Garnering the most buzz, though, were rides such as Bentley’s concept SUV, which surely will become a production car. Owned by Volkswagen of Germany, the British luxury brand unwrapped a truly massive machine to oohs and ahhs. Not of approval, but of astonishment.
Hideously overwrought, the Bentley EXP 9F concept SUV has a 6.0-litre, twin-turbocharged W-12 engine, a massive grille and huge headlights. This bauble for the most tasteless of the nouveau riche will list for more than $250,000 if – no, when – it arrives in a year or three. Not that it will matter much to the environment, but there might be a hybrid version, too.
Or take the new Ferrari F12 Berlinetta, all 740-horsepower of it from the V-12 under the hood. Figure that to list for at least $350,000. The limited-edition Aston Martin Zagato, at more than half a million, has a V-12 rated at 510 hp. And so on, from the Porsche Boxster to the Maserati GT Sport, and BMW’s 6 Gran Coupe.
For something utterly over the top we point to Lamborghini’s Aventador J, a one-off topless design already sold to a European buyer for 2.5 million euro, or about $3.3 million. And not to be overlooked was the Bugatti Grand Vitesse, a supercar with 1,200 hp that can go from 0-100 km/h in 2.6 seconds. Price: about $2-million-plus.
The exception to the supercar rule here in Geneva was the Infiniti electric Emerg-E concept sports car. A two-seater with a bubble top, the Emerg-E is super fast thanks to twin 150-kilowatt electric motors. Pretty sexy looking, too.
The market for electric super cars is a fraction of that for gasoline ones, though. Which brings us back to small cars, which were key in Geneva. Take the third-generation Audi A3, which we’ll likely see next year as a sedan. The story here is of the creative use of parent Volkswagen's resources. We were told the A3 represents the leading edge of VW’s latest take on an engineering system for engines, suspensions and parts. Audi officials did talk about a possible hybrid version of the new A3, but didn’t get into extensive detail.
Perhaps the hit of the show among affordable cars was Ford’s new B-class minivan. The B-Max is clever, clever, clever. The highlight is the Ford Easy Access Door System, which allows for an unobstructed entry and exit. The trick here: hinged front doors and sliding rear doors integrating the central body pillars.
“The Ford B-Max really challenges traditional small-car thinking, and pioneers a concept not attempted by any other manufacturer,” Stephen Odell, chairman and CEO of Ford of Europe, said at the unveiling. “Its ingenious design opens the doors – quite literally – to exciting new ideas about what’s possible with a compact vehicle.”
Ford CEO Alan Mulally told me the 2013 Ford B-Max will be available with low-CO2 emissions gasoline and diesel engines in Europe and it will also be the first European car to offer the Sync in-car communications system. And he added that it most likely will have a spot in Ford’s North American lineup. Exactly when he would not say, but he was pretty emphatic about the B-Max having a future in Canada and the United States.
But EVs? No one really dwelled on them. Most car company executives talked about the reality of EVs, that they’re a fantasy to the average consumer, even with taxpayer subsidies.
In other words, EVs continue to pose more questions than answers. Questions such as: Where will mass-market EV buyers come from when it’s possible to buy an efficient vehicle like the B-Max for half the price of a Volt? And what about the batteries – range and durability and cost – and convenient charging stations and procedures? And on and on and on.
Everyone agrees that in a few decades, car makers must and will find ways to power cars with something other than gasoline and diesel fuels. Obviously, the car companies will continue to develop EV and hybrid technologies and bring vehicles so equipped to market – in limited numbers, of course.
Among the very vocal dissenters: Toyota, which has a huge stake in hybrid technology, and Carlos Ghosn, CEO of both Nissan and Renault, who has the led charge with pure battery cars. Ghosn said sales of the all-electric Nissan Leaf might hit 50,000 in the United States this year now that production is commencing in Tennessee. Meantime, here in Geneva, Renault introduced the production version of the Renault Zoe, a battery-powered compact.
So there were a few EV-tinted green shoots sprouting here and there. But it seems the era of EV hype and hyperbole is over. The cold reality of the marketplace and consumer demands has replaced the high-fiving optimism of the recent past. It was inevitable.