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Autosalon Genf 2019: Gefangen zwischen Retro und Digital
Geneva International Motor Show is the first annual gathering of the automotive industry in Europe – and it has always been a special fair. One reason for this is, that it is relatively smaller and feels more familiar than those exhibitions in Frankfurt, Shanghai or Detroit. One might even call the well-known halls close to Lac Leman cosy. But there is something else: GIMS has historically been the place for automotive extremes. No other show hosts such a broad selection of hyper cars, exotic manufacturers and concepts between brilliance and madness. In the past, it has been the place to marvel at cars that some love, others despise and few will actually consider owning. That is raw power, large engines, intricate designs and vehicles with price points most drivers will consider abstract at best. Need an example? Take the Bugatti “La Voiture Noire”: 16 cylinders, 1,500 horsepower and a price beyond 11.000.000 €.
However, the “times they are a changin” and in 2019 it appears that Geneva has transformed – without losing its fascination for the car. In a startling way, the transformation of the industry is reflected within all the power and exclusivity-loaded environment. So, here is our three key take away messages:
- Electrification is standard – digitisation is the challenge
- Retro design is the safe harbour in times of change
- Geneva is the place for new brands
Electrification is standard …
Since the beginning, Tesla has proved, that electric vehicles are fit for Geneva: An OEM can put 700 horsepower and more into a vehicle without having to excuse for environmental irresponsibility. Accordingly, a large number of new electric cars presented in Geneva was neither shy of power, nor size. BMW focussed on their new hybrid range including the 3 series, 5 series, and 7 series. Going beyond this commitment to plug-in hybrid powertrains, Mercedes brought their EQ range of vehicles to stage. The EQC, a fully electric crossover SUV (>400 km range in WLTP, 408 horsepower) demonstrates that the German premium OEMs are finally rising to the challenge. Audi leads the German charge in terms of fully electric full-range vehicles with its e-tron line-up – first deliveries of the Audi e-tron – a promising competitor to the new “Car of the Year”, the Jaguar I-PACE – are arriving this month. And despite being shown previously at Auto Shanghai, the fully electric e-tron Sportback and the e-tron GT where clearly at the centre of attention on the Audi booth. The Audi e-tron GT giving a perfect example of how progressive exterior design can transport a brand into the electrified age.
Probably the most striking evidence of how much focus is on electrification could be witnessed with VW. The global volume leader – shaken up by #Dieselgate – unveiled the new Passat which will largely support in securing scale and profits. However, it spent more time talking about its – admittedly more exciting – newest concept of the electrified I.D. vehicle family, the I.D. Buggy. It builds on the heritage of the fun beach buggy available in the 60s and is set to illustrate the small volume potential of the new electrical MEB architecture. How serious VW is about making its MEB the new industry standard became apparent in the news of the week. Right at the opening of this year’s Geneva Motor Show, VW’s Herbert Diess and e.Go’s Günther Schuh announced their partnership. E.Go, a much-discussed German newcomer OEM, will be given full access to Volkswagen’s electrical MEB architecture and components to build its next vehicle generation. In turn, Volkswagen will receive further insights into MEB application and real-world feedback on their architecture. It remains to be seen, whether other volume OEMs will be using MEB for their vehicles as well. The German giant has made clear, that increasing MEB volumes through partnerships is their intended way forward to unlock economies of scale. The e.Go partnership is thus to be considered a symbolic first step.
Going beyond the German incumbent OEMs who have been struggling to get their electrification plans into place, electric concept cars close to production were also on display with less expensive OEMs like Seat (El Born) and Skoda (Vision iV). And yes, there was also a range of electric hyper cars with up to 1,900 hp (Pininfarina PFo) – as you would expect with Geneva and electrification being the new standard.
