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An Alfa Romeo 4C is shown during the press day at the 83rd Geneva International Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. (CHRISTIAN BRUN/AP)
An Alfa Romeo 4C is shown during the press day at the 83rd Geneva International Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. (CHRISTIAN BRUN/AP)

Geneva Auto Show

Gloom and zoom, hope and glory at the Geneva auto show Add to ...

And then, from Mini to what I’d argue might prove to be the absolute best value in an open-air sports car: the 2014 Corvette Stingray convertible. Spectacular. General Motors’ Chevy brand used Geneva to unveil the open-air version of what design chief Ed Welburn said is the halo car for not only Chevy, but GM. By showing for the first time the new ragtop Stingray in Geneva, GM was making a statement about its global aspirations for Chevy – which GM is aggressively growing around the world. As Chevy goes, so goes GM. The convertible Stingray was an exclamation point, then.

Remember, now, the all-new ’Vette is a performance car with numbers that suggest it will run circles around Porsches that cost twice as much. It has a fully electronic top that can be lowered remotely using the car’s key fob. The top can also be opened or closed on the go, at speeds of up to 50 km/h.

The 2014 Corvette Stingray, coupe and convertible, goes on sale around the world late this year. In a signal of seriousness, GM will even sell left-hand-drive models in countries where they drive on the wrong side of the road. The Corvette, said Canadian Susan Docherty, president and managing director of Chevrolet and Cadillac Europe, is the face of Chevy around the world. The convertible version just had to be unveiled in Geneva.

I cannot wait to drive it. Yes, the design is cutting-edge, but it’s the engineering that should grab your attention. Under the skin is a new aluminum frame, which is 57 per cent stiffer and 45 kilograms lighter than the current steel frame. All ’Vettes will get the new LT1 6.2-litre V-8 with its estimated 450 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque. And pay attention to this: GM says it added no structural reinforcements to the convertible, so both models share almost identical power-to-weight ratios.

Not surprisingly, within sight of the Stingray’s unveiling, Porsche celebrated the 911’s 50th anniversary in 2013 by unwrapping the fifth-generation 911 GT3. Porsche made no bones about this one: it’s the purest Porsche in the entire lineup. Everything about the car is new, from the engine to the transmission, from the body to the chassis. All new and ready for the track, where you just know the Porsche people would love to stomp upstarts like that sexy Chevy just down the aisle. Porsche Canada says the GT3 will start at $148,800 when it goes on sale late this year.

Again with some numbers: the 3.8-litre flat-six engine is rated at 475 hp and will reach up to 9,000 rpm if the spirit moves you. There’s a dual-clutch gearbox developed for the GT3 and the engineers fell all over themselves explaining the active rear-wheel steering. This is a first for Porsche. Depending on the speed, the rears steer in the opposite or the same direction as the front wheels. More agility, more stability.

Porsche has plenty of history, and so does Chevy. But Kia? This part of the story illustrates the change under way in the car business. Parked right beside the Mercedes-Benz stand, the South Korean brand stole attention with what the company called a concept car “looking every centimetre a road-legal racer – the Provo.”

Porsche and so many others used Geneva to showcase supercars that sell for $100,000 or more, sometimes several million, in fact. Kia took its turn by punctuating a different message. That is, older auto makers may be busy in the high end of the market, but upstart Kia – and its parent, Hyundai – are chasing something that approaches world dominance with sexy cars for the masses, not just millionaires.

The Provo, said Kia, “mixes ultra-modern technology with a self-confident and agile look to deliver an exciting new B-segment car for enthusiasts.” B-segment means small and affordable. But not raw or unsophisticated. This low-riding coupe-style hatchback blends a gasoline-fueled turbocharged engine with regenerative-electric motors. The result is a racy hybrid. Want to know where Kia is heading in small cars? Look here.

Former BMW Canada CEO Hendrik von Kunheim was nearby and he had plenty to say about the ambitious. and what I’d call voracious, Hyundai-Kia conglomerate that Von Kunheim knows all too well, now that he is in charge of BMW’s business in Asia (except China) and Africa. South Korea is among the many countries for which he is responsible.

“Mark my words and you can quote me on this: Hyundai-Kia will be the largest auto maker in the world within five years,” he said, noting the astounding energy and commitment he sees in Korean industry every time he visits, which is often. Add admiration to that mixture of fear and caution, worry and the occasional bit of optimism at this year’s Geneva auto show.

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