Despite the auto show season being over, there is a lot going on behind the curtain at almost all of Europe's major automotive players. Here's a breakdown of the current future plans for the Continent’s automakers:
Following Sergio Marchionne's plan for Alfa Romeo is taxing because the man keeps changing the model portfolio and the launch dates. Here is a rundown of the current future product plans:
|4C coupe/spyder||Q3 2013/2014||RWD||Dallara platform||Coupe/roadster||Maserati Modena plant|
|169/full-size sedan||Q4 2014||RWD/AWD||Same as Maserati Ghibli||Sedan only||Bertone plant|
|Spider||Q1 2015||RWD||Twinned w/ ND Mazda MX-5||Roadster||Mazda Hiroshima plant|
|Giulia||Q2 2015||FWD/AWD||CUSW platform (Compact U.S. Wide)||Sedan/sportwagon||Cassino plant|
|Giulia Fouristrada||Q4 2015||FWD/AWD||CUSW platform (twinned w/ Jeep Cherokee)||D-segment crossover||Cassino plant|
|MiTo replacement||Q1 2016||FWD||SUSW platform (Small U.S. Wide)||Five-door hatch only||Melfi plant|
|Giulietta replacement||Q4 2016||FWD||CUSW platform||Five-door hatch only (no wagon)||Cassino plant|
|Full-size SUV||Decision pending||AWD||Same as Maserati Levante/Jeep Grand Cherokee||E-segment SUV||Turin plant|
Meeting Aston Martin Lagonda Limited chairman Ulrich Bez in person, you would never think that the wiry engineer is approaching 70. In fact, he is only 30 years younger than the brand he heads, which is celebrating its centenary this year. When the 100th anniversary buzz dies down just before Christmas, Dr. Bez will likely hand in his resignation, giving him more time to spend with his wife, his two classic Astons, his green BMW Z1, and his black Porsche 993 coupe. The Bonomi Group and David Richards, who run the AML show these days, are bound to eventually elect a new COO – preferably one who does not insist on bespoke engines and an evolution of the VH architecture.
A few years ago, Bez and Mercedes chief Dieter Zetsche came close to inking a comprehensive cooperation agreement that would have given Aston Martin access to the Daimler think tank, but when Maybach died, so did the Anglo-German pipe dream. Under Andrea Bonomi, who not long ago forged a link between Ducati (now part of Audi) and AMG, the Mercedes connection is suddenly back on the table. According to a couple of different sources, Daimler is considering a minority interest in AML. No more than five percent, perhaps, but that's enough to trigger a collaboration that would give Aston Martin access to future Mercedes-Benz engines – likely the brand-new straight-six – and to Mercedes architectures. At the end of the day, Aston might be able to tap two key component sets: MRA (for large coupes/convertibles, Rapide replacement, and Lagonda) and MSA (for sports cars like Vantage and one-offs like Zagato).
The strategic aim of AML investors is to prepare the brand for a future that is dominated by carbon-dioxide emissions concerns, to secure the funding for new drivetrains and products, and to sort out complex logistics. As soon as AML has jumped these hurdles, the owners are expected to sell their assets – perhaps even to the friendly affiliates from Stuttgart who do not yet possess an ultra-high-end marque like Volkswagen's Bentley and BMW's Rolls-Royce. At this point, an outright purchase is unlikely, but by 2020, Mercedes might be tempted, even if it was only to keep competitors at bay.
Bugatti was not amused when they read here about plans to facelift the Veyron in a hurry, fit an upgraded 1400-plus-hp engine, and give the supercar a new lease on life that would have been good for another 100 units. By the time that story came out, it was, unfortunately, old news. Corporate strategists had already moved on to the next project.
At the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, we are going to see the final iteration of the current Veyron, which reportedly gets a particularly impressive, history-inspired treatment. In the course of 2014, les ateliers in Molsheim will complete the final 60 open-top cars until the agreed build run of 150 units is complete. Due to capacity restrictions, only six of these vehicles have polished, all-aluminum bodies.
