2019 Geneva motor show - fewer brands, more technology

In spite of several major OEMs staying away, the Geneva Show was one of the most revealing for some time in European and global business terms says Simon Duval Smith

While Ford, Volvo, Jaguar Land Rover and Hyundai, Alpine, Infiniti, DS, MINI, Vauxhall/Opel, Lotus and Tesla stayed away for various reasons, other marques made some surprising and some rather gloomy (for the UK) announcements. The overriding theme of the show was the continuing move by carmakers to specify an EV model for all their ranges - excepting some supercars - and curiously there was also almost no mention of self-driving or autonomous vehicles.

This was probably a one-off as OEMs sought to highlight their EVs and hybrids and announce some new collaborations, we will no doubt see a return to the topic as Chinese OEMs announce their concepts and production models in Shanghai in April.

Volkswagen Group’s EV and platform strategies

The German giant’s executives talked a lot about the OEM’s MEB architecture and this reflects not only how much VW is pinning its hopes on the platform but also recognises the enormous investments it has made on changes at its manufacturing and powertrain plants for EV production - not only in Germany but also in the US and China.

Collaboration was a hot topic with VW Group too, as the carmaker announced at Geneva that it was adjusting its platform strategy to make the MEB base available to some select OEMs as part of the Group’s avowed intention to dominate the EV market, starting in Europe and seeking to achieve economies of scale through global EV and hybrid production. This is a great opportunity for suppliers and logistic providers as there should be many generic components across more brands inside and outside the Group, and these moves should also simplify the supply chain and may even encourage better two-way movement of parts and vehicles across the globe.

As to specific vehicles, Group previewed various electric concepts including the retro ID. Buggy and the more conventional SEAT el-Born, Audi gave its new Q4 e-tron, which is likely to be made at the Mosel or Zwickau plants, with production starting during the second half of 2020. This will be the brand's fifth EV of a planned 12 which are due by mid-decade: e-tron, Q2 L e-tron (China only), e-tron Sportback, e-tron GT (Tesla Model S rival) and then Q4 e-tron.

On the supplier front, the e-tron featured a Bang & Olufsen 3D Premium Sound System featuring scalable digital signal processing (DSP) that relies on the groundbreaking Symphoria 3D algorithm by Fraunhofer IIS. The sound system comprises 16 loudspeakers, as well as a 15-channel amplifier providing a total output power of 705 watts, Class D and Class AB (Hybrid amplifier) technology, Digital Transmission Content Protection (DTCP), 5.1 multi-channel support, and more. The carmaker and the supplier were both reserved about current integration with autonomous and other connected driving applications but apparently these can be incorporated easily in the future.

The battle of the French OEMs heats up

While Renault’s new Clio showed many observers why it rules the B segment, rivals PSA showed its exciting new 208 model. Both marques will be trying to get their offerings into showrooms by the end of the summer and while the 208 looks capable of delivering on the OEM’s promise of outselling the current model, it will be fighting in one of the most competitive segments in the automotive world.

Renault’s 5th series Clio was a lesson in how to under-promise and over-deliver, it appeared to be a simple facelift at first glance but looking deeper revealed an all-new platform which promises at the very least mild-hybrid technology - and probably a full electric in the future - plus a more premium cabin than rivals such as the new Audi A1 or the VW Polo.

Peugeot e-Legend Concept
The new Renault Clio

I will include Nissan in the French carmakers, and Mitsubishi as French-owned, or at least majority French-owned OEMs and their offerings at the show were by turns conservative and a little daring. Nissan showed the IMQ which is likely to be an expression of the new Qashqai - known as the Rogue Sport in some sales territories. Qashqai’s success means that it will be a hard act to follow and this is a pivotal vehicle for the OEM. When production starts in late 2021 or early 2022, it is almost certain that there will be a full EV version offered. PSA will likely continue with its collaboration with Toyota and the Japanese carmaker announced an electric LCV that will likely be a joint venture with PSA and will probably be made at the Toyota Burnaston plant in the UK, or at Valenciennes in France.

