Geneva Motor Show 2019 (Part 1)

Spring time in Switzerland. The dairy cows head back to the highlands, everyone tidies up (even more), and the Geneva International Automobile Show takes place. The eighty ninth edition of the show was dripping with EVs; some for today, and others on the horizon.

Geneva has a unique character amongst the world’s big shows. Switzerland does not have an automobile industry of its own but it borders Italy, France and Germany that do. The manufacturers duke it out on the floor on equal terms. There is a serious concern for the environment in Switzerland, but also some serious money available to be spent on ultimate speed and/or luxury. Tiny start up companies display their dream products only meters away from the exotics. Geneva is where many of the production  models of the following model year will be seen for the first time. Over the years the show has cast the spotlight on such debutantes as the Jaguar E-Type (1961), the Audi Quattro (1980) and the Jaguar I-Pace (2018). Geneva is also known for its Concept Cars from Italy and beyond. Beauty being in the eye of the beholder, your breath can be taken away or you may find it hard to breath.

Switzerland is not part of the European Union (no, they did not have a Swexit) but they  are part of the Paris Accord on Climate Change. The Swiss Government is mostly letting the market sort itself out concerning the adoption of EVs and commercial charging. EV buyers do not receive a government rebate, but in most Cantons cars are assigned a road tax according to their CO2 output. So no exhaust, no tax.  The government’s commitment is to ensure a supportive infrastructure for public charging, which has its merits. About eight thousand EVs were sold in Switzerland in 2017.

The national rail system (which has an official name in three languages) had a big presence at the show. Their Green Class Program rewards EV owners by putting them into a system whereby they can park their EV at prime reserved spots at a rail station, travel by train to another location at a reduced rate, and then be part of a car sharing program in that location. This would help people with shorter range EVs get out of town free of range anxiety.

Ionity is a recharging system of the joint venture of BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen, and Ford. They were present, showing off a 350 kw charger. Energie 360 produces a charging system that allows one to funnel electricity out of a car battery and back into a house.

Now to the cars. Every vehicle I report on will be a fulls BEV, unless otherwise noted, and if you wonder why I don’t mention cars from Ford, Hyundai, Jaguar/Land Rover, Infiniti, Mini, Tesla and Volvo, it’s because they weren’t there. I will divide the report into two sections. The first will concern vehicles that we should be getting in Canada. The second will concern the European market and all the futuristic / beautiful/shocking concept vehicles.

As mentioned, Volvo was not at Geneva, but their Polestar EV division was. The production model, “Polestar 2” was shown in its two trim levels. Both will have two motors, a 78 kilowatt battery, 408 total bhp, 660 nm of torque, and a range of 440 km. (EPA). Both Stars have a panoramic sunroof and a frunk(ette). Sales will be on line.

The car’s target is Tesla’s Model 3. A major difference between the two is that the 2 has a hatchback while the 3 has a trunk. Also the 2 has a more conventional interior and the entire car will be made in China. It may qualify as the first premium priced car to be sourced in that country and sold in North America.

The Polestar’s crisp and geometric shape is much more striking in real life than any photographs I’ve seen.

Mercedes Benz had an EQC, and a bare chassis showing its dual motor and battery configuration. The numbers are 80 kWh battery, 400 bhp, 765 nm of torque, and 450 km range (manufacturer). It seems (if you refer back to the Polestar) that battery size, performance and range specifications are lining up amongst the two motor Tesla chasers. What differentiates one from the next are other features. The EQC is capable of 350 kw charging, and Mercedes claims it will be one of (if not the) quietest vehicles ever. It has a very traditional interior. To its detriment, the EQC is heavy with its steel unibody. It is totally frunkless. In fact I believe there is less room under the hood than if Mercedes had installed a honking big AMG V8 with a supercharger. Surprisingly, the on board charger only has a 7.4 kw capacity. Like the Audi e-Tron, the EQC uses a steel unibody and is substantially heavier than the Tesla X or Jaguar i-Pace with their aluminum shells.

The EQC will be made in Bremen Germany and China. Bremen “acts as the centre of competence”. Batteries will be produced at eight plants on three continents. It could be that ample production capacity of the vehicle and its batteries could be one of the biggest feathers in Mercede’s cap.

