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Geneva revs up for motoring innovations

The 72nd Geneva Motor Show will include cars that run on alternative fuels like hydrogen and electricity Keystone

The headlights of the car industry will be trained on Geneva over the next ten days, as the latest motoring innovations are unveiled at its annual Motor Show.

Between now and March 17, the cavernous Palexpo exhibition centre will welcome three-quarters of a million car enthusiasts from all over Europe. They will be coming not only to see the latest in car design and technology, but also to take the wheel – however briefly – in the car of their dreams.

Visitors will find confirmation of certain trends – the increasing use of on-board computers, advances made in diesel technology, the growing popularity of Sport Utility Vehicles and other recreational cars. Another strong emerging trend is the use of alternative fuels – natural gas, hydrogen and electricity.

The Geneva event, of which this is the 72nd edition, has earned itself a unique place among the top car shows in the world. It may not cover as much surface area as Frankfurt, or receive as many visitors as Tokyo, nor last as long as Paris, but it gets the most media interest.

Neutral market

It is said that if the industry had to keep just one car show, it would be Geneva. That is largely because Switzerland does not have a major motor industry, and so no manufacturer is given special treatment, as they might be at other shows.

Manufacturers like the fact that this show takes place in a neutral market with a wealthy population and good infrastructure. But given its location, it is not only the Swiss who make the pilgrimage to Palexpo every March. Some 40 per cent of the 700,000 visitors are from abroad.

Those visitors will have the opportunity to see no fewer that 32 world premieres – 18 models are being seen for the first time in Europe and 55 are new to Switzerland.

While many of these premieres are simply new versions of existing models, there are a number of genuinely new models being unveiled. These include the Phaeton luxury saloon, Volkswagen’s response to BMW’s 7 series and the S-Class Mercedes.

Other new models include the Ford Fusion – a leisure minivan based on the Fiesta – Lancia’s new monospace, the Phedra, and a luxury Sports Utility Vehicle from Volvo, the XC90.

Concept cars

The XC90 was a shown as a prototype at Geneva last year and has since gone into production.

But it is not only the big companies that grab the attention. A small Swiss company, Rinspeed, is showcasing its innovative Presto, which can be shortened from a four-seat roadster to a two-seat sporty urban vehicle, and which runs on natural gas.

There are many other futuristic – and sometimes downright weird – concept cars vying for attention this year. Geneva has become an important place for showcasing concept cars – and Switzerland has always been regarded as an important test market.

Indeed, Geneva is an opportunity for manufacturers to gauge the health of the Swiss car market, since this is reckoned to be a useful indicator for the state of the industry as a whole.

To a certain extent, many of the new vehicles reflect the changing priorities of the motor industry, with style and glamour giving way to advances in safety and fuel consumption. That is not to say that style and glamour have been abandoned completely.

For many, driving a Lamborghini or a Bentley will remain a dream. But shows like Geneva make that dream tangible.

by Roy Probert

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR