A Quiet Event For European Car Enthusiasts
The battle for exclusive U.S. debuts has gone on for years between the Los Angeles and Detroit Auto shows. Even though the Southern California event occurs before the Michigan show, the presentation of production and concept vehicles is split fairly evenly.
However, from a European car enthusiast's standpoint, the offerings at the L.A. show were somewhat slim. While both shows featured the "U.S. debuts" of the Ferrari Enzo, Porsche Cayennes, and Maybachs-vehicles european car had already featured in its Paris show coverage (02/03)-L.A. only had a handful of "new to the world" vehicles on display. Here's a look at what caught our eyes.
Aston Martin DB
American Roadster 1
The two-seater DB AR1 is based on the current DB7 Vantage Volante. The restyled body features coachwork by Zagato of Italy. Power comes from AM's low-emission, all-alloy, 6.0-liter V12 engine, offering 435 bhp and 410 lb-ft of torque. Aston Martin states the DB AR1 is not a convertible Zagato version of the Coupe, but a possible addition to the luxury carmaker's U.S.-only product range. We're guessing a top will be offered on the production version. Pricing has yet to be confirmed, but it is anti-cipated the DB AR1 will cost around $230,000 (plus or minus 10%).
BMW Alpina Roadster V8
A Z8 with an automatic transmission! For those who want the classic styling of the Z8 but don't like to shift for themselves, the BMW Alpina Roadster V8 is for you. Powered by a specially developed, higher-performance version (375 bhp 4.8 liters) of BMW's "regular" V8 engine, the Alpina Roadster has more torque at lower rpm, 383 lb-ft at 5800 vs. 368 lb-ft at 6600, than the standard Z8.
Modifications to the Z8's beautiful exterior have been kept to a minimum, and include 20-in. wheels and tires instead of the standard 18s. For complete details on this wondrous car, see Elaine Catton's writeup in the next issue of european car.
While an all-aluminum model debuted at the Paris show, we had to wait until the L.A. show to see a painted production version of the all-new Jaguar XJ. The flagship sedan has an aluminum monocoque body that replaces traditional steel construction, is 60% stiffer yet 40% lighter and longer, taller and wider than its predecessor. Sporting new engines, a 4.2-liter V8 and a 390-bhp 4.2-liter supercharged V8, all XJs will feature an advanced six-speed ZF automatic transmission. The one thing that isn't a great departure from the previous version is the styling. Jaguar knows who its core customers are and thus hasn't drastically changed the looks of the new model. It carries the classic lines and shape present in all Jaguar sedans. Prices will be announced just prior to the new XJ going on sale in late spring.
The DaimlerChrysler Group compares the Maybachs to luxury yachts and private jets. With prices starting around $300,000, the Maybach 57 could be considered a bargain when compared to the cost of either of the aforementioned. Each vehicle will be built precisely to each customer's specifications. The 57 (as with yachts, the name reflects the vehicle's length: 5.73 meters) is the standard wheelbase model and is expected to account for nearly 85% of Maybach sales-1,000 a year total, with half of that coming to the U.S. Only the obscenely wealthy need apply.
Mercedes-Benz C-Class Sport
Mercedes-Benz expanded the C-Class model line with new sport models: the C230 Kompressor sport sedan, C320 sport sedan, and the C320 sports coupe. Sport-tuned suspension, sport body cladding, aluminum interior trim, seven-spoke 17-in. wheels with high-performance tires (standard on the sedans, optional on the coupe), a six-speed manual gearbox and thickly bolstered front sport seats comprise the sport equipment on all three models. Mercedes-Benz is charging $27,990 for the C230 Kompressor sport sedan, $35,200 for the C320 sport sedan, and $27,300 for the C320 sports coupe.
Volvo S60 R & V70 R Pricing
The North American debut of Volvo's new Rs, the production versions of the Performance Concept Cars, was made even more significant by announced prices. Talk about aggressive pricing strategy, Volvo's MSRPs for the S60 R and V70 R raises (or dollar-wise, lowers) the benchmark for value in the luxury sport vehicle category. Aiming squarely at the BMW 330xi and Audi A4 3.0 quattro, the 300-bhp S60 R sedan will sell for $36,825 and the equally powered V70 R wagon will go for $38,325. Both cars come standard with active Four-C (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept), a new six-speed close-ratio manual transmission and anti-lock Brembo brakes with four-piston calipers. Such a deal.
