Some may never hit the U.S. market, but these vehicles show where the industry is headed.
BMW 2-Series Active Tourer
BMW is known for its sporty rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive sedans. Its brand strength and reputation have made its cars strong sellers. Like any company, the German automaker must grow in order to prosper — which is why it’s risked image and reputation with its first front-wheel-drive model. The 2-series is more a multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) than a sedan and can carry five adults in comfort. Purists will be horrified, naturally, as BMW extends its lineup and tries to reach more of the mass market.
For the moment, Nissan’s Juke with freshened styling is aimed at the European market, with no announcement as to when it will hit the U.S. When the car appeared three years ago it epitomized an innovative shape that was polarizing. Consumers approved. Sales rose from zero to 420,000 in 40 months, by Nissan’s reckoning. A decision to spruce up and promote a new version in the U.S. would likely help the Japanese automaker’s desire to catch and pass Honda in that market. Nissan’s brass has been frustrated by its status as No. 2 Japanese automaker worldwide everywhere but the U.S.
The small crossover segment is one of the hottest in the global automotive market, in terms of sales. Cars like the Kia Soul and Nissan Juke have paved a trail for this latest entrant, built by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, the newly merged corporation based in the Netherlands. Renegade, based on the Fiat 500 architecture, will be assembled in the company’s Melfi, Italy, plant. Four-wheel-drive will be an option, along with seven engine choices, including diesel. The U.S. version, slated to arrive by the end of the year, will get two engines — with the eventual possibility of diesel. The Jeep name is one of FCA’s most valuable assets: Watch for more vehicle variations to carry it.
General Motors GM wants the world to pay attention to its latest-generation Corvette — and justifiably — so it’s introducing the high-performance version in Geneva. Critics and reviewers are awestruck by the new model. The supercharged V-8 version will offer an estimated 625 horsepower and 635 foot-pounds of torque. Many are saying the new ‘Vette is the first that challenges European performance cars on their own terms — and at a price many tens of thousands of dollars cheaper. GM recently announced it will withdraw its Chevrolet brand from Europe and concentrate efforts on Opel. That strategy doesn’t include Corvette or Camaro, two sport models that will be sold separately. The question for GM will be whether sales justify the expense and effort, or, perhaps how soon.
Lexus RC F
Toyota’s TM luxury division is challenging the BMW M4 and Mercedes-Benz C-63 AMG coupes with F versions. This model wraps a powerful V-8 generating 450 horsepower, in a highly expressive, near-cartoonish body. The most distinctive feature of the exterior is its massive, unforgettable grille. The rear features a speed-sensitive active spoiler. For some time, Lexus has been working on performance models that will sell in low numbers but give a halo to its more conventional luxury cars. Such efforts are required if Lexus expects to challenge the German luxury brands on a worldwide basis.
Peugeot 308 SW
The new hatchback from the French automaker, in the face of tough competition, has won “Car of the Year” honors at the show. It will never be seen on U.S. roads, Peugeot having exited from the market in 1991. But the 308 might turn out to be an important car in global terms because Peugeot is a fragile automaker in extremely weak financial condition. The company has just accepted a major investment from Chinese automaker Dongfeng, while reducing the influence of its founding family. With “Car of the Year” in its pocket, Peugeot sales in Europe might be energized just in the nick of time — and Dongfeng may have found a diamond in the rough.