The Geneva Motor Show comes at a time of profound changes in the auto industry on the Continent and elsewhere, as DW’s Janelle Dumalaon reports from Switzerland. What are the highlights this time around?
One asks oneself why there’s even a motor show in Geneva, given that the country can’t quite claim to be an automotive hub, not having any car manufacturing industry of its own.
But that’s the reason the Geneva Motor Show offers fair game for all auto brands looking to showcase their newest models, in contrast to automotive trade fairs in Paris, Frankfurt and Detroit where local players enjoy a particularly outsized presence. The Geneva Motor Show has traditionally been a glamor event, filled with flashy premium supercar launches from the likes of Lamborghini, Ferrari and McLaren, as well as more everyman type models unveiling their own offerings.
Although buzzwords swirling around the automotive industry – connectivity, mobility, automation, electrification – have dominated conversation in the car shows of recent years, Geneva’s very own event this year is very much focused on featuring cars for people who still like driving them. That counts as a change in pace, as car manufacturers increasingly become mainstays in tech fairs, like Ford at the Barcelona Mobile World Congress, concluded just last week.
Huge challenges ahead
Although the year’s first major car show in Europe is focused on simpler themes – cars for driving enthusiasts – it’s also coming at a time where the automotive industry on the continent is facing a degree of complex changes, starting with the Monday announcement in Paris of the 1.3-billion-euro merger deal between Peugeot maker PSA and Opel.
Signs the deal was going to be done and dusted before the Geneva Motor Show were already apparent, especially as Opel changed its previous plans of launching the Insignia Grand Sport and Insignia Sports tourer in favor of presenting the Crossland X, a crossover product put together via a collaboration between Opel and PSA.
The merger forming the second-largest European automotive company could have far-reaching implications on the continent’s market, even if it promises to be slow-going at first.
“Nothing will happen for now. New models will be developed, roles as to who is responsible for developing what will be clarified. That will all take time,” said Andreas Bremer, managing director of Germany-based automotive market research firm IFA. “But in the mid term there’s a chance for a real competitor to Volkswagen to emerge, if everything goes well for PSA and Opel.”
As such, analysts say the PSA-Opel merger could actually be a positive catalyst for Volkswagen in the sense that the raised stakes in Europe might force the embattled German carmaker to truly concentrate on its core business of building cars, bogged down as it still is by the Dieselgate scandal and finger-pointing intrigue in its top management.
Future tightening competition is happening at a time where Europe’s passenger car sales have actually been growing. Last year, they were up 6.8 percent to 14.6 million. But global uncertainty has given rise to the notion that General Motors parting with Opel and Vauxhall – and as such retreating from Europe to concentrate on North America and Asia – is simply one more sign the European market is becoming more difficult. But Ian Fletcher, principal analyst for IHS Automotive, disagrees that it might be easier elsewhere.
“I don’t think Europe is strictly is a lost cause. And Asia’s not necessarily the gold mine that it used to be, you just have to look at what’s going on in China at the moment,” he said. “There’s a lot of competition from the local manufacturers now, with market-competitive vehicles, there’s a lot of capacity, there’s a huge amount of growth.”
Still, the Brexit is set to be triggered this month, supply chains could change, and tighter emissions regulations are set to loom over carmakers. The European car market will simply have to brace itself for that much more unpredictability – one more reason perhaps, that the Geneva Motor Show has chosen to feature the best of the here and now.