In Geneva, automakers go beyond halo cars and concepts

 
By Hannah Elliott
The Washington Post
Posted3/13/2018 12:00 PM
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  • Automobiles stand on display in an exhibition hall at the 2017 Geneva International Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland.

    Automobiles stand on display in an exhibition hall at the 2017 Geneva International Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland. Bloomberg News File Photo

  • The New Ferrari 488 Pista is presented during the press day prior to the opening of the 88th Geneva International Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland.

    The New Ferrari 488 Pista is presented during the press day prior to the opening of the 88th Geneva International Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland. Associated Press

  • The new Volvo V60 is presented during the 88th Geneva International Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland.

    The new Volvo V60 is presented during the 88th Geneva International Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland. Associated Press

This week, Switzerland is the center of the car world.

While automakers have become increasingly picky as to when and where they show their latest wares, they continue to land unfailingly at the Geneva Motor Show, which this year runs March 8-18 at the city's Palexpo Center. And whereas the Los Angeles and New York car shows have focused heavily on "mobility" -- autonomous driving, electric and hybrid energy, podlike creations that aren't exactly cars -- Geneva remains the premier venue for debuting exciting, expensive automobiles that motorists will actually want to drive, regardless of price or efficiency.

This is the place to test brand identity -- or come up with a new one. Exhibits A and B: Volvo's new performance line, Polestar, shows off a sexy coupe, and Jaguar expands its excellent sedan fleet with a sporty wagon. Even the typically off-road-focused Range Rover is showing a four-person "coupe" hand-built from its special operations division. (More on those later.)

"Geneva is a grand vision show," says Michael Harley, the managing editor of Kelley Blue Book. "There's a lot of news, a lot of buzz, a lot of excitement. The fashion world has Paris. The car world has Geneva."

Whether it's a glitzy halo car, a concept model, or a limited-edition product, brands choose the event to showcase the cars they most want to be known for in the coming year.

For 2018, McLaren is displaying the 789-horsepower Senna, its most powerful road-legal car to date. The company has already sold all 500 units of the $1 million supercar: "That's the thing with Geneva," Harley points out wryly. "By the time they hit the stand, many of the cars are already sold-out. Deliveries start later this spring.

Hennessey will bring the even-more-expensive $1.6 million Venom F5 from Hennessey Special Vehicles. This one is primed to break records: It weighs less than 3,000 pounds and has more than 1,600 horsepower. The company debuted it to a select group at the SEMA show in Las Vegas months ago, but this will be its launch on the international scene. The target top speed, say company officials, is more than 300 miles per hour.

Rival Bugatti will bring its 2019 Chiron, the $2.6 million coupe, with a new options package that includes additional colors, trimmings and carbon-fiber accents. (Can you feel the hype? Mechanically, the Chiron is the same car underneath as it was last year, but at least it's not yet sold-out, so you still have a chance to own one.)

Bugatti and Hennessey, who each make far fewer than 1,000 cars worldwide annually, will also face a new contender to that top-speed title: an obscure company called Corbellati. The family-owned brand has announced it will show a 1,800-horsepower V-8 "Missile" hypercar that will be able to touch 311 mph. It's easy to say things on a piece of paper without having to back them up in the real world, so skepticism should remain high about that claim. Then again, that's exactly what the Geneva show is for. And if Corbellati does pull off 311, it'll have the other two beat.

Elsewhere in this elite peer group, Ferrari will show a special-edition, 710-horsepower 488 it calls the Pista; this is Ferrari's most powerful V-8 to date. Pista means "track" in Italian, which is fitting: The lightweight coupe goes from zero to 62 mph in 2.85 seconds, while its top speed is 211 mph.

Lamborghini is trying to build excitement around what it has brought, which is a major update to an existing model. And Aston Martin is showing the all-new Vantage, along with the DB11 Volante and Coupe.

Along with such six- and seven-figure flash, the luxury brands with higher production figures -- and slightly more affordable price points -- also are displaying plenty of treats.

BMW is showing a first-ever-seen concept vehicle, the M8 Grand Coupe. (This is similar to the sharklike 8-Series it showed in Frankfurt last year.) It's also debuting a next-generation X4 crossover, which was redeveloped in partnership with Toyota. For its part, Toyota is showing a successor to the classic Supra sports car that the Japanese automaker produced from 1978-2002. (Toyota has yet to confirm what it will call the car.)

Mercedes is bringing the new production version of the AMG GT, an exciting four-door spin on its signature AMG GT coupe. (Here, we have it again -- a company testing how far it can push the boundaries: "Coupe" used to refer only to two-door vehicles.) The show will also be the first time we see the AMG G63, the newest iteration of Mercedes's rugged G Wagen, as well as a totally new C Class sedan and station wagon.

A direct competitor to the Mercedes E-Class and BMW's 5-Series, Audi's forthcoming A6 sedan will be lighter and better-tuned than the current car, with styling cues from the handsome A8 and A7 models.

Porsche is showing its aggressive new 911 GT3, a $187,500, 523-horsepower coupe that is 0.1 seconds to 60 mph faster than the previous model. (The new one can hit that mark in three seconds flat.)

As mentioned above, Jaguar's new XF "sport brake" should offer competition to such things as the E-Class wagon from Mercedes, the Panamera from Porsche, and Audi's famous wagon variants as well. Sister company Land Rover is showing the SV Coupe from Range Rover, a limited-edition, four-seat vehicle with just two passenger doors, hand-built by Rover's "Special Vehicle Operations" unit. And the production-ready, 600-horsepower Polestar 1 coupe looks as good as the images leaked back in October, which means Jaguar's always-sexy, $60,000 F-Type may have a new challenger for the title of sexiest, most affordable sports car on the market.

Not surprisingly, it's the SUVs that will showcase the latest electric technologies; for all its gas-guzzling supercar glitz, Geneva isn't exempt from the pressure toward hybridization and electrification that is changing the automotive industry. And SUVs do continue to be the most profitable segment of the automotive market at the moment. To wit: Jaguar has a sure showstopper with its new I-Pace electric SUV, aimed directly at Tesla's Model X, the current electric SUV darling.

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