2003 North American International Auto Show
Putting Mo in Motown
For more than a decade the North American International Auto Show in Detroit has been on the short list of the world's most important auto shows. It has pulled itself into the same league as shows in Frankfurt, Paris, Tokyo and Geneva when it comes to new product introductions and concept car debuts. So when this year's Detroit Show seemed somewhat subdued with respect to outlandish concept cars and glitzy new production vehicles, many of the world's automotive press corps wondered aloud if the sluggish worldwide economy and global uncertainty had indeed caught up to the bullish auto industry. Certainly there were things to see in Detroit, but many of the manufacturers' offerings were vehicles that had already been shown at last year's Paris show or on the covers and in the pages of the world's automotive magazines.
All of the changes in ownership of car companies in the past several years have become evident when you examine the geographic positioning of the various stands for each of the manufacturers. In one corner we have the Ford family that includes, besides the Dearborn automaker, stands for Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mazda and Volvo. In the opposite corner we have Volkswagen with Bentley, Porsche, Audi and Lamborghini in tow. BMW gets its Mini and Rolls-Royce companies almost as bookends. Then there is the DaimlerChrysler giant that has the familiar Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep lines in addition to Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi and Maybach.
Given the geopolitical nature of the business, things got off to an almost predictable start when the Mini Cooper was named 2003 North American Car of the Year and the Volvo XC90 took the 2003 North American Truck of the Year title. The awards are decided upon by the votes of 49 automotive journalists and mark the first time the European-made vehicles have won in both categories in the same year. If you think a British-built, German-designed retro-styled coupe and a Swedish-built sport utility vehicle coming from a European company renowned for its boxy sedans and owned by Ford are strange choices for the North American awards, then maybe it's time to review your understanding of the new global auto industry.
Given the strong emphasis on fuel cells and other low-emissions technologies in the past several years, it was surprising that this year's Detroit Show was more about horsepower and torque than it was about greenhouse gases and fuel efficiency. Although GM and Toyota announced that they are working together on a gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain, and Ford announced it will launch a hybrid version of its Escape sport-utility late this year, the emphasis was on big engines.
There were more than a few favorites for power-hungry show-goers. Mercedes-Benz has its 5.5-liter twin-turbocharged 500-bhp V12 that makes 590 lb-ft of torque and is found in the company's new S-Class. Not to be outdone, Audi showed a twin-turbocharged 500-bhp V8 engine in an SUV concept vehicle while Ford had a 590-bhp V10 engine in its Ford 427 concept sedan. The Ferrari Enzo made a North American appearance (it debuted in Los Angeles) with 660 bhp from its 6.0-liter V12 engine. But it was Cadillac that trumped the field with an over-the-top concept powered by a 13.6-liter V16 engine that the company smugly claims will crank out 1,000 bhp. If you came to Detroit looking for power, these vehicles probably fit the bill; just don't tell the environmental lobby about them.
If you wanted definitive evidence of how much the auto industry is changing, you didn't need to look any further than the Porsche stand. This long-time legendary manufacturer of highly efficient and extremely powerful sports and racing cars had pushed all of its 911 and Boxster coupes and cabriolets off to the sides to make room at center stage for its new Cayenne S and Cayenne Turbo sport utility vehicles. Porsche is taking no chances that the $56,000 Cayenne S and $90,000 Cayenne Turbo won't be noticed in the U.S. market, which will account for 50% of Cayenne sales.
What follows is a summary of what we saw or what we liked from the European manufacturers.
Aston Martin AMV8 Vantage
The prettiest car at the show. The family resemblance to the DB7 and Vanquish are evident, but somehow the shape works even better on this smaller sports car. With a 4.3-liter V8 engine, the AMV8 will be priced around $110,000 or slightly less and will compete with the Porsche 911. Look for this beauty toward the end of 2004, and be prepared to drool.
