If there was anything green about this year's 68th edition of the legendary motor show held in Europe's financial capital, it was the smell of dollars emanating from the fantasy projects brought here by the world's biggest carmakers and smallest automotive boutiques alike. After the hoards of journalists fight for photos and motorshow swag, the world's wealthiest show up, looking for the flashiest ways of manifesting their fortunes and satiating their hunger for thrills when that third Veyron in the garage doesn't do it anymore.
This time, everyone received a welcome surprise. After years of political correctness and putting bland, electric world-savers on pedestals, interest in CO2 emissions and energy ratings were ousted by horsepower and glamour. Volkswagen Group arrived with arguably the most joyful and carefree lineup of all the exhibitors. With its multiple European brands, VW Group gave the world the long-awaited Bugatti Veyron successor, the 1,500hp Chiron, the refreshed Bentley Mulsanne (now available in Extended version and the Even More Extended, Mulsanne Grand Limousine), and the new limited production Lamborghini Centenario with a cool $1.95 million price tag. Even the Volkswagen brand stage was dominated by the reality-neglecting convertible crossover called T-Cross Breeze. It is still in the concept stage but poses a real threat to the niche-inventing Range Rover Evoque Convertible (premiered 400 yards away).
The mass-market-makers didn't make as big a splash, but there were a few standouts: The promising new Abarth 124 Spider delivers the Italian passion missing in the base Fiat 124, the sexy Alfa Romeo Giulia in volume-spec proves it has more to offer than just the power and carbon fiber of the exotic Quadrifoglio; the Ikea-friendly Volvo V90 wagon based on the XC90's massive success and the polished Benz C-class now coming in convertible and C43 AMG guises. It was the supercar pantheon that staged the comeback with some ultimate developments of cars deemed impossible to improve. There was a new Ferrari (with another overcomplicated name, GTC4 Lusso), a couple of new Porsches (one to please enthusiasts, the 911 R, and one to fuel purist-rage, the four-cylinder Boxster), and a new McLaren (a lovely 570 now smoothened to a 570GT). Jaguar tried its hand at making the F-type even more muscular and fearsome, creating the F-type SVR, while the renascent Lotus did the same trick to its Evora, Exige, and Elise. And you just couldn't deny the historical significance of the premiere of the beefed-up Pagani Huayra BC, the last car that needed more power or a more excessive design.
On this small plot of Swiss real estate, these special cars added up to possibly the highest concentration of hypercars per square foot ever achieved. In fact, the Geneva Motor Show hall held eight different cars claiming to possess at least 1,000 hp. Apart from the ones already known (Swedish Koenigseggs Agera RS and Regera, Danish Zenvo, Croatian Rimac) and the one expected (Bugatti Chiron), this craziest of car segments saw some surprises as well. Now backed by Chinese money, Gumpert resurfaced, but now it needs to fight the unlikely competition of an actual Chinese car, strangely named and even stranger from a technical point of view, the Techrules AT96. It's powered by the 1030hp turbine-recharging hybrid powertrain. Just when you thought the power craze can't go any further, in came the notorious Arash Farboud, this time bringing the new AF10, with no fewer than five engines, five gearboxes, and the promised 2,110 hp. This may all sound bizarre, but it's this kind of OMG projects showcased that make this motor show one of a kind.
One of the most welcomed premieres at Lake Geneva came from Aston Martin, which finally revealed the DB11. As Aston Martin's Director of Product Development Ian Minards told european car, "the DB car is the core of the Aston Martin range." Based on this, we can foresee a bright future for the brand rejuvenated by new Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer. He's bringing perfectly beautiful, well executed, and technically advanced cars the winged logo deserves."
A pleasing comeback in its own right was celebrated at the small stand of German manufacturer Gumpert. It came with a prototype similar to Gumpert's first car. Still a radical Group C-like racer with an Audi-sourced V-8, it finally has the looks to make for a truly well-rounded competitor. Similar hopes were expressed at the Spyker stand. The small Dutch manufacturer is still licking its wounds after the failed Saab acquisition in 2011, but the new C8 Preliator strives to change the company's fortune, even if it looks like the "best of" compilation of the previous Spykers that failed in doing so.
But where else could the likes of Spyker and Apollo fight for their success if not here? The venue that over the years has seen the rise of the great Pagani and Koenigsegg makes. The international stars of the automotive industry have proven that breaking through the domination of the industry giants is still possible. The premieres of the Huayra BC and the Regera show the ability for great design and technological innovations that still keep them at the head of this fiercely competitive game. If there's one company to really threaten their position, it'll be the surprisingly convincing newcomer Rimac. Contrary to its name, Concept_One is a production-ready car, six of which have already been sold. If you're in for a 1,088hp all-electric supercar and have a million dollars lying around, hurry up as only two spaces in the queue are left.
