyder.

2016 Geneva International Motor Show – Part 1: Industry trends

Introduction – On neutral ground

So, the 2016 Geneva International Motor Show at the Palexpo exhibition center closes it’s doors at the end of this weekend. Although I consider myself as a regular visitor of the show, I got a bit bored in recent years: Lots of people, lots of noise, it’s always hot and there were not that many interesting cars, which of course is a purely subjective point of view. 😉 Anyway, I won tickets at a DS Automobiles Facebook game (thanks DS!) and decided to give Geneva one more chance!

So how can I describe this 86th edition of the Geneva International Motor Show? First of all, electric cars are getting mainstream and cool. A couple of years ago, if you looked at the electric cars available, they were still small, not very sophisticated and with the exception of Tesla Motors, none of the established car brands had one that would just come of the production line right away. Now that we are in the second half of the 2010’s, the revolution of the automobile industry has finally kicked in and we are witnessing a fast-paced change of technologies and behaviors. Porsche already presented their E-Mission in Francfort last year, Peugeot just green lighted the 500 hp 308 R Hybrid, even Morgan made an electric version of their iconic Threewheeler! Everyone is living the unleaded liquid in the dust and fills up with some electrons!

1) Paradigm shift in the car industry

I’m not sure I should mention this at the beginning of the article, but this motor show showed that Tesla is spot on with their cars and philosophy: electric cars that look and drive just like any other ‘conventional’ cars, but are in sync with the generation Y‘s lifestyle. With every element of our life becoming more and more connected (smartphone, cloths, housing), the car is just one element of the equation that has to follow the trend if it wants to survive in the jungle. Why is Tesla doing it right? Not only are they at the forefront of electric drivetrains, but all of the functions of the car are piloted using their big and very intuitive touch screen, that is getting updated regularly. The days where you bought a car and had to physically go to a dealer to get it updated and pay a lot of money for it are counted. Minor bug fixing or even recalls are sent from Tesla to their cars and it updates itself.

The established car companies will have to make a paradigm shift. Yes, the automotive OEM will get more information on their cars in real time, but to some extent the dealers will be taken out of the equation. In essence, a car will soon be completely working like smartphones already do today: Their is an update for a certain application / function of the car, you get a notification and update it – wireless and for free. And with the software evolving rapidly, customers want those updates to be on the car as well and have the different interfaces communicate with each other. So the car you buy today will still be appealing as a used car in six years time.

Tesla started it, but all the other ones will have to follow that (r)evolution. Many car companies are setting up offices in Silicon Valley for that reason. It’s not the only reason and of course, because they are all developing autonomous drive modes. But again, that is all linked with each other. Gilles Vidal, designer of Peugeot made a clear statement on this toping during an interview with Renaud Roubaudi of POA. Basically, he says that “the automobile is one brick of a world in which everything will be connected and evolve in the same time. What people want in their daily life, be it their house, their objects or their car, is that the renewal of those things will have to be fast. And since everything will have to be connected, the auto industry, which is currently one of the slowest industry in the world in terms of developing a new car, will have to become hyper adaptable, software but also hardware-wise.” Check out the interview. His statement starts at around 15:00 min.

2) A Motor Show is no longer a must

2016 MINI brochureThere is another paradigm shift I noticed on this years’ Geneva show: MINI was nowhere to be seen. Usually, being a brand of the BMW Group, MINI always shared it’s stand with BMW. This year, BMW had the entire space just for themselves, and it did look like there was something missing. Went I asked them where MINI was, they confirmed me that they decided not to come anymore, that it was part of their strategy. Sadly, all they could give me was a small brochure of the MINI model range. 😀

BMW stand, 2016 Geneva International Auto ShowSo what’s my point? The media already reported in late 2015 that MINI would skip the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit as well as the show in Geneva. Jaguar Land Rover would also not be a part of the NAIAS in 2016. The fact is that customer behavior have changed and car companies, no matter how premium they are, have to spend their money wisely. Auto shows cost a lot and don’t necessarily generate much money in return. Many years ago, people used to buy their new car on the auto show. Today, dealerships are getting bigger and better equiped in demo cars. So basically you’re better of checking out the car you’re intersted in there and get a test drive in the same go, which you can’t at the auto show. Moreover, with customer relationship management and big data getting more and more important, car companies start creating regional and smaller events that reach the target audience more effectively than just a car show for everybody. People want the companies to come to them and not the other way round. If you want to sell me your product, you come to me, I don’t want to take the hassle to go to you.

What does this mean for the future? As some brands have started, others are likely to follow that trend and pick just a few auto show. Like any other industry, the automotive industry constantly has to ask itself if their investments are still effective and if so, how they can increase their efficiency. After all, the customer is always right.

 

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