Audi Pikes Peak
Audi has said that it wants to double its sales in the next five years. To do so means it will need to compete in several new market segments. The Audi Pikes Peak is based upon the Volkswagen Touareg sport-utility, which also is similar to the Porsche Cayenne. It fits into the murky crossover segment that combines the roominess and comfort of a minivan with the aggressive looks of an SUV and the performance of a sports sedan. Audi's quattro permanent all-wheel drive and adjustable air suspension keep it honest off-road, and a 500-bhp twin turbocharged V8 engine gives it plenty of grunt. Pity about the face, though. Look for something like this from Audi in two or three years.
BMW xActivity Concept Vehicle
Think of it as a little brother to the X5. The xActivity features a "frame-structure convertible" roof construction that allow the passengers to enjoy the sun on their faces and wind in their hair of a convertible while still providing a robust structure. Based largely on the BMW 3 Series and carrying the X5 SUV styling cues and all-wheel-drive system, an X3 could hit the market within one to two years.
Hate the name, love the car. This four-door GT Wagon designed by Giugiaro is singularly attractive and a complete departure for the company that has always concentrated on sports cars. Powered by a 390-bhp V8 Maserati engine and featuring all-wheel drive, the Kubang has a deeply opening rear hatch that makes sense if you need to load and carry bulky items. This could be a whole new and potentially lucrative direction for the Ferrari-owned Italian company, but the chances of the Kubang making it to production seem remote. The name, by the way follows the Maserati tradition by being named after a wind, in this case, Javan.
No new concepts at the 2003 Detroit Show for Mercedes-Benz. Instead, the company had its world premiere of the 2004 E-Class wagon and announced that by the end of this year Mercedes-Benz will be offering all-wheel-drive 4MATIC versions of all of its sedans and wagons. Not earth-shaking, perhaps, but good news for those who want go-anywhere versatility but don't want an SUV.
The Uber-Luxury Trio
Bentley, Maybach and Rolls-Royce. Apparently nobody else seems to see the absurdity of building cars priced at more than $300,000, so we will stop mentioning it. Unless you have been away on an extended trip to buy some Grey Poupon, you will know that VW now owns Bentley while BMW owns Rolls-Royce. Not to be outdone in this game of German one-upmanship, DaimlerChrysler has resurrected the Maybach name from the 1930s to create its own ultra-luxury flagship brand.
All three of the major players were assembled under one roof for the first time at the Detroit Show. Maybach had its immense, long-wheelbase 2004 Maybach 62 with pricing starting at around $350,000. Bentley's current production line-up of luxury sedans was augmented by the $150,000 Continental GT all-wheel-drive coupe that is due in showrooms by fall and that was also at the Paris show. The newcomer to the party was the $320,000 Rolls-Royce Phantom, which is scheduled to begin production this year.
The Maybach 62 is massive with 5 ft of leg room for a pair of rear-seat passengers. Every Maybach will be custom-built to its buyer's wishes. The Bentley is an attractive shape, blending modern technology with oddly traditional interior appointments of wood and leather. Fittingly as the most sporting of the trio, Bentley has announced it will continue its Le Mans racing program in 2003.
The Rolls-Royce is a large car, too, and it carries styling and a roofline that reminds one of the Hooper-bodied cars of the late 1950s. The front of the car is very vertical and creates an imposing air that seems to eschew the science of aerodynamics as mere fashion. A 6.75-liter V12 engine and six-speed automatic transmission allow the Rolls-Royce to achieve 5.7-sec. 0-to-60-mph acceleration times, so clearly somebody has done their performance homework. When these big three hit the market, ultra-rich luxury car buyers will have never had it so good.
A barchetta version of the V12-powered Murcilago, the Lamborghini Concept Car is 136mm lower than its roofed sibling and has an asymmetrical colored leather interior, creating a "pilot-oriented driving machine." It's the perfect poster car for 14-year-old boys.
Race of Champions
The perfect winter break
It's Friday night by the time I arrive at the Race of Champions hotel, but Jeff Gordon is already feeling sore. Earlier in the day he endured a quintuple roll in a Peugeot 206 World Rally Car. To make a good story great, Gordon had been hitching a passenger ride with the newly crowned World Rally Champion, Marcus Gronholm, and the accident occurred at the second corner of his first practice lap.
Despite the discomfort, Gordon remains upbeat. "It's not every day that you get to roll with the best son-of-a-bitch in the world," he exclaims. His attitude epitomizes the spirit of this event, which is part motor race, part jamboree.
