IT'S ONE of the most curious, long-running anomalies of the international motor industry. Switzerland, a country with a negligible history of car-making, hosts what is still probably the world's most fashionable motor show, Geneva's Salon International de l'Auto. It's the show of choice for industry executives.
The Palexpo exhibition centrei is attached to Geneva airport and easy to navigate in an afternoon. This year's show, which opens to the public on Thursday, is already shaping up as one of the most interesting of recent years.
BMW will tease buyers with two interesting cars that won't go on sale for some time, if at all. The first is a concept study, the BMW Vision ConnectedDrive. This features a striking roadster body, but its real significance lies in its role in showcasing a large number of comfort, entertainment and safety systems that could make it into future vehicles. The second car is the ActiveE, based on the BMW 1 Series coupe, which is described as the first vehicle "to combine the space and comfort of a traditionally powered BMW with a fully electric drivetrain".
Meanwhile, Mercedes will be using the Geneva show to introduce its new C-Class coupe to European buyers. There's also a new SLK roadster in the offing, so it will be interesting to see whether that puts in an appearance as well.
Jaguar and Land Rover are currently riding a wave of enthusiasm generated by hot new models such as the XJ and the forthcoming Range Rover Evoque, but this year Jaguar will also be relaunching one of the most famous cars from its back-catalogue, the iconic E-Type, first seen at Geneva half a century ago.
Land Rover will show the new Range Rover Autobiography Ultimate Edition, a super-luxurious version of its top model featuring iPads for rear seat passengers and a teak load-space floor. Only 500 will be made. Land Rover will also unveil its electric Range_e development vehicle, which uses diesel-hybrid plug-in technology emitting 89g/km of carbon dioxide.
Aston Martin is likely to concentrate on the recently announced, more powerful S version of its V8 Vantage, as well as the production version of the Cygnet, the £30,000 luxury city car it is building on the basis of the Toyota iQ.
Swedish manufacturers Saab and Volvo will both be looking to reassert their identities after escaping years of ownership by General Motors and Ford respectively.
Saab will unveil the SportWagon estate version of its big 9-5, which goes on sale in September. It may also show its 9-4X crossover, which has just gone into production in Mexico, but this model is aimed mainly at the US.
Volvo will be giving prominence to its V60 plug-in hybrid, which combines a diesel engine driving the front wheels with an electrically powered rear axle. Cars with this drivetrain will go on sale in 2012. Volvo claims the V60 version will produce carbon dioxide emissions of less than 50g/km and be able to travel 32 miles in electric-only mode.
Among the French manufacturers' products, Citroen's DS4 can be expected to feature prominently on Citroen's stand at Geneva, bolstered by a recent international online vote that named it the most-beautiful car of the year.
Peugeot will have its recently revised 308, which gets a sharper nose similar to that of the new 508 saloon and estate.
Renault will show a sportier Gordini version of its little Wind roadster. More radical will be the Captur concept car, which builds on the direction set by the DeZir design study. The Captur, described by Renault as a "fun and sporty crossover", is supposed to provide a guide to the curvy muscular shapes expected to characterise its future cars.
Renault's Japanese partner, Nissan, fresh from the warm reception accorded to its Leaf electric car, will be showing the ESFLOW sports car concept, which is also designed around an electric drivetrain. Nissan's luxury brand, Infiniti, will launch the M35h, its first hybrid model, based on the large M saloon. Infiniti will also be showing its Etherea concept car, a sort of cross between a saloon, hatch and coupe, that looks a lot better than most of the company's current efforts, which conceal their superbly engineered oily bits beneath some distinctly odd bodywork.
Geneva will also see the world premiere of a revised version of Toyota's FT-86 concept car, which apparently gives the best indication so far of what the final production version will look like. Also on the Toyota stand will be an electric version of the company's tiny iQ city car, the seven-seat hybrid Prius+, and a hybrid version of the Yaris.
Honda will emphasise eco themes. Alongside the FCX Clarity, the world's first production hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, the company will be showing an electric Jazz concept and a plug-in hybrid drivetrain destined for a mid-range saloon. Revised Accord saloons and estates, and the new hybrid version of the Jazz, will also be on display.
Volkswagen will be showing a mildly revised version of its small Tiguan sports-utility vehicle (SUV) with slightly sharper styling.
VW chose the Qatar motor show in January to debut its radically streamlined XL1 fuel-saving plug-in hybrid, but may be tempted to give it another outing in Geneva.
Ford is promising to launch a "groundbreaking all-new vehicle" but hasn't provided any specifics. However, it will show its Vertrek compact SUV concept, which shows the design direction likely to be adopted by the next Kuga, an electric version of the new Focus and a plug-in hybrid version of the C-Max.
Fiat will have an interesting new development, the Freemont, a Fiat-badged adaptation of the Dodge Journey, one of the first concrete results of the tie-up between Fiat and Chrysler. It will be produced in Mexico alongside Fiat 500s destined for the US market.
As usual, the Korean manufacturers will have plenty to talk about as well. Kia will have replacements for its two smallest cars, the Rio and the Picanto. The new Rio takes a dramatic visual leap forward. The smaller Picanto is a replacement for the popular original, one of the big winners under the last government's scrappage scheme.
Kia's sister brand Hyundai will unveil its new i40, a sleeker replacement for the rather staid Sonata saloon, which should do a better job of competing with the class leaders, such as the Ford Mondeo. Hyundai will also display its Veloster coupe, the most distinctive feature of which is its 1+2 (one on the off-side, two on the nearside) door configuration. The i40 and Veloster will be sharing the Hyundai stand with the Curb concept car; the company says the Curb, which it describes as an "urban activity vehicle", will showcase new telematics technology and "next generation fluidic sculpture styling". Hyundai's Blue Drive eco programme will be represented by its i10-based BlueOn compact electric car and the hydrogen-powered FCEV prototype version of its ix35 SUV.
Sunday Indo Business