It seems in this new market that manufacturers (that want to impress us with the seriousness of their EV programs) are highlighting their battery production capacity. This is where established ICE companies are using their substantial product sourcing influence to portray themselves as the best EV investment even if they do not have the most innovative product.

Audi had three vehicles in their EV entourage. Other than the production E-Tron, there was the Q4 e-Tron Performance, and the e-Tron GT concepts. Both are very close to production. The Q4 is a smaller SUV than the e-Tron we will get in Canada. It is based on VW’s MEB platform and has more distinctive lines inside and out than its big brother. This may foreshadow the VW ID Crozz we are getting.

The GT is a long low sports sedan aimed at Model S. What Audi has released is that  the GT’s platform comes from its Porsche sibling instead of Volkswagen. It is supposed to have 580 horsepower, and have an 800 volt charging capacity. There are rumours that a higher performance version would have three motors. The GT has an impressive stature, but with its fake grille and substantial overhangs it is not easily recognizable as an EV.

I was really stoked to get to the Nissan stand. Rumour had it, that they would present a concept (AWD SUV) vehicle based on the Leaf. The IMQ E Power was that vehicle. In the big screen presentation I saw the two electric motors and started to squeal and jump like tween girl. But wait; what is that thing? Someone had mistakenly photo shopped an internal combustion engine into the display slide. I must have looked distraught because when I asked to speak to someone, they found the head of EV projects for all of Europe. We went into Nissan’s lounge and he ordered me a cold water. Herr Ackerman explained that the model which is two to three years away will be a PHEV. The configuration sounded a lot like the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, but with more all electric range. What my host really wanted me to love was the cars level of Pro Pilot, automation and connectivity. A feature called “Invisible to Visible” will allow you to have an interactive virtual image of a family member beside you while you are driving. I don’t make this stuff up. I told him that I thought it was an interesting concept but that it might sell better with a mother in law blocking capacity. He snorted.

The Volkswagen ID 3 was not at the show but its Spanish cousin was.

Volkswagen also owns Skoda (Czech  Republic) and SEAT (Spain). Their models are based on VW platforms but sell for less money. SEAT had the el Born pre production model at the show. I am including it because it gives us a pretty clear picture of the I.D dimensions. To my eye it looked like a taller Golf. I liked that the A pillar is divided into two supports (A and Ab?) to improve forward visibility towards the corners of the windshield.

 

VW also showed off their I.D. Buggy Concept which was an obvious copy of the Meyer’s Manx of the 1960s. I hope Bruce Meyers (who is still alive) is getting some compensation for this. The Manx has been referred to as the most copied car in history. The Buggy has a simple and rugged toy like appeal, but has no roof or windows. It is unlikely to see production in any similar form. VW has said it will make the MEB platform available to smaller niche manufacturers though. So the Buggy is in this part of the article because there is nothing stopping someone from California,Oshawa or Kelowna from making such a vehicle.

The Lagonda name has historically been used for sedans based on Aston Martins. Now it is going to be the EV branch of Aston Martin. Seeing as we get Astons in Canada I thought we might get the Lagondas so I dropped by. This is their second concept vehicle and the one that will reach production. Not surprisingly it is an SUV. I was kept pretty far away, but my impression was that it is a very striking sleek design. The All Terrain Concept has such a short front overhang and such a long back one that it looks like the body has to catch up to the wheels. The head of Lagonda told the press, “Tesla owners will buy this when they want to spend more money.”

Smart had a concept car without windows, and no news on new models.

Kia had the Soul EV and the E-Niro. They had great dancers at their booth as well.

Harley Davidson showed three electric motorcycle (EM?) prototypes. Actually one looks more like a mini bike from the 1970s, while another looks like a mountain bike you cannot pedal. The more traditional motorcycle is reminiscent of Harley’s Sportster based racers. It will have a 170 to 220 km range.

I felt that this year’s Geneva Auto Show mapped out the serious EV intentions of some big players. For the Canadian market there are German, Swedish, Japanese and Korean manufacturers poised to bring substantial product.

There is still a lot of EV news from Geneva. The next instalment will be a totally fun and totally frustrating look at “The Unattainables”. You will see the cutest and the most powerful EVs from  Honda, Citroen, Hispano Suiza, Qooder, and of course Gumpert Aiway.