In 2016, more than any other year, the show floor was packed with million-dollar exotics vying for the limelight and in the most appropriate of settings, the Lake Geneva shoreline, where many of the vehicles will find homes in the garages of Swiss locals and expatriates. Their Gulf counterparts will, as usual with Geneva, express similar financial interest. The annual Geneva auto show was nothing less than the scene of a battle between the old guard and new, with gleaming carbon fiber and satin titanium scattered all over the field. Everywhere you looked, there was 1,000 horsepower to take in and only the diverse means of achieving the figures was a telling sign of the interesting times the industry finds itself in. Namely, the peaking of traditional internal combustion technology and on the other hand the rapid rise of the frontier world of batteries and ones-and-zeroes. Elsewhere at this year’s giant automotive exhibitions, the smugness at shows such as Frankfurt and Detroit always veils those industry expos in cloaks of corporate and resentful competitiveness. Geneva is a breath of fresh air, where manufacturers, some with century-long rivalries, seem to put it all aside and just celebrate the passion for the automobile. On the shores of lac Léman in early March it was no different.
And there was much to celebrate with exotic dream cars as 2015 was a record year, with 89 million cars sold globally. And 2016 is already up over 6% in Europe for the first quarter. In other words, we’re buying cars again and judging by the amount of million-dollar metal spinning around on giant turntables in Geneva that’s not about to slow down any time soon.
The eco-conscious world might be in need of some viewing through green-tinted glasses more than ever, but this year in Geneva all we saw power, of the hp and kW variety.
The Electric Age
Battery technology is powering ahead and new research published earlier this year by Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts that sales of electric vehicles will hit 41 million by 2040, representing 35% of the total market by way of a reduction in battery prices. Colin McKerracher, lead advanced transportation analyst at BNEF, says: “Lithium-ion battery costs have already dropped by 65% since 2010, reaching $350 per kWh last year. We expect electric vehicle battery costs to be well below $120 per kWh by 2030, and to fall further after that as new chemistries come in.”
Ready to cash in on the future wave is a boutique British marque that is more synonymous with ash wood frames and still produces designs from the 1930s, recently banking on a huge success with a retro relaunch of the 3-Wheeler model conceptualized over a century ago.
It’s the 3-Wheeler that evolved further still for Geneva, with the reveal of the EV3 model that stays true to the much-loved design, but adopts a 20KWh lithium battery and a liquid cooled 46kW motor driving the rear wheel instead of the usual motorcycle-based two-cylinder internal combustion engine. It’ll still do zero to 100km/h in 9.0 seconds, and despite using modern tech such as carbon fiber body panels, the company promises quintessential classic motoring. Steve Morris, Managing Director at Morgan Technologies, says: “The EV3 is an exciting opportunity for our customers to enjoy the unique Morgan driving experience and the joy of tailored manufacture whilst remaining conscientious towards the future of our planet.”
A Chinese startup showed up in Geneva with claims bigger than on any other show stand—1,030hp and a range of 2,000km on hybrid power, combining a turbine and no less than six electric motors.
Dubbed TREV, which stands for Turbine-Recharging Electric Vehicle technology, the company’s own projections boast a top speed of 350km/h and 0-100km/h in 2.5 seconds. And 350 km/h is the restricted top speed.
William Jin, the founder and CEO of Techrules, says: “The TREV system is a perfect combination of micro turbine and electric vehicle technologies. It is highly efficient, produces very low emissions and provides an optimal charging solution for electric vehicles.
The micro-turbine acts as a range-extender for the battery pack, which drives electric motors in each front wheel and four additional motors split at the rear.
“We believe it may redefine how the next generation of electric vehicles is powered,” added Jin.
Techrules’ CTO, Matthew Jin, explains the method behind the highly unconventional use of TREV’s aviation industry tech: “Because turbines have always been a very inefficient way to convert chemical energy into useful wheel-turning mechanical energy, only a few have tried to use a turbine in the power train system and none have ever succeeded commercially.
“But, with electric vehicles, an electric motor is used to drive the wheels, which effectively frees the combustion engine to exclusively convert chemical energy into mechanical energy and finally into electric energy. This is a major breakthrough, making it possible for us to use the highly efficient turbine engine as a superb range extender on our vehicles.”
The startup already has a prototype running around some countries, but series production will be one to watch.
Bugatti’s electric blue Chiron desired all the limelight in Geneva’s Palexpo, but a tiny outfit from Croatia had other ideas. Rimac Automobili, born from the mind of 28-year-old electric prodigy Mate Rimac who founded the company seven years ago barely out of his teens, took the veils off its Concept_S that not only pushes the boundaries for full-electric vehicles, but hypercars as a whole.
Molsheim’s mind-blowing Chiron, carried by the inexhaustible might of the VW Group, makes 1,600Nm of torque and reaches 100km/h from rest in just 2.5 seconds, but Rimac’s Concept_S manages the same feat with 1,800Nm of torque while producing zero emissions.
Complex mathematical algorithms control all four wheels instantaneously, and the technology to precisely deliver power to each corner was tested last year with a victory in Colorado at one of the most arduous races on the Motorsport calendar.