The brainchild of former works rally driver Michele Mouton, the Race of Champions brings together brings together stars from the worlds of two and four wheels, dirt and tarmac. A glance at the entry list reveals four current Formula One drivers, six World Rally stars, two Nascar winners, the World Superbike Champion, the CART champion and two Indy 500 winners.
Tomorrow, Gordon will compete for the States alongside Jimmy Johnson and Colin Edwards in the Nations Cup. The fastest drivers will then race head to head on Sunday in a bid to be crowned as the Champion of Champions. It all sounds terribly intense, and when the flag drops, racers will be racers, but in the interim they're happy to mingle, swap anecdotes, eye the girls and absorb the winter sun.
Next morning, we make our way to the Circuit Ciudad Deportiva Islas Canarias, which sits in the basin of a natural amphitheater near the capital, Las Palmas. It plays host to around 25,000 fans, spread across three hillsides. Some have brought tents and I spot one family with a table football machine. Most, though, settle for a six-pack and a sun-hat.
Two cars race side-by-side, crossing at the midpoint. The layout was designed by Mouton, and the mixture of dirt and tarmac is designed to give the racers a chance against their friends from the forest. For the Nation's Cup, each country was asked to field a biker, a racer and a rally driver. The two-wheeled stars race in buggies powered by a 1100cc Honda Blackbird 'bike engine, the racers drive Seat Cordoba World Rally cars, and the rally drivers compete in Group N Mitsubishi Evo VIs.
The U.S. team, consisting of Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Colin Edwards, quickly establishes itself as the surprise package. Edwards, who reckons that his four-wheel experience amounts to "driving my Dodge truck," finishes the day unbeaten. Gordon polishes off Renault's F1 star Fernando Alonso, while Johnson beats Jaguar's new Grand Prix recruit, Antonio Pizzonia. By the time they outpace the Italians in the final, the Americans have also won over the crowd. Their enthusiasm is real and infectious.
The following morning sees Johnson pitched against Gronholm in an Evo VI. What happens next is central to the appeal of the Race of Champions. Johnson may have spent most of the year turning left, but in the first heat, he crosses the line just 0.23 sec. behind the Finn. Then, after swapping to a Cordoba WRC, he leads the second, only to rearrange the Seat's nose in an earth bank. It's an astonishing performance-in 118 sec. of brilliance, Johnson had surely done more for Nascar's credibility in Europe than "Days of Thunder" ever could.
Intriguingly, none of the Formula One drivers qualifies for the main event and only IRL's Kenny Brack upholds any sort of honor for the open-wheeled racers. And he's beaten in the quarterfinals by the Finnish rally ace Harri Rovanpera.
Rovanpera is then outpaced in the semis by Citron's Sebastien Loeb, which sets up a final with Gronholm. "This is the perfect final," Mouton tells my dictaphone. "We have the current World Champion against rallying's brightest new star." In a thrilling final, Gronholm triumphs after Loeb makes a mistake. It's yet another trophy to add to the Finn's collection, and he's quickly submerged in champagne and dancing girls.
The girls are an integral part of an event that recalls the heady days of relaxed, impassioned motorsport. Bereft of corporate responsibility, the drivers are friendly and approachable, while the racing's terrific. Any motorsport fan planning a winter break in Europe next year would be well advised to factor-in a couple of days in the Canary Islands.
Enough stuff to keep motorsport fans' jaws firmly on the ground
Most of the world was worrying about overspending at Christmas and going jogging in the early part of January, but in the UK, the world's biggest racing car show, Autosport International, packed the crowds in with a spectacular blend of big names and big horsepower.
The most eye-catching new car on display was undoubtedly the Farboud, the brainchild of one man not satisfied with the supercars in his garage.
It's priced just beneath Porsche and Ferrari territory at $140,000 and should be amazing when it finally hits the roads. But it has been delayed by about a year so far, and so we have to wait with bated breath to see if this dream machine ever makes it to market.
Reminiscent of the old, closed-top Le Mans Porsches, with front wing-mounted rear view mirrors and a gaping front splitter and roof-mounted air intake, the stretched Farboud makes for an intimidating sight. Mid-engined and rear-wheel drive, it is intended as a sporting road car with track uses. The engine is Audi's 2.7-liter, 30-valve, V6 powerplant, with two added turbochargers from Dialynx, as the original clearly wasn't menacing enough.