Known for its relatively small size, Geneva forces the biggest players like Volkswagen and Ford to squeeze next to boutique makers like Touring Superleggera and its impeccably beautiful Alfa Romeo Disco Volante Spider. Pininfarina proved it's still full of ideas with the forward-thinking H2 Speed concept, and British sportscar expert Radical presented its most powerful car ever, the 710hp RXC Turbo 500R. Each year the show saves space for the radical designs of Espera Sbarro, showing a Maserati V-8-powered motorcycle and some of the most exclusive tuners in the world. While some verged on good taste (the Aston DB9-based Kahn Vengeance, the M235i-based AC Schnitzer ACL2, a wide array of horsepower-rich Brabuses, Techarts, Hamanns, et al), others went straight through any well-established limits.
One of the most underestimated events came from Rolls-Royce, which joined the dark side (literally) and gave its Wraith and Ghost some additional flair, introducing the Black Badge series. Even if Giles Taylor, head of Rolls-Royce design department, wasn't particularly effusive while talking to european car about the future, this move can be seen as the beginning of a dramatic revolt, focusing more on a younger, more outgoing sort of millionaire.
We also said farewell to Stephan Winklemann, the man who arguably brought Lamborghini to the top of the supercar league. By the time you read this, Winklemann will be at Audi, with his Lambo job filled by Stefano Dominecali, a longstanding Ferrari F1 team director. At the show, he was as glamorous as ever, presenting the new Centenario hypercar. Despite a price tag roughly five times greater than the Aventado it is based on, all 40 coupes and roadsters had been sold out—a great testament to the work Winklemann has done for Sant'Agata.
The Geneva Show continues to be a unique event, thanks to many events you don't even hear about. In person, you can witness the Daimler boss Dr. Zetsche, impressed and terrified at the same time while checking out the new Tesla Model X; the ex-F1 legend Jean Alesi interested in the new Abarth 124 Spider; or a British prankster ruining the Volkswagen conference while attempting to repair a newly premiered car. The automotive industry is still a crazy and busy place, and rarely can you see it more clearly than here.
We had a chance to sit down with Maurizio Reggiani, Lamborghini's research and development director, to get an idea of where the company is heading technologically.
european car: Lamborghini has a great history of making unique cars, like Veneno, Egoista, etc. How important are these cars for Lamborghini, both from a technological and marketing point of view?
Maurizio Reggiani: We started the one-offs program with the Reventón in 2008 and it was clear from that time it was a way for us to promote our capability, showcase something really special, small volume, our expertise design, engineering, composite materials, and other technologies. We continued to do this with many models, but now it's something really special as the aim of the project was not only to sell the cars, but to complete a tribute to the hundredth anniversary of Ferrucio Lamborghini. The decision was to make a car that incorporates all of our competences. The end result, the Centenario, is a completely new design approach for Lamborghini; it's an important statement about our engine power, chassis control, aerodynamics, and connectivity. Our aim was to make an absolutely complete car, in order to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of our founder.
We start from power. Lamborghini created the myth of the V-12 and each time it had the most powerful naturally aspirated V-12. We wanted to push as much as possible the performance and arrived at 770 hp, increasing the maximum rpm of the engine, reducing backpressure in the exhaust, dropping the pressure in the intake, and modifying the whole timing system to achieve the higher revs and, eventually, higher power.
As for the chassis, we have decided for the first time to introduce the rear-wheel steering. With this, we were able to improve the agility of the car when cornering, but also to give more stability when straight in really, really high speeds.
From an aerodynamic point of view, it was one of the biggest jobs done with the designers and aerodynamic engineering. The task was to design a car that changes its approach in comparison to the last Veneno, which was really aggressive, much more inspired by the LMP cars, much more race oriented. This time, we've made a car that is really lean and clean, which means every form is dedicated to cooling, improved aerodynamic efficiency, without the cost of drag. This was perfectly done achieving the an effectiveness two times of the normal Aventador. It was possible due to a completely new rear design, where we have a fully integrated big wing that can lift 150 mm [6 inches] and tilt for greater angle of attack.
The other important issue for us this time was to retouch the interior, in order to give a car that is really state of the art in terms of connectivity. The center console has one big central screen where you can select virtually anything. With this thing, you're fully connected with the Internet: web browser, Internet radio, you can even upload your own videos and music. You can mirror your telephone, and what is important for our new customers is that you can upload or download a racetrack. You can even define your own racing track and get all the telemetry related to it inside the car. You can visualize it on the screen or download it via USB. This is something we did to celebrate Ferruccio Lamborghini. The result is something we are really proud of.
