Geneva 2012: "What, Us Worry?"

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz USA

Not all auto shows this year will be cause for celebration.

As Palexpo opens up for the annual auto show in Geneva, a pall of uncertainly looms across Europe. Debt crises, currency concerns, political gamesmanship and higher than allowable unemployment are not making things easier across the Atlantic. Some European automakers are looking at red ink on their ledgers.

There appears to be some optimism – albeit feigned – amongst automakers in Europe. General Motors and PSA Peugeot Citroen agreed upon an alliance that gives GM a seven percent take in PSA, while working towards shared product development. A timely event in the wake of the opening of the Geneva show, but it has only been one of a few bits of positive news worth reporting from Europe.

Chrysler and Fiat Auto CEO Sergio Marchionne recently summed up the continent's situation best: "Europe is at a critical juncture." If the European auto industry has to give a face to it the world in Geneva. It would probably look like the face of Mad magazine's iconic character – Alfred E. Neuman – with the caption "What, me worry?"

Yet, the 82nd Geneva Auto Show must go on. The organizers are expecting 10,000 credentialed journalists to attend 70 press conferences debuting 140 new vehicles – production and conceptual. Also, 700,000 visitors are expected to see these new vehicles amongst 240 exhibitors.

If we must celebrate – somehow – we should at least see what Geneva has yielded. At least, based on my picks from the Palexpo floor…

Photo courtesy of Porsche Cars North America, Inc.

PORSCHE BOXSTER: I was never a fan of Porsche's "smaller" 911. Being a mid-engined roadster with the boxer engine, I was concerned that it would fall short of the lofty expectations of its bigger, long-running brother. Porsche claims that they have improved many parts of the Boxster to make it better to run. The key point was handling – which Porsche set out to lengthen and widen the Boxster, make it lighter and work on the suspension geometry. The result should be a better roadster, but would it be a better Porsche? It is a very good start.

MERCEDES-BENZ A-CLASS: Good news – there is a strong possibility this is coming to the states! That is great, but wouldn't a compact-sized Mercedes hurt the brand's image here? The A-Class has been around for quite a long time and this is the third generation of the baby Benz. While the image of Mercedes is quite different on the other side of the Atlantic, the challenge for MBUSA is to convince the doubters here that the A-Class is a good alternative to the Audi A3 (the new version also rolled out in Geneva) and other premium compacts. The A-Class offers plenty of Mercedes design signatures on its hatchback, but shows a mature outlook in the way it presents itself to the consumer. If the speculation and rumors are correct, we could see the A-Class running up-and-down several upscale urban enclaves before we know it.

FIAT 500L: In a sense, it appears as a repeat of MINI's (er, BMW's) playbook by extending an iconic image onto another class of vehicle. The oversized Cinquecento will be sold alongside its pocket-sized hatchback sister and its angry sexpot – the Abarth. The 500L represents Fiat's willingness to reach out to those who could not justify the two-door hatchback because it was simply too small. It looks like it will take four folks and their luggage somewhere nice – powered by Fiat's MultiAir engine lineup. Here's the catch: It is being built in Serbia at the plant where we used to get the Yugo GV from. Rest assured – it is a Fiat plant these days. You get the idea… as long as you do not say it looks like a MINI Countryman on a weight loss program.

Photo courtesy of Kia Motors Corporation

KIA C'EED: Yes, we have the Forte stateside. We have it in three body styles – sedan, Koup and hatch. So, why do we pay attention to its European cousin? Partly, it is because of its current status as the "Reasonably Priced Car" on the UK version of Top Gear. Now, it gets a complete overhaul. It looks fantastic! Think of it as taking the design cues from the newest Rio, stretching it over a C-segment platform and zsushing it up with a new take on Kia's signature buck-tooth grille. It's the best looking mainstream vehicle debuted at Palexpo in this journalist's opinion. Both the hatch and station wagon are very handsome and attractive enough to draw compact buyers the world over. Yet, it is not designated for our market. Instead, a new Forte is coming our way. Can we get the C'eed instead, please?

LEXUS RX: I'll admit that I am not a fan of the current crossover for Toyota's luxury brand. I found the design to be off-putting. This latest exercise in rhinoplasty should do the trick – and it does! The new GS debuted Lexus’ new design language with its arrow-like spindle front end. So far, it has been grafted onto the LX and, now, the RX. The good news is – it works! The lineup remains the same with the addition of an F Sport option. Add the new small diameter steering wheel to the mix and the nip-and-tuck feels complete. Since the RX is one of the brand’s most popular models worldwide, grafting these new design elements to it should ensure its continued success. At least the timing is right, as Lexus sales are now on the up in the states.

MITSUBISHI OUTLANDER: The three-diamond brand is in desperate need of help. Perhaps a change in design language would do the trick. No, wait, how about a new family of engines? Plug-in hybrids, too! Heck, let's throw away the old Outlander and make a new one? Done! In the fall, we should see the result of what was unveiled in Geneva as Mitsubishi tries to reinvigorate itself by targeting its most important product towards a broader appeal. The design is handsome, but I have a feeling some elements may keep consumers across the street from the Mitsubishi dealership. You have to give them an "A" for effort – including finding a way to integrate their EV knowledge onto their new crossover.

Photo (c)2012 Nissan

NISSAN INVITATION AND HI-CROSS CONCEPTS: Right off the bat, do you think these two concepts appear to be ready for production in the coming months? They seem to be, but there are a few things that need to be queried about them. The Invitation looks practically familiar. If it appears to be a B-segment hatch with Honda Fit/Jazz overtones, this could be an interesting product that might spark a few volleys within Japan itself. It has been said this will slot above the Micra/March, but will it be the subcompact North America will get below the Versa? As for the Hi-Cross, it appears to have taken the best of all crossovers sold by Nissan and rolled it into one compact competitor. As to which crossover it will eventually replace – that is up for speculation. One clue is a hybrid drivetrain that features a smaller 2.0litre four-cylinder direct-injected mill. Could this be the new Qashqai/Dualis? The new Murano? The new Rogue? The new Juke? I'm waiting…

LAMBORGHINI AVENTADOR J(OTA): Here's an idea – slice the roof of the current V12-powered Aventador completely off. The result is part-big Lambo supercar, part-old school Le Mans prototype racecar. Consider the praise the new big Lambo received for being more refined and civilized than its predecessors – the Miura, the Countach, the Diablo and the Murcielago. Understand that this is a concept for the Aventador, because what "industrialized" nation would allow such a supercar to roam on their streets without failing various safety regulations? I'm certain there will be some wealthy person who would want one for their fleet – somewhere outside of the regulatory universe. It is a good exercise in unleashing Lambo's inner bull for those who fear nothing.

The auto show circuit is not over, folks! The last major show on the circuit is New York next month. You might as well stay tuned for this one – it's going to be huge!

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