The developed Farboud engine will produce 480 bhp in standard trim, which the company claims will propel it to 60 mph in 3.3 sec. and approximately 205 mph at flat chat. There's also an optional "Track Day" package that will wind the engine up to 600 bhp, although this will be more about developing torque-it doesn't really need more top-end speed.
Farboud has opted for a conventional spaceframe chassis and an off-the-shelf Audi six-speed gearbox, with a semi-automatic as an option. A four-pot AP Racing setup will haul this lithe 2,090-lb machine back from warp speed without too many problems as well.
Ferrari subsidiary Maserati also attracted the crowds with its Trofeo racer. Michael Schumacher has been involved in the development of this sports car at Ferrari's test track at Fiorano, and the result is a mighty impressive piece of kit. Only 30 will be made, though, and all will be entered in the marque's one-make race series, so unless you fancy forking out the undisclosed fee to race one, you'll have to make do with looking. The 4.2-liter beast certainly has the looks for the series to work, and few can argue with a 177-mph top-end speed.
Westfield's latest offering, the XTR-2, is a beauty, too, and it has taken all sorts of plaudits from the UK magazines this year. It's the latest in a long line of motorbike-engined cars, and this one is fitted with a 1300cc Hayabusa unit mated to a six-speed sequential box. This sleek sports car weighs just 970 lb in road trim, so it's easy to see where the performance comes from even though the car boasts just 178 bhp.
It's a stripped-out racer in the vein of the Radical SR3, which was also in attendance, so creature comforts just aren't included. What you get for $45,000 is a road-legal, space-frame track weapon that will simply destroy any performance car you care to mention due to a high-revving engine and zero body fat.
While the sports cars, as always, caught the eye, a major business alliance was arguably the major talking point of the show. Audi UK has signed an agreement with Abt Sportsline and will soon offer the aftermarket legend's products on all of its cars, without affecting the warranty.
Abt was founded in 1896, when it made horseshoes, but in recent years it has become famous for its work on Audi's TT in Germany's Touring Car series (DTM). Last season it won the series with Laurent Aiello at the wheel, beating works efforts from Mercedes and Opel in the process. Now it has reaped the rewards with a lucrative contract that will see its components sold in all 122 Audi dealerships throughout the UK.
The first step is to fit Abt wheels and body kits, which was already done to the A4 and the Cabriolet version for display purposes. The first kits on display were extremely subtle, with a new front lip spoiler and chrome grille, deeper sideskirts, rear spoiler and deeper boot spoiler, together with 18-in. Abt A25 wheels, all giving the A4 a slightly more aggressive attitude while maintaining the overall Audi feel. Abt also brought a well-kitted out Audi allroad, with tasteful silver zebra stripes and the vital rooftop ski-case.
Once they have been approved by Audi UK, which means going through a rigorous set of tests, Abt brakes, suspension and exhausts will all be options on nice new cars. Audi is currently investigating the company's performance-enhancing chips, with a view to offering them in the near future, so soon UK customers will be able to order the ultimate Audi, with a full factory warranty, direct from the showroom. And if it can happen there, it can happen here.
Back on the racetrack, Lister Cars, the legendary English company that enjoyed such a healthy relationship with Jaguar in the past decades, was talking up its soon to be unveiled Le Mans Prototype. Lister has concentrated on GT racing in recent years, winning the FIA Championship with the Storm. Now it has stepped up to the plate to take on Audi, Bentley, MG and others with its LMP car.
Powered by a Corvette LS1 V8 engine, developed by Lister's own engineers, the first pictures shown of this car reveal an ugly, squared-off duckling, but it has spent serious time in the wind-tunnel and Lister boss Laurence Pearce swears it will fly like an eagle. If all goes to plan it will make its competitive debut at the Sebring 12 Hours in March, before heading to Le Sarthe for the legendary 24-hour ace.
One of the most emotive names in British motor racing made a return at the show, with Tiger resurrecting the English Racing Automobiles (ERA) brand that goes all the way back to the 1930s in F1. The ERA is intended as a one-make series with single-seaters resembling Grand Prix cars of the 1960s.
