It was the big brands that underdelivered at the 89th edition of Europe’s most important auto show

The Geneva Auto Show is the first and, arguably, the most important European car show of the season and, in 2019, it was unusually crowded with supercars and hypercars. Some were electric, some still moved by virtue of the good old combustion engine, but what was abundantly clear was that boutique manufacturers and coachbuilders-turned-automakers were out to steal the show and shade the giants. And that they did.

While other once-great auto shows have disappeared – take the Turin Auto Show as pertinent example – or have faded as years rolled by, like the London Auto Show, the Geneva Auto Show is as lively as ever. Granted, Ford, Volvo, Land Rover, and Jaguar elected to skip the Swiss show to save some cash, but almost everybody else was there - plus there was a healthy dose of smaller automakers.

The likes of Bugatti or Koenigsegg, manufacturers that are by no means small but that will never come forth with a genuine product for the masses, were also on site. The ones in the latter category stole many of the flashes from cameras and pundits dedicated long pieces to their extravagant lines and mind-bending spec sheets. Nobody from the established group of players in the exclusive supercar club had a proper answer to the small guys this year.

How Did the 2019 Geneva Auto Show Actually Look?

When you take an event and decide to write about it, to express your opinion on it, you first have to choose a point of view. It’s the same thing that happens when you’re about to take a picture of something; you move around trying to find the optimal viewpoint or, maybe, the viewpoint that best fits your needs. In this case, the even is the 89th edition of the Geneva Auto Show that will close its doors this Sunday, March the 17th. We were there when the doors of the Palexpo first opened up to the countless journalists and photographers last week and, now, after many articles on all the hot stuff from Switzerland we can look back and pick that all-important viewpoint.

Of course, there are plenty to choose from given the size of the Geneva Auto Show and the variety of stories it spawned. You could, for instance, talk about what wasn’t there instead of discussing what was. Ford skipped the show, and that meant the Europeans are still yet to see the 2020 Mustang Shelby GT500 in the flesh or the new Focus ST. Land Rover and Jaguar also left some unfilled spaces in the main hall in spite of the fact that Jaguar’s I-Pace won the European Car of the Year award. Volvo wasn’t to be seen either, although Polestar did make the trip to Geneva and for a good cause: the awesome Polestar 2. Apparently, Volvo had nothing new to bring and, as such, elected to skip the show and save some money in the process. The same goes for Opel but, I guess, nobody really noticed the German automaker’s absence.

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Then there’s the topic of whatever the show had to offer in terms of electric cars. It’s an obvious one, and we did see a fair chunk of EVs of the more affordable variety. Honda previewed a cool-looking city car in the e Prototype, effectively a more down-to-Earth version of the Urban EV concept that’s 98% identical to what we’ll see on the streets in 2020. Fiat was sort of on the same page with the quirky Fiat Centoventi that boasts an intriguing modular interior.

There were also other, bigger, EVs like the ministerial-looking Lagonda crossover or the less eye-catching ’Imagine by Kia’ prototype with its collection of screens on the dash put there for a laugh.

But I won’t touch on any of these although some EVs will feature prominently down below.

That's because I think a discussion on how boutique manufacturers and other coachbuilders flexed their muscles in the faces of the established band made up of Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Maserati, and the rest is worthy of a write-up.

It Wasn’t Ferrari or Lamborghini that Impressed Everyone at the 2019 Geneva Auto Show

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Both of Italy’s most famous supercar makers came to Geneva with hot stuff, but neither was able to stun the attendance. Yes, some even more aggressive-looking Lambos were on display and Ferrari up and decided to replace the 488 GTB with an even better mousetrap but a mousetrap still based on an old architecture. But before I delve into what the ’establishment’ had to offer, let’s see what the smaller names trailered into Switzerland.

First off, Bugatti. Yes, I hear you, Bugatti isn’t some underdog. I mean, a company that currently builds what may be the fastest car in the world and that stood at the top of the speed charts first with the Veyron and then with the Veyron Super Sport can’t be considered small.

But, then again, Bugatti is still a one-horse manufacturer although it's expanding.

The Chiron spawned the ludicrous Divo and, at Geneva, the company unveiled La Voiture Noire, the most expensive new car in the world with a price tag of $12.4 million before taxes. It does have an owner, and it is unique (some say it ended up in the Piech family, but we can’t vouch for that) and it opens a bit of a Pandora’s box.

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Will Bugatti build more one-offs if folks rich enough will come forth to commission them? With ex-Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann at the helm, I reckon it can happen. It wouldn’t be particularly hard for Bugatti to do it either as La Voiture Noire is a re-bodied Chiron at the end of the day (featuring the same quad-turbocharged, 8.0-liter W-16 engine that puts out 1,479 horsepower and 1,180 pound-feet of torque). The design channels in a futuristic way the long-lost Bugatti Type 57SC chassis #57453. This car, the second of four Type 57S Atlantics ever made was probably lost during World War II because the last mention of it dates back to 1941. If, however, this mother of all barn finds will be unearthed, be sure it will fetch an obscene amount of money at auction.

The builder of the current fastest car in the world, Koenigsegg, was also present.

The Swedish automaker halted the production of the Agera last year and proceeded to unveil at the Geneva show its replacement: the Jesko. Named this way as a tribute to Christian Von Koenigsegg’s father, the Jesko takes the Agera’s design one step further (with the familiar roof, windscreen, and side window arrangement still in place) and introduces an innovative transmission.

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The gearbox is a nine-speed unit with seven clutches that does away with synchronizer rings allowing you to shift from any gear to any gear without losing momentum or risking to spill your gearbox on the tarmac. The wet-clutch gearbox in the Jesko allows two types of shifting: one drops a single gear, while the second directly engages the optimal ratio for maximum acceleration. Called ’Koenigsegg Light Speed Transmission,’ it is lighter than a DCT at just 198 pounds. The crankshaft is also the lightest in any production car at 27.5 pounds (the Jesko features a flat-plane crank), and this adds up with the whole car tipping the scales at just 3,086 pounds. On usual gas, the familiar twin-turbocharged, 5.0-liter V-8 engine puts out 1,262 horsepower and 738 pound-feet of torque. Feed the Jesko with E85 biofuel and power goes up to 1,578 horsepower, 99 over a Chiron. A Jesko 300 version is coming that should hit 300 mph thanks to a special aerodynamic kit.

Both of the cars I’ve mentioned above churn out a lot of power. But Italy’s Pininfarina Battista goes above and beyond thanks to an electric drivetrain borrowed from Rimac (who were also present with a repainted C_Two).

You may know Pininfarina as a design house but it's now also a car maker, and its first product is the Battista, named in honor of the company's founder.

If you squint your eyes it sort of looks like a Ferrari, but it goes quicker than any Prancing Horse ever made.

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That’s because under that slick body with clever active wings in the rear there’s quite the powerhouse. You see, the Battista boