Car makers keen to exploit niche markets

From the practical to the exotic, this year’s 84th Geneva International Motor Show will witness a host of hot debuts.

With core models thriving, manufacturers hope to tap into some profitable new market segments at the Swiss show. Many of the new ideas were put on hold while the industry went through its recent big, bad recession.

Prime examples of the trend are the ground-breaking new BMW van and the hard-core McLaren 650S, which the maker says offers “ultimate performance” mated to “dramatic yet beautiful styling.” The event at the Palexpo convention centre comes only a couple of months after a fireworks display of new models in Detroit.

Geneva is one of the biggest and most important dates in the automotive calendar. The doors open to the public on March 6 and the show runs until March 16.

As usual, the exhibition offers visitors a chance to see dozens of new cars for the very first time as they make their public debut in Switzerland. Some outlandish concepts hint at the future of the automobile.

Grabbing attention will be the face-lifted Volkswagen Polo, which looks more than ever like its big brother, the Golf, the BMW 4-series Gran Coupe and the production version of the opulent Mercedes S-class coupe shown in Detroit.

The sporty two-door Merc S-class is crammed with technology and boasts the ability to lean into curves.

A slightly toned-down version of the preview car shown in Frankfurt, its exclusivity is underlined by exotic features such as an LED lighting system complemented by 47 Swarovski glass crystals.

Fledgling Chinese maker Qoros is bringing the neat five-door Qoros 3 hatchback after unveiling the saloon version at last year’s Geneva show. That car, designed by former Volkswagen and Mini designer Gert Hildebrand, is already selling in Slovakia.

Audi will be showing the third generation of its seminal TT coupe and a ballistic, four-wheel-drive version of the fashionable S1 hatch.

BMW continues to go boldly where it has not gone before with the 2-series Active Tourer, a people carrier.

Like last year’s all-electric i3 introduced in Frankfurt, it is not the kind of car buyers usually expect from the premium German brand.

The 2-series MPV is sprightly and surprisingly elegant to look at. It also offers all the useful features that van owners appreciate, such as plenty of room in a variable interior and a large boot for luggage.

The 4-series Gran Coupe is a five-door version of the standard car with two frameless rear doors. It squares up against Audi’s well-established A5.

The wraps also come off the third generation of Renault’s cheeky hatchback, the Twingo, which will feature an unconventional rear-wheel-drive layout.

Related technically to the Smart Forfour, the Twingo is now a four-door runabout with more than nod in styling terms to the Fiat 500 and an engine at the back, just like the Italian 1950s original.

Power comes from a new three-cylinder unit with either 70 or 90 horsepower. Renault revolutionised the European small-car market in the mid-1990s with the original Twingo, but the days when the French maker shifted more than 200,000 units a year are long gone.

Another throwback to the heyday of the Gallic minicar are the four standard “pop” body colours – bright yellow, red, light blue and white. Both the Twingo and Peugeot’s cute new 108 offer customers a lot of options so that they can personalise these small cars in the same way as customers buying the more expensive Mini or Opel’s Adam.

Along with the McLaren 650S, the high-end market is catered for by the likes of the new baby Lambo, the Huracan, which replaces the Gallardo, the best-selling model in the history of the Raging Bull marque.

Already a hit, the Huracan has racked up 700 orders during Lamborghini’s global VIP preview sessions. The car’s 5.2-litre V10 petrol engine turns out an amazing 610 horsepower to catapult the supercar from 0 to 100 kilometres per hour in about 3.2 seconds.

Skoda’s slinky five-door Viseon C Concept shows just how self-confident the traditionally conservative Czech member of the Volkswagen empire has become.

The Honda Civic Type R Concept is a wide-tracked beast designed to outrun VW’s GTR and GTI hot hatches, while South Korea’s Hyundai Intrado crossover show car features innovative fuel-cell propulsion and dramatic new styling.