Concept Cars have long been a staple at auto shows, especially the Geneva Salon and the 2015 edition was no exception. There is an expectation in the petrolhead's mind that such vehicles will be outrageous in style and extreme in performance.
Well in the 21st Century,performance has come to mean many things and is not just confined to speed and handling. The new rules on massively improving fuel economy and reducing CO² emissions that will hit the car industry in the middle of the next decade are causing the brightest minds in the business to focus in that area.
Take this Citroën C4 Cactus, usually a pretty unremarkable compact SUV, but here, the French engineers have been very clever and this Airflow 2L certainly has an extreme performance, it has economy figures of 2 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres travelled, or 141 mpg in real money.
How is this possible? Power comes from a combination of a 3 cylinder 1.2 litre PureTech petrol engine and the Peugeot-developed HybridAir technology that drives the wheels using compressed air rather than, say, electricity stored in batteries. This is estimated to cut fuel consumption by 30%. Add lightness, as the great Colin Chapman used to say, by making all aspects of the car lighter, saving 100 kilos. The tyres and wheels are tall and narrow to lower rolling resistance and the design is optimised to improve aerodynamics.
The Airflow 2L is Citroën's answer to the “2l/100 km vehicle” programme set up by the Plateforme de la Filière Automobile, an industry group. The objective: to deliver practical solutions to reduce the impact of vehicle running costs on household expenditure and to reduce the eco-footprint of car travel. The styling would not be everyone's cup of tea, but the objectives, increasing efficiency and reducing emissions in an affordable manner should be.
Volkswagen sprung a surprise at Geneva when they unveiled the Sport Coupé Concept GTE. It is a plug-in hybrid that comprises a battery with two electric motors, one front, one rear and these are combined with a turbocharged 3-litre TSI V6 engine. The sum of these parts is pretty impressive, with a claimed top speed of 155 mph and acceleration to match and all this with fuel consumption of 118 mpg.
All sounds a bit too good to be true; power, style and economy at a hefty price I am sure. However there are plenty of folks who can afford motoring in style like this. Make no mistake this is a handsome vehicle, but...
Which brings us to the fly in the ointment, how does this car fit into the model range of the Volkswagen Group? I can see that it is an attempt to change the perception and brand value of Volkswagen, a bit like the Phaeton and its W12 star car that was supposed to achieve that goal at the turn of the century. The real car-crash in the case of the Phaeton came with the loss of almost €2 billion (€28,000 per car) on the project, as estimated by The Economist. Furthermore one of the shining successes in the past decade in the automobile industry has been Audi, profitable and growing in leaps and bounds. Sales in 1999 were 634,000 units and last year that number had vaulted to 1,741,000, all profitable. So why introduce a concept of a car that will probably lose money, if the past is anything to go by, and may cannibalise sales from a successful subsidiary? If I knew the answers to those sort of questions, I might be running a car company rather than writing about the industry.
Much clearer in its thinking and rationale, and also from within the Volkswagen Group, is this concept from Bentley, the EXP 10 Speed 6. The aim of this concept is to assess the reaction to the new direction from the existing customer base.
Bentley's Chairman, Wolfgang Dürheimer, explained.
“It is one vision for Bentley’s future. It has the potential to be the pinnacle luxury two-seat sports car.”“This is not just a new sports car concept but the potential Bentley sports car — a bold vision for a brand with a bold future. It offers thrilling, driver-oriented performance, complete with trademark modern Bentley luxury and effortlessness.”
The Bentley EXP 10 Speed 6 was one of my personal favourites at the Salon, much more compact than the current Bentley Continental GT, it is a potential rival to the similar cars of Aston Martin or even Ferrari.
Details about specifications of the engine etc., were hazy, though it would be surprising if it were not based on the 4-litre V8 turbo unit. However, I suspect that the priority in Crewe will be focussed on the new SUV that is due to arrive next year and that the decision as to whether or not to produce this mean machine will be delayed.