In fact, it's powered by a standard 1.8-liter Ford Zetec, pumping out no more than 150 bhp, and the Hewland Mark 9 Historic gearbox is more for appearances than performance. The 1,056-lb racing car is geared for no more than 130 mph, but on skinny tires and without wings, this should be enough to provide close slipstreaming action with plenty of big tail slides.
The name and the look may be a bit of a gimmick, but the BARC has already agreed to run the one-make race series in Britain, and Tiger is now looking for foreign agents.
Autosport International is always a good opportunity for racecar constructors to gather support for would-be championships. and ADR Engineering Ltd took the opportunity to launch the ADR1000 sports car that will be powered by an 1100cc 16V BMW K-Series engine. It's low-budget fun, but it's still slicks-and-wings sports car racing with the rolling chassis costing just $12,500.
They're hardly new, but the 2002 F1 cars proved a hit as fans got closer to them than ever on the imaginatively titled F1 Grid. All of the cars, or close approximations, were there, and McLaren driver David Coulthard took a cheeky opportunity to nose round the Ferrari.
Away from the static displays, Autosport International staged a spectacular gathering in the Live Action Arena. European Rallycross Champion Per Eklund, the only non American to win the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, took control of a specially built 700-bhp Saab and 1984 World Rally Champion Stig Blomqvist drove an Audi S1, the spectacular Group B rally car that destroyed the opposition in the World Rally Championship in the early 1980s.
Legendary Finn Juha Kankkunen demonstrated the Hyundai World Rally Car, and Legends and Stock Cars got their turn as well. This all took place indoors, on a smooth surface with decibels bouncing off the walls.
The show certainly was not short on top names. Formula One drivers Coulthard, Antonio Pizzonia, Cristiano da Matta and Olivier Panis turned out. As did a host of World Rally stars including British former champions Richard Burns and Colin McRae. This, combined with the amount of scantily clad women on display, was enough to keep motorsport fans' jaws firmly on the ground.
Notes from Europe
* Crying Into Its Beer-Things just aren't going well for the Fatherland right now. More used to being Europe's economic powerhouse than its s***house, Germany's limping economy is showing no sign of recovery any time soon. On top of that, it's still far from flavor-of-the-month in Washington, D.C. Oh dear, oh dear.
Nearly 3% fewer cars were sold in Germany in 2002 than in 2001, making it three negative years in a row, and nobody's predicting an end in sight.
The main German manufacturers all had no trouble holding onto the top six slots in the new registrations table-imports are a long long way from threatening the supremacy of home production. Okay, so Ford is at number four, but the US company has been building there so long that most Germans genuinely believe that Ford is a German company. VW was unassailable at number one, followed by Merc and Opel. Audi and BMW fill slots five and six. But it wasn't without the loss of blood. VW sales were down over 5%, while poor old Opel took a battering, losing 16% of its sales volume.
A couple of interesting trends within the figures. Diesel cars are continuing their advance, claiming nearly 38% of the market in 2002, and 4x4s were 10% more popular, although they still make up only 6% of total sales.
* Olympic Turnaround-Despite its marketplace thrashing, Opel still managed to turn in a remarkable corporate performance during the year. The GM subsidiary has been burning money for years, down to a mixture of a cruddy model line up, questionable build quality and shocking manufacturing inefficiency.
Opel Chief, ex-BMW director Carl-Peter Forster, initiated a massive turnaround plan called Olympia in 2001. Results so far are living up to its name. Olympia has reduced a crushing loss of 674 million Euro in 2001 to just 227 million Euro in 2002. I know it's not easy to say "just 227 million" and keep a straight face. But that's an improvement of 66%, and well ahead of expectations. Opel says it expects to be profitable by the end of this year.
On top of that, Opel has taken significant and well received steps towards improving its product line up. An all-new Vectra, its bread and butter mid-range model, was launched in 2002 and to generally positive reviews. A further two models have just hit European streets, in the form of the Signum mid-sized executive sedan and the Minerva, a downsized version of Opel's most successful product of recent years, the Zafira van. The model offensive is scheduled to continue until 2006.
While Germany's other top manufacturers might not have had a great deal to be joyful about on the home front, they are all presumably casting grateful glances towards their export departments. VW, Audi, Mercedes and BMW were all able to keep total output on the cheerful side of positive with sales abroad.
