When it comes to the most expensive luxury cars, auto shows are increasingly irrelevant.
For years, the most prestigious automakers in the world have saved their best debuts—and the bulk of their event marketing budgets—for such glamorous locales as the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the Goodwood Festival of Speed, and the Villa d’Este at Lake Como. Auto shows may draw a lot of people, but with their fluorescent lighting and retro carpeting, they’re hardly a seductive showcase for wealthy private buyers.
The exception is the Geneva Motor Show.
With press days starting next week and a public opening to run from March 7 to 17, the annual event near Lake Leman will be the first gilded showcase of the year for the likes of Bugatti, Koenigsegg, Lamborghini, and Pininfarina, among others.
“Auto shows for automakers to send messages to each other—or basically, just show off—are going away. That has gotten really expensive,” says Matt DeLorenzo, the senior managing editor for Kelley Blue Book. “The only show that has that still really going on is Geneva. This is where the Italian design houses and the Bentleys and Bugattis of the world can really show off, and they do.”
Credit the attitude partly to the fact that no major automaker makes its headquarters in Switzerland, so the country is in spiritually neutral territory, unlike New York, Detroit, Los Angeles, Frankfurt, or Tokyo.
“In Geneva, they actually sell cars to really rich people,” DeLorenzo adds, noting that the region holds some of the world’s wealthiest people, who are happy to deign to visit the Palexpo center, where the show is held. At least it’s near the likes of the Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, and Jaeger-LeCoultre watch houses. “Aston Martin may skip a show in the U.S., but they’ll be at the Geneva show with a full product line, selling cars from the stand. It’s a totally different dynamic than any other car show on the face of the Earth.”
Where the fashion world flocks to Paris for its seasonal runway spectacles, tout le monde from the elite automotive world convenes in Geneva.
United Colors of Geneva
This year in Geneva has turned the hypercar knob three clicks to the right. Koenigsegg will bring a much-anticipated successor to the world record-setting Agera RS; Pininfarina will show the its first-ever production car, an expected all-electric, 1,900hp, elegant beast; and Bugatti may bring an $18 million modern take on the iconic Atlantic from 1936. That’s just the start.
Each of the supercar brands in attendance is cashing in on the global appetite for extremely expensive, extremely limited editions of cars from heritage brands. It’s a market that seems to be stable, if only in small quantities. When your cars cost $2 million each, you don’t have to sell many to survive.
“These types of cars are being built in the 10s,” DeLorenzo said. “There are certainly enough people who want to have one of 10 of something. Or even one of 100.”
French brand Bugatti will show an “110 ans Bugatti” tribute Bugatti Chiron Sport to celebrate the anniversary of the brand’s founding in 1909. That is the latest of the Chiron series and follows the $5.8 million Divo that Bugatti brought to Pebble Beach last August. More spectacular though, and currently secret, will be a second Bugatti car with a rumored $18 million price tag. It may be a modern take on the iconic Bugatti 57 SC Atlantic that Bugatti has announced it will also bring to Geneva; the new one-off version is rumored to have been commissioned by former Volkswagen Group chief Ferdinand Pieech.
Sweden’s Koenigsegg will bring the much-anticipated successor to the Agera RS, code-named Ragnarok, which is a term from Norse mythology that connotes the apocalypse. Company executives have said that the model they will show in Geneva may not carry that name, but they expect it boasts an update to the twin-turbo, 5.0-liter V8 engine in the Agera RS, with horsepower above 1,360. And a whale of a tail.
Italy’s dual pride and joys—Ferrari and Lamborghini—will each bring supercars to Geneva, though they’ll likely be divided in purpose. Ferrari has announced it will bring the F8 Tributo, the evolution of the 488, a turbocharged V8 with 710 horsepower and a six-figure price tag. (To the untrained eye, it looks just like the 488.)
Lamborghini will bring the edgy Huracán Evo Spyder, a tuned-up open-top version of its segment-leading Huracán. The Evo, a higher-powered, 5.2-liter, V10 engine that produces 640 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque. It’s so fast it will get to 62 miles per hour in just 3.1 seconds, with a top speed of 202 mph. That’s slower than the new McLaren 600LT Spider and McLaren 720S Spider, though perhaps more visceral—and louder—to drive.
In the meantime, Alfa Romeo will bring Giulia Quadrifoglio and Stelvio Quadrifoglio “Alfa Romeo Racing” limited editions made to honor the brand’s return to Formula 1. Showgoers will also see the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti, or “Turismo Internazionale,” and the new Alfa Romeo Giulietta.
The British will invade Geneva, too: Aston Martin is going to debut the Project 003, the third high-performance, mid-engine car the private equity- and Kuwaiti-owned company has built in recent years, following the $2.6 million Aston Martin Valkyrie and Valkyrie AMR Pro. (Those cars were called “001” and “002,” respectively). It’s expected that Project 003 is some sort of street version of the Valkyrie and will go on sale by 2021.
The Indie Stars
There are plenty of other lesser-known—but, in some cases, no less outré—new cars to see this year in Geneva. Many come from small, heritage-house automotive jewels, obscure startups, or once-dormant brands from around the globe.
Count Pininfarina’s Battista foremost among the lot. The 89-year-old Italian design house famed for outfitting yachts and Ferraris has said it will make just 150 of the electric marvel to sell at a price of more than $2 million.
The 1,900-horsepower electric supercar is said to have a top speed of 250mph and a driving range of 300 miles under all-electric power. It looks stunning: slender LED headlights grab attention in the absence of a conventional front grill, and a wide light spans from one headlight to the other, acting as a daytime running light system. Its sleek body recalls the PFO that Pininfarina showed reporters at Pebble Beach last August.
Hispano Suiza, the Spanish car company originally founded in 1904, will bring an electric car, too: the Carmen. It’s an all-electric grand tourer based on the unforgettable, art deco-style, 1938 Hispano-Suiza H6B Dubonnet Xenia. The historic company hopes to use the Barcelona-made car to relaunch itself back into the car-making business—and it’s accepting pre-orders now.
And Ginetta, a 61-year-old small British racing company based in Leeds, England, will show a half-million-dollar V8 supercar it has teased online. Ginetta says its 600-plus-horsepower car will have a top speed of 200mph, though it has yet to announce the name publicly.
It better be something good. We’ve already got everything from a 003 to a Ragnarok. This year in Geneva, it’s going to be hard to stand out.