Mention of Aston Martin and SUV neatly brings us to one of the surprises of the 2015 Geneva Salon, the Aston Martin DBX Concept. The words 'Aston Martin' and 'SUV' up to now have rarely appeared in the same sentence, let alone 'all wheel drive' and 'electric powered'. Now we have this concept and they are all vying for attention.
The new Chief Executive, Andy Palmer, explained the rationale behind this new strategy for Aston Martin.
“The DBX Concept is a challenge to the existing status quo in the high luxury GT segment. It envisages a world, perhaps a world not too far away, when luxury GT travel is not only stylish and luxurious but also more practical, more family-friendly and more environmentally responsible."“I asked my team at Aston Martin to expand their thinking beyond conventions, to explore what the future of luxury GT motoring would look like in years ahead, and the DBX Concept you see before you is the result.”“This is, clearly, not a production-ready sports GT car, but it is a piece of fresh, bold thinking about what Aston Martin GT customers around the world could request of us in the future.“The DBX Concept is more than a thought starter for us and for our customers, though. We will, in due course, be entering a car into the new DBX space and I am very much looking forward to seeing how this concept is received not only here today, but also by our legion of existing loyal customers and by those potential customers around the world who have, to this point, yet to consider one of our cars.”
There are several good reasons behind the direction that the DBX potentially takes Aston Martin. It will open up new markets to the marque, notably in Brazil, Russia and, most importantly, China. It will also enable the brand to comply with the new regime of targets for fuel economy and emissions across the range.
This initiative will also be in support of the company's aim to sell 7,000 cars annually (Currently 4,000) though this is a trend across virtually all of the top end brands. One wonders where these extra customers are going to come from, at least Aston Martin only wants to increase sales by 75% of the existing customer base, Maserati, for instance, has declared that their sales currently at around 7,000 will increase to around 50,000 units, 600% increase, Mamma Mia!
Back on Planet Earth the Kia Sportspace was another débutante at the Geneva Motor Show, but firmly grounded and due to hit the streets sometime soon if the rumours are to be believed. Kia are clear about the aim for this vehicle. "Created for long distance driving, the new Kia Sportspace concept has been designed for fast and efficient travel, with maximum comfort and minimal stress.The spacious and functional cabin is designed to be as light and airy as possible, with a full-length panoramic sunroof providing natural light throughout the interior. The cabin itself combines functionality with modern styling. Luxurious leather is with combined with contemporary technical materials – such as carbon fibre and milled, anodised aluminium – while the driver benefits from a configurable digital display."
The styling has the sleek and sporty look reminiscent of the best of Italian and German style, it looks like the kind of car that offers practicality with performance, an Autobahn Express if you like.
It would appear that Kia is not only looking to increase sales but also overall profit margins as this segment of the market delivers significantly better returns than the cheaper end. With the quality and reliability of Kia's range unquestioned, it should worry even the likes of Audi and BMW if this is a sign of things to come from the Koreans.
My final concept car from the 2015 Geneva Salon is the Lexus LF-SA which forms part of the celebration of 25 years of the brand. Lexus has come a long way from the days of the almost vanilla LS400, it would take an extraordinary leap of imagination to connect the two cars, and yet...
The Lexus LF-SA is a 2+2 sub-compact city car. It is focused on the driver rather than any passengers, recognising that for the most part this kind of vehicle just carries the driver and an occasional companion, the rear seats would make a good parcel shelf. So the driver gets a fixed seat and the pedals and steering wheel are adjusted to fit. The passenger seat slides back and forth to allow any Wee Folk to access the rear.
The angular styling is challenging to say the least, you either like it or hate it. There were no details given of the mechanicals, but the quote about the interior and exterior colour scheme won Best in Show for Blether. "Even the colour scheme reflects a spirit of adventure: the Stellar Silver exterior finish is a reference to space exploration and the interior is inspired by the spectacle of a solar eclipse."
Lexus made it clear that this concept would not be ready for production for at least 4 to 5 years, but it will have given others in this segment of the market such as MINI and Audi a clear statement of intent, a warning shot over the hood so to speak.
Next from the 2015 Geneva Motor Show, see the best new hatchback models in Hot Hatch Revival at the Geneva Salon...