14-15 May 2019
Graz, Austria

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11-12 June 2019
Coventry, United Kingdom

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Mitsubishi takes Outlander PHEV tech further
Steven Armstrong

Trevor Mann

I had a long talk with Trevor Mann at the show; this interview will be in a future edition of our magazine. He spoke enthusiastically about the company’s new SUV concept, the Engelberg Tourer (top image), the main purpose of which is to preview a new four-wheel-drive plug-in hybrid powertrain, as Mann told me: “The Engleberg is intended to move our offering on from the current Outlander PHEV system and it is integrated into the Dendo Drive House (DDH) home charging system.” The system uses a bi-directional charger, solar panels and a battery and allows your EV or PHEV to be charged via solar panels, while at the same time allowing the car to supply electricity for your home in emergencies. Mitsubishi has taken the unusual step of using a larger than industry-standard petrol engine, a 2.4-litre four-cylinder non-turbo unit mated to a 20kWh battery pack underneath the floor. The system powers two electric motors front and rear, making four-wheel drive and offering a claimed EV range of 44 miles on the newly established WLTP cycle. With a fully charged battery and full fuel tank, the range is said to be more than 435 miles. It also uses chassis tech inspired by the Lancer Evolution performance saloons. This includes an active yaw control system and advanced torque-split function. While the Engleberg is mainly a technology previe

Fiat returns to small car roots with EV tech

One very apparent development at the show was the prevalence of new superminis, in concept and production form, to help OEMs meet company-overall emissions targets and for some carmakers, such as Fiat, to return to their small car roots, hoping to win back some of the profitable business in the mini and supermini segments, that they were famed for with the original 500, 127, Panda, Cinquecento and Seicento.

Its Centoventi electric car concept shows the Italian carmaker going back to its innovative, small car best producing a small B-segment car that answers the need for an electric model but, as with the last generation 500, boosting profits with a lot of personalisation options. The concept could reach production as a version of the Panda as soon as 2021. Fiat brand boss Olivier Francois told reporters that, “It is driven by a desire to capture the essence of one end of the Fiat spectrum, while at the same time - if we’re being honest - to build our electrified portfolio and avoid any fines. I prefer to focus on the former, as this is a car that I have watched being developed with great passion, but it is also important that I acknowledge the pressures, especially as they might help drive the investment decisions I need to get it made. Whether we like it or not, they are focusing our energies.”

The Concept Centoventi, which is so named in recognition of the Italian firm's 120th anniversary, is very likely to make it into production as the FCA Group has developed a new, EV-only platform that will underpin an all-new electrified Fiat 500 to be unveiled at next year’s Geneva show. Francois admitted the two cars could potentially share the same basic underpinnings as a result, although he declined to confirm it.

The Centoventi - 3680mm long, 1527mm high and 1846mm wide, with a wheelbase of 2430mm - is designed to be highly customisable and upgradeable. Fiat’s suggestion is that it will be offered in base form with a single battery that gives 62 miles of range. Owners can buy or rent up to three extra underfloor batteries, along with one that slides under the driver's seat, to extend the range to up to 310 miles. Fiat says that the underfloor batteries can be added by a garage in "under five minutes".

Francois confirmed that an eventual production version of the car would be "the least expensive pure EV on the market", citing its modular battery design - with a low basic range - as a reason for making that claim. Although he would not confirm a figure, saying that it required testing with customers first, Francois indicated it could cost as little as £15,000 in base form, in line with similarly sized but conventionally engined cars today. 

Morgan - money in and new model out in the market

One piece of very heartening news at the show was the announcement by hand-crafted sportscar maker Morgan that they have attracted a major financing deal from Italian venture capitalist firm InvestIndustrial, who have taken a controlling stake in the company. The amount invested has not been disclosed but Morgan said it is a “significant capital investment” that will allow the 110-year-old car firm to introduce new models and potentially double its sales.

I spoke to Morgan chairman Dominic Riley at Geneva, where the company also launched the new Plus Six wide-bodied sportster, effectively replacing its Plus 8 model. 

He said that the new capital will, “Allow us to build our dealer network and invest in new technology, we’ll never be a volume car maker but with this investment we can develop.”

He said the funds will enable the company to, “Double production, that is the business plan.” The cash will also enable Morgan to market the brand more effectively, as Wells said: “We can now support our dealer networks around the world with more staff, PR and events. With this capital injection, we will have the platform to invest in and support sales and marketing.” 

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