Is there life after Veyron? Absolutely, but, contrary to earlier plans, the next Bugatti won't be the Galibier, at least not the version we know. Instead, Bugatti design chief Achim Anscheidt will, in all likelihood, design a brand-new high-end four-seater that should debut in concept form at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show. Why a four-seater and not another supercar? For two reasons: first, it would be extremely difficult to out-Veyron the Veyron, unless you wanted to create an even-more-extreme 1500-hp monster. During the evaluation process, marque master Wolfgang Schreiber and his entourage looked long and hard at a lightweight two-seater powered by a dual-supercharged eight-cylinder engine also checked out a variety of high-end green avenues. After long debates, they decided that Bugatti is not only about extreme performance. What matters even more are ultimate exclusivity, sustainable high technology, and being totally different from anything else on four wheels.
That's why the W-16 engine will live on in the next model -- a hyper-fast, ultra-luxury sports sedan -- which should do particularly well in China, Russia, and the United States. The Galibier could have been exactly that, but it was very heavy, not particularly well packaged, and a little too retro in appearance. If research and development can bring the weight down, 850 hp should be enough to outperform just about every other four-door vehicle on the planet, 850 units sounds like a realistic production volume, and €850,000 ($1.1 million) would be pricey enough to keep the queue short. Don't worry: creating more expensive, more potent, and more extreme evolutions is the easiest trick in the book. At this point, management is still looking at five different proposals, so we would not completely rule out another major rethink.
Over time, Fiat has spoiled us with plenty of memorable cars: the 127 and 128, the 2300 S and 130 coupe, the Ferrari-engined Dino, and the 850 Spider. But when did we last drive a Fiat that would have been worth owning?
The new Cinquecento (500) comes to mind, and so does -- albeit to a lesser extent -- the current Panda. Therefore, we are not really surprised that CEO Sergio Marchionne is trying to reinvent Fiat by splitting the brand into two (U.S.-bound) sections, the 500 and the Panda families. This news may no longer be headline material, but we only recently found out exactly how the transformation will be executed.
The 500 range: In addition to the hatchback, convertible, and MPV-like 500L, we are going to see the crossover-style 500X in 2014 and the all-new 500XL replacing the Punto in late 2015. According to leaked images, the 500X will step in for the Suzuki SX4-based Seidici. The 500XL, on the other hand, slots between the Volkswagen Polo and Golf in size, will be even roomier than the 500L, and blends 500 overtones with modern proportions and a truly practical packaging concept. Based on the one-size-fits-most CUSW components set, this is another global Fiat.
The Panda range: The Bravo, which was due to be renewed in 2015, bites the dust and will be superseded by what is being referred to as the Panda XXL. No, this not a minivan. It's a CUSW-distilled crossover, a mix between wagon and high-roof hatch, a boxy yet charming step up from the entry-level Panda. As far as appearance goes, the Bravo replacement morphs into a larger-than-life Panda and will be quite a bit smaller than the Cross Panda due to supersede the anonymous Freemont (a.k.a. Dodge Journey) in 2016. That's right: the Freemont will also be pressed through the Panda mold, which may be quite a challenge considering its adult size and SUV proportions.
With Punto, Bravo, Seidici, and Freemont living on borrowed time, the era of mainstream Fiats is about to end. Good or bad? Applying the 500 and Panda cookie cutters may be an option, but only for so long. Just ask VW about its experience with the New Beetle.
Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi
Mercedes-Benz: Dieter Zetsche has recently said that Mercedes-Benz will launch 10 additional models by 2020, but, of course, he did not say what they are. However, here’s what we know is coming:
- extra-long-wheelbase S-Class
- S600 Pullman flagship sedan (Maybach lives!)
- C-Class convertible
- E-Class crossover/sportvan
- A-Class sedan
- long-wheelbase B-Class MPV
- CLA Shooting Brake
- the already-previewed GLA crossover
- GLC (GLK coupe)
- MLC (M-Class coupe)
- two-door S-Class convertible (unlike the Ocean Drive concept)
- C190 non-gullwing SLS-based sports car to rival the Porsche 911
- three-door entry-level A-Class
- i3 four-door
- i3 coupe
- 4-Series coupe and convertible
- 2-Series coupe and convertible
- 1-Series family sports tourer (to come in both front- and all-wheel drive)
- 1-Series compact activity tourer (also front- or all-wheel drive)
- X4 crossover, previewed at the 2013 Shanghai Motor Show
- Q2 (delayed until 2015 or 2016 because it shares the MQB matrix with the new VW Polo)
- Q6 (delayed until 2017 because it is based on the second-generation Q5 and will be built in Mexico)
- Q8 (still on course for 2016, derived from a slimmed-down Q7 MkII based on the MLBevo matrix)