Another important issue was weight. We achieved 1,520 kilos [3,350 pounds]. The car is made entirely of carbon fiber—its visible carbon fiber. It's important for us to showcase the perfect quality and perfect definition of every line of fiber to present the level of quality that meets the highest expectations.
ec:How can these new technologies can be translated to the other, more popular models of the Lamborghini brand?
MR:What we did with Centenario is part of the pride in our engineering, but it's also a part of what we have in our tube of development. I can't say when, but new models will bring that competence we have already developed. So for sure, we'll use these technologies in our future standard cars.
We can't help comparing this car to its closest competition; the market is pretty tight right now with the great hypercars from Ferrari, Porsche, Bugatti, and so on.
ec: What are the qualities of Centenario that make it special in this league?
MR: We continue to be super-purists with a naturally aspirated V-12 engine. We stay with this configuration, continuously increasing its power. We continue to reduce weight, to use new technologies like the connectivity benefitting from a new exceptionally big screen, which is not so typical in this type of extreme car. And we have some innovations like rear-wheel steering, which works from 0 to 350 km/h. I think all of these are the things that make us proud. To name only one would indicate that the others are less important, which is not true.
ec: You underline the role of the naturally aspirated engine for Lamborghini, but the upcoming SUV Urus will have a turbocharged motor.
MR: Indeed, naturally aspirated engines are Lamborghini's core value, and you're right, Urus will have a turbocharged engine, but it'll have it for one specific reason: It's crucial to have big torque value at your disposal down from the low rpms, like in the sand or some other challenging conditions. Only a turbo engine can provide what's necessary for an SUV, completely different to the priorities of a super-sports-car. Every car must have what's best for it based on the mission it has.
ec: Would that mean there's still no room for turbocharged engines for performance models of Lamborghini?
MR: At the moment, no. Because of emotions and sportive DNA, you miss the sound, the increase in power with the rise of rpm. Add to this the turbolag and for me, the naturally aspirated engine is still irreplaceable. If in the future there'll be a turbo engine that is able to eliminate turbolag, produce appropriate sound, I can consider it.
ec: Maybe the electric turbocharged engine made by your parent company Audi would do the trick?
MR: I've already tested that solution and you still have some turbolag and the sound is unexciting; it's flat, as it's filtered by the turbo. That's not something the customers of supercars want.
ec: What about hybrids then?
MR: The problem of hybrids is the weight. At the moment, you need to add at least 150-200 kilos for the hybrid, and for a supercar it means that it's not a super-sports-car. If you want to reduce the weight, you have to use super-exclusive materials—and the car instead of 300,000 euros will cost a million. For this reason, I still think the hybrid system is not the right choice for a supercar. Hybrid would be good for Urus, as its construction is far roomier, it's less affected by weight, so for this model you can go as far as for a plug-in hybrid.
ec: A manual gearbox would be something to fit into your philosophy then, but you claim that at Lamborghini there's no future for them.
MR: When I arrived at Lamborghini 22 years ago, we had Diablo. It had a manual gearbox with a manual clutch. You needed 42 kilos force to disengage this clutch. Well-built man after some practice still used to burn clutches. Now the torque our engines generate is beyond comparison to the Diablo, so imagine the force you would need. That's if you want to have a true manual; otherwise you search for servo-assisted clutches. Eventually, if I need to start compromising, I'll go for the best shifting possible, in terms of shifting time, precision, but also providing repeatable performance. That's something the customers are most interested in; they want to see themselves as the best drivers, while with the manual gearbox many of the drivers would have serious problems.
ec: For many years, Lamborghini had one, maybe two cars in the line-up. Now the new model lines are around the corner and surely there's potential for even more new Lambos. Why do you think that the brand like this needs new kinds of models?
MR: We need the third model to stabilize our investments, our volume, and our production. With the two models you have the seasons of development and sales mixing with the cycle of the other model. A third model provides more volume, which is a major asset for stability.
ec: Is there room for some more models beyond Urus then?
MR: Currently, we're all focused on the third model, and I can guarantee for us it's already much more than enough. Adding the third model would double our volumes, so we put all our efforts there.
ec: How different is it to develop an SUV 4x4 in comparison to the cars Lamborghini is known for?
MR: In some ways, it's very similar—in terms of handling, performance, etc. But then there are some other fields like off-road driving, handling on the surfaces like gravel, where the parameters that need to be taken into consideration are completely different. We're still working hard to guarantee a Lamborghini that is able to provide the best dynamic behavior, the best performance, and the best handling in class, while still maintaining a position in all other factors, though not necessarily focusing on topping others in these specific categories.