“We wanted to use the experience and knowledge from the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb and offer our customers a unique, race-like experience,” says the namesake and founder. “The Concept_S pushes the levels of performance to the extremes.” And you won’t find many suspicious of that claim.
While Horacio Pagani and Christian von Koenigsegg continue to vie for the role of the modern day Leonardo da Vinci, it’s the latter Swede who raised everyone’s eyebrows in Geneva with another Bugatti-baiting electrified monster.
Koenigsegg’s new Regera uses a twin-turbocharged V8 coupled to an 800 volt 4.5kWh battery pack (with Formula One grade hand-built cells that save 25kg to boot), making the Regera the world’s first 800V production car, several years before Porsche readies its upcoming zero-emissions Mission E. With a low weight of 1,590kg and 1,500hp plus over 2,000Nm of torque the Regera offers blistering performance and a top speed beyond 400km/h.
Developed in-house at the Koenigsegg facility in Ängelholm, the car is hand crafted entirely and comes equipped with Apple CarPlay and with Wi-Fi functionality as standard. It’s a technical tour-de-force in the face of many much larger manufacturers and at $1.9 million each the Regera is already in the rarefied realm of the ultimate collectible before the first customer cars have even been built, particularly as only 80 will ever be made.
The Old Guard
Porsche purists worldwide mourned the “last great 911” when Weissach decided to take the manual transmission out of the GT3 equation, but not the fans can rejoice again with the 911 R that takes influence from the first road-homologated race car to bear the name in 1967. The car is already available to order with prices starting from $185,000.
This limited edition 911 variant is powered by the 500hp naturally aspirated four-liter flat-six engine familiar from the 911 GT3 RS. The race-bred powertrain delivers its peak at 8,250 rpm and generates 338 lb ft of torque at 6,250 rpm. Crucially it’s available only with a six-speed manual transmission, and the whole pared-down philosophy of the car keeps the weight down to 1,370kg. The original 911 R was a true competition thoroughbred entered in rallies like the Targa Florio in Sicily, and true to that name the new car is the lightest available version of the 911.
Porsche went to extremes fitting carbon fiber front panels, and a magnesium roof to lower the car’s centre of gravity. You’ll have the flat-six growl for company because Porsche reduces insulation materials and even the audio system and air conditioning if you’re committed enough.
“The Centenario is a car that perfectly combines tradition and innovation,” said Lamborghini’s archetypal boss Stephan Winkelmann just days before he departed to head sister-brand Quattro for Audi. “It looks to the future while honoring the legend that is Ferruccio Lamborghini.”
Lamborghini’s factory in Sant’Agata Bolognese celebrated the man who started it all (by building tractors no less), with a thumping ol’ 6.5-litre V12 naturally aspirated internal combustion engine burning 98 Octane faster than you can say mamma mia.
”The Centenario is an opportunity for our designers and engineers to transcend some of the constraints of series car production to achieve an incomparable result,” added Winkelmann.
That result is a car limited to 40 examples worldwide, 20 closed models and 20 open-top roadsters at a price of $1.9 million each. Sant’Agata couldn’t have better commemorated its hero than with one of the biggest and most powerful free-breathing engines on the market, a 6.5-litre V12 developing 770 horsepower and peaking at 8,600rpm with an ear-piercing shrill. No batteries in sight.
“It is part of human nature to cross boundaries and set new records—to run 100m faster than ever before, to fly even further into space and to enter new realms,” said Wolfgang Dürheimer, president of Bugatti presenting the Chiron, the Veyron’s much-anticipated successor. “The Chiron is the result of our efforts to make the best even better.”
The boss may have reason to be so bold, with the Chiron’s 1,500bhp 16-cylinder engine fed by four turbochargers the size of pumpkins—the ultimate homage to internal combustion. This car has to electronically limit road use to a ‘mere’ 420kph, requires 2.5 seconds to reach 100km/h from zero and produces 1,600Nm of torque from just 2,000rpm. You’re only getting started with Molsheim’s endless personalization options from $2.6 million.
Bugatti is limiting production to 500 examples worldwide, but the company says a third of the production run is already signed for, so you’ll need to be quick. Dürheimer says: “Those who have already considered Bugatti and its unique features in connection with the purchase of a Veyron will find there is no way they can ignore the Chiron.”
Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport
“We didn’t hold back with the new Grand Sport,” says Tadge Juechter, Chevrolet Corvette chief engineer. And at no point did we expect the Americans to be on a tight rein.
Chevrolet came to town with the new Corvette Grand Sport marking the 20th anniversary of the first production Grand Sport model. It celebrates its grandpappy with the same blue stripes, and makes noise with a naturally aspirated dry-sump 460hp V8 engine in a lightweight package. With an optional track kit customers get semi-slick tyres and ceramic brakes.
“The choices are almost endless,” says Harlan Charles, Corvette product marketing manager. “The packages take personalization to an unprecedented level, enabling customers to create their own Corvette Grand Sport statement like no other.”
The wheels too are specific to the model, measuring 19x10 inches in the front and 20x12 inches at the rear. That kind of footprint requires a lot of aero and the Grand Sport comes equipped with specific front wings, a Z06-style grille and wider rear wings in addition to the carbon-fiber aero package that delivers actual down force.