* Not Just a Pretty Face-Alfa Romeo has launched an all-new communications strategy to convince buyers that its qualities are more than skin deep. Dubbed "Beauty is not enough", it follows a Europe-wide market survey that put the Italian brand's image firmly in the "just a pretty face" category. Alfa scored poorly in the perception of its vehicles' performance and technology.
Meanwhile VW has been looking to its advertising past. Since the '50s, VW has had a reputation for neat advertising-something that began with VW of America's efforts to beat the boys from Detroit on a fraction of the budget. In celebration of its unparalleled ad pedigree, spanning 5 decades, VW recently mounted an exhibition of its award-winning print ads in Berlin.
* A Tram Good Idea-VW is also becoming something of a tourist attraction in the historic east German city of Dresden, which is home to the company's so-called Glass-Manufactory. The see-through assembly plant has become a regular stop-off point, not only for Phaeton customers eager to see their purchase in-process, but also for the city's many tourists. Most recently, however, attention has shifted to the dedicated "Car-go Trams," two 60m-long dedicated trams that run 10 times daily between the Glass-Manufactory and the out-of-town logistics center. The idea was developed by VW logistics and the city of Dresden in order to enable the company to build its showpiece assembly plant close to the city center, while avoiding the traffic and environmental burden of a endless flow of delivery trucks.
* Good Things Come in Small Packages-The UK's most influential consumer magazine for car buyers, What Car, made the diminutive Seat Ibiza super-mini its Car of the Year. Based on the VW Polo platform, the Ibiza carried off the honors for offering "so much car for so little money." The European Car of the Year, the Renault Megane, didn't feature at the top of any of the 17 categories, but Renault won the Safety Award for having three cars with the top five-star rating in Europe's NCAP crash tests. The VW New Beetle carried off the Gong in the Convertible category.
* Ferrari Challenge Stradale
The new Ferrari, unveiled at the Geneva auto show in March, joins the 360 Modena and the 360 Spider in the Ferrari eight-cylinder range of road cars. The engine is the 3586cc V8, with five valves per cylinder and titanium conrods. The all-aluminum body and chassis are the same as the ones designed and produced by Ferrari for the 360 Modena. The Challenge Stradale is Ferrari's latest interpretation of the tradition of making road cars derived directly from race cars, in this case, from the Ferrari Challenge International Championships and the FIA GT races, where the 360 Challenge and 360 GT models are top competitors.
* All-new Lamborghini V10
For the first time in more than 10 years, Lamborghini will be offering a second model in its line-up as of 2003. The completely new model, the Gallardo (debuted at the 2003 Geneva show), is a mid-engined, four-wheel-drive sports car powered by an all-new 500-bhp 5.0-liter V10. The name, of course, is from a famous fighting bull breed. Production of the Gallardo's V10 has already started at the newly built assembly line at Lamborghini's engine facility in Sant'Agata Bolognese.
* Volkswagen Announces Prices for the 2003 Touareg
Volkswagen of America announced a starting price tag of $34,900 for its first-ever SUV, making it one of the most affordable and best-equipped German luxury model of its type sold in North America. In Canada, the price is $52,100. The 2003 Volkswagen Touaregs go on sale in the U.S. and Canada beginning this summer and comes in two initial versions: one model equipped with a 3.2-liter, 220 bhp V6 engine (priced as above) and another with a 4.2-liter, 310-bhp V8, $40,700 U.S., $60,550 Canadian.
* Concorso Italiano's New Location
Concorso Italiano, sponsored by Girard-Perregaux, has a new location for the annual event. Beginning this year, Aug. 15, 2003, Concorso Italiano will be held on the grounds of the Black Horse Golf Course at Monterey Bay. The Concorso's popularity made it necessary for the event to relocate to a site that would accommodate its projected growth. The Black Horse facility has panoramic views from high atop the Monterey Bay peninsula from nearly everywhere on the property.
The golf course layout allows for significantly expanded exhibitor displays, as well as an extended Corral area. For example, the new Ferrari area will accommodate 1,000 cars compared to the 350 Ferraris that could be parked on the former site. Additionally, nearly all of the display areas are visible from anywhere on the Green, and the popular "automobilia" vendors and standalone canopies will also benefit from expanded space. For additional info, log on to www.concorso.com.
