Electronics Are the New Horsepower
Geneva — The very rich get richer. For those who prefer to drive themselves, there are the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, the Ferrari F12 Berlinetta and the Lamborghini Aventador Roadster, all super-expensive automobiles on display here at the recent Geneva International Motor Show.
It is a democratic exhibition, featuring cars such as the Rolls-Royce Phantom and Mercedes-Benz E-Class Long Wheel Base for rich people who prefer to be driven.
Given that introduction, you might think the wealthy dominate the 83rd annual version of this, the largest and most influential of all European auto shows. They don’t. In fact, they are a distinct minority crowded out by the great middle class of the world’s automobiles, largely represented in these parts by Volkswagen, Renault, Ford, Hyundai, Skoda, Citroen and Chevrolet.
It is notable that the eight finalists in contention for the prestigious European Car of the Year award, given by a panel of 58 European automotive journalists, did not include one car that would be considered out of the fiscal reach of most of the world’s middle-income families. The winner was the 2013 Volkswagen Golf MkVII, available for about $25,000, chosen because of its overall build quality and performance, its relatively high fuel economy (estimated 40 miles per gallon on the highway) and its low tailpipe emissions.
Ford, the only U.S.-based car company among the eight finalists, finished fourth with its compact B-Max people hauler. The B-Max is smaller and rounder than the C-Max currently on sale in the United States. Ford officials here said they have no plans to introduce the B-Max stateside. But they will bring to the United States a people-hauler version of the company’s successful compact commercial wagon, the Transit Connect. The more family-friendly model will be introduced next year as the Tourneo Connect.
U.S.-based manufacturers GM and Chrysler also had a presence here — Chrysler with its Jeep SUVs and Dodge Ram trucks and GM with its new Chevrolet Corvette Stingray sports car and a bevy of Cadillac models, including the new ATS sedan.
GM’s Buick and Chevrolet divisions, its “everyman” marketing groups, also presented a group of affordable cars and wagons, including the 2013 Buick Encore, an all-wheel-drive compact wagon that I drove in the United States before flying here.
The Encore is built by a GM affiliate in South Korea. It is cute and will sell well in China, where all things Buick seem to sell well. It looks more expensive than it is. It starts at a base price of $29,690 in the United States. But my hunch is that the four-cylinder, gasoline-fueled Encore (138 horsepower, 148 pound-feet of torque) will sell better in China than it will in the United States.
My Encore prognosis has to do with prospective use. It is a decent short-trip vehicle in an America where wagons are long-trip, highway vehicles. It is uncomfortable for four adults, especially if they are hauling lots of stuff. But it is gifted in telematics — onboard infotainment and emergency communications, showing up in all cars in all price ranges, as evidenced by the many products on display here.
Automotive exhibitions have become electronics and computer shows. Horsepower and torque are no longer enough. Sleek, sexy sheet metal gets attention. But to be considered winners nowadays, cars and trucks also have to be intelligent — loaded with electronics and the ability to connect with and enliven all kinds of electronic gadgets.
There is a theory here that advances in electronics eventually will equalize the automotive classes.
A Volvo S60 sedan that literally can stop itself and avoid pedestrian injury has a bigger “wow” factor than a bling-laden Rolls-Royce Phantom that cannot.
Welcome to the brave new world of automobiles.