Are we missing someone? Yes. In the past few years, Asian OEMs have displayed greater agility in electrifying their vehicles. Therefore, it is no surprise that besides the power-straddling European cars, especially the Japanese OEMs Toyota, Mitsubishi and Honda continuously demonstrate, that they are a force to recon with in terms of electrification. Rather than boasting with flashy presentations of electrified flagship vehicles, they rather silently present a broad range of electrified vehicles with significant track record. Honda for example had a close-to-series prototype of its compact Honda e on display. While Tesla and Elon Musk are good at getting the attention, it is these OEMs and their vehicles which are the real off-spotlight leaders of innovation these days. Those who make electric mobility accessibility for the many, not the few.
… Digitisation is the challenge
While electrification is apparently soon becoming the standard in every car maker’s portfolio, Geneva Motor Show also shed a light on one of the biggest challenges for the industry: to transform from mere sales of cars towards mobility providers that engage with customers on more levels than the vehicle itself. In times of changing user behaviour, it is a wide-spread belief that Automotive OEMs need to become an integrated part of today’s digitised lifestyle. However, only little of this could be witnessed at GIMS 2019 with hardly any of the booths extending beyond the physical vehicle itself. Only Mercedes managed to create a digitised experience by utilizing augmented reality, x-ray visualisations and MBUX demonstrator seats. The automotive industry must find convincing and exciting ways to show, how they plan to enrich their mobility experience going forward, in order to be taken seriously in their claim of shaping the future of mobility. In case they fail, others are ready to do this.
Retro design is the safe harbour in times of change
With electrification becoming the new standard and digitisation being the key challenge going forward, the level of uncertainty is high. One remarkable insight at GIMS 2019 is therefore the apparent trend towards retro design choices. Somehow it feels like that with all the disruption, trusted and in some cases beloved designs are selected to give the illusion of everything being just fine. This brings us back to the VW I.D. Buggy but is also visible in the Peugeot e-Legend Concept. Ultimately, this is reflected in dedicated brands such as David Brown Automobiles or Fornasari.
They displayed several vehicles that took more than one page out of the 1960’s book of automotive design. Clearly, there seems to be a demand for modern technology, safety and comfort in established forms and shapes. For the moment, most of the vehicles shown in Geneva are handmade at small volumes with at least six-digit price tags. Therefore, they do not target the wider public, but the previously mentioned volume OEM concepts hit the same nerve. Of course, the big OEMs present their latest developments and technology forerunners such as their Formula E race cars. Still, at the same time they are eager to stress their legacy. Citroen’s booth lays testimony to this, putting their latest vehicles (e.g. the AMI ONE concept for urban mobility) next to their legendary Type A, 2 CV and Traction Avant models which defined the brand back in the days. Their hashtag: #LibertyElectricCityMobility
Geneva is the place for new brands
Besides all the retro design and automotive history at display, Geneva continues to be the auto show for (somewhat) new brands to make their global debut. Like VinFast in 2018, again in 2019 some new brands such as AIWAYS, Aurus, Piech and ArcFox made their official appearance on the global stage. Interestingly, this list contains both new Asian OEMs (ArcFox) – something we have become used to seeing – as well as new European OEMs. Piëch is from Germany. Aurus is based in Russia and AIWAYS represents a joint venture between the Chinese AIWAYS and sports car maker Gumpert.
And what about the brilliant to borderline nonsense concepts Geneva Motor Show is known for? It just never disappoints. The combination of electrification, digitisation and retro design makes the utmost futuristic concept studies even more unconventional. For one, Pal-V showed off their gyrocopter-car hybrid which is a truly extraordinary concept. Actually, we have to tip our hats to the Dutch team, who claim to have already sold 80 units of the vehicle which has yet to be officially licensed. Still, it is not quite the weirdest thing. Our top find is the Engler F.F Superquad and represents something the manufacturer labels as the “world’s first super quad”. Take a super car’s body, remove doors, cockpit and roof and add motorcycle controls. Since sales prices have yet to be communicated, we are left to wonder about the target market for this thing. With 850 hp from a Lamborghini V10 engine, 2.5 seconds from 0 to 100 km/h and the extraordinary concept, it fits GIMS just perfectly. Without needing to ever be seen anywhere but at auto shows.