* Lotus Elise for U.S. Shores
Lotus Cars USA will be offering a U.S.-specific version of the Elise, beginning mid 2004 as a 2005 model. The exceedingly lightweight vehicle-a mere 1,700 lb-is currently powered by a 156-bhp four-cylinder engine, which outputs 129 lb-ft of torque and has a top speed of 132 mph.. The U.S. version will be slightly different. Based on market studies and surveys, Lotus Cars USA is very confident the Elise will do well in the U.S. Complete specifications and price will be released around the time of the mid-2004 launch.
* Land Rover G4 Challenge U.S. Competitor Selected
At the end of a grueling five-day training and assessment program, Nancy Olson, 29, a U.S. Marine Corps Officer, emerged as the competitor who will represent the United States in the 2003 Land Rover G4 Challenge. Olson will now undertake a training and preparation program in readiness for the rigors of the Challenge itself. The event kicks off in New York City on March 30, 2003, with 16 competitors enduring four consecutive weeks, four time zones and intense physical and mental competition.
The G4 International Selections event took place at the 5,000-acre Eastnor Castle estate, home to the Land Rover Driving Experience. During the program, which ran this past January, a total of 32 prospective competitors, two from each of 16 participating countries, were put through a series of demanding assessment sessions, including GPS and navigation, off-road driving, mountain biking, climbing/abseiling and kayaking.
The purpose of the event was not only to select the final competitor for each nation based on quantitative scoring systems, but also to give them all the skills and knowledge required to complete the Challenge safely. For further details of the Land Rover G4 Challenge and to follow the action online from March 30 to April 26, visit www.landroverG4challenge.com.
* Ward's AutoWorld Best Engines 2003
Ward's AutoWorld has announced the winners of its ninth annual 10 Best Engines Competition. This year's recipients included more four-cylinder engines than V8s, with three of the engines using the tried-and-true inline-six layout; three others used forced induction. Four of the ten were of European manufacturer. They are: BMW AG 3.2-liter dohc inline six; BMW 3.0-liter dohc inline six; MINI 1.6-liter supercharged sohc inline four; and Volkswagen AG 1.8-liter turbocharged dohc inline four. For details on all the winners, log on to www.wardsauto.com
* Eyes On Design/Awards
Vision in automotive design was honored at the third annual Eyes On Design/Awards at the North American International Auto Show. The 15 award categories celebrate a comprehensive range of automotive design. A 40-member judging panel drawn from among practicing automotive designers, design school faculty and student designers from around the world selected the best vehicle designs. Two European carmakers were among the honorees:
* Most Significant Production Car-Interior Design:
* Most Significant Production Car-Exterior Design:
Bentley Continental GT Coupe
* Most Significant Production Car:
Bentley Continental GT Coupe
Eyes on Design/Awards benefits the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology, a non-profit research organization whose research, education and support-group programs enhance the independence of the visually impaired.
* American Rally Approval
Bill Gwynne Rallyschool International has become the first non-American rally driving school to receive Performance Rally School approval from the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). The Northamptonshire, UK-based school will take previously unlicensed competitors through a license-application assessment, similar to that required by the MSA. Courses can be completed in the UK and America. For more info: www.billgwynne.com.
* Trademark Dispute Settled
Rocky Mountain Motorworks (RMM), a supplier of parts and accessories for Volkswagens, resolved its long-time trademark dispute with Volkswagen of America. Through a secondary party, Volkswagen filed thousands of complaints around the U.S. against shops and distributors of parts for VWs for use of its trademarks. Volkswagen recently agreed to resolve the issue within Motorwork's insurance liability policy, thus relieving RMM of any direct monetary damages. Additional info can be found at www.motorworks.com.
Riding With a Legend in a Legend
For all the drama of the main event, my personal highlight was a ride in a works Lancia Stratos alongside the '85 World Champion Timo Salonen. The Stratos may be beautiful, but it was designed for midgets. I'm forced to sit with my helmet cantered to the left and touching Salonen's. Somewhat disturbingly, he admits that it's the first time he's driven the car.
We complete a demonstration run as an interlude to the main event, and the growl of the V6 rumbles around the amphitheater. Timo reckons that, "the absence of a servo makes this car very hard to drive. Not at all like the modern cars." "It's all ugh, ugh," he says, motioning frantic arm movements. "But it was," he concludes, "a privilege.