This year’s Geneva motor show was probably most remarkable for having new and efficient technology on shows than new cars. While smaller companies like Qoros and SsangYong revealed exciting cars to compete in some of the toughest segments, the interesting juxtaposition of the Chinese carmaker’s stand next to Rolls-Royce’s said a lot about the changing nature of the European, and indeed, global, car parc.
Downsizing and super-efficiency were more in evidence than super-luxury and massive horsepower drivetrains. Volvo’s remarkable renaissance in the SUV market, with its almost universally well-reviewed XC90, was one of the few true highlights of the show. And interestingly, the Swedish carmaker focused on technology most than marketing, showing its autonomous car concept and highlighting its T8 drivetrain, surely some of the most expensive technology available for series production. This comprised a new inline-4 2.0-litre petrol engine, with a supercharger and a turbocharger, eight-speed automatic transmission, and an electric motor/generator and a large 9.2kWj battery pack. It would have been extraordinary ten years ago to think of an SUV leading the way in efficient and clean powertrain and, while Volvo’s green efforts are laudable, are we not going up a path of unnecessary complexity and cost when cleaner fuels such as CNG can give similarly clean emissions and power from smaller motors, and greater fuel efficiency?
Where in the past we might have seen dozens of concept cars from OEMs, some of the most exciting prototypes were shown by suppliers; Magna’s Mila, a two-seat hybrid sports car is focused on lightweight construction and bonding technologies with a drivetrain that features a small, three-cylinder gasoline engine and a pair of electronic motors in an all-wheel-drive configuration.
And EDAG’s Light Cocooncar showed the real imagination that one seems to find more in the supply base than at the OEMs. Its complex-looking structure maximises strength with a minimum of material. And the whole car came out of EDAG’s three-dimensional printers, At the OEMs, the most daring ideas were limited to steal, aluminium and a few composite concept cars that quite frankly trod the same well-worn paths that we have seen for decades.
So perhaps we are seeing the supply base finally returning to making the kind of investment in innovation that has been absent since the global financial crisis, when suppliers had to cut costs drastically, and pull back hard on development for their OEM customers. I think it is just another pointer to the expertise, imagination and intellectual investment that OEMs might disregard at their peril, and to their cost.
For information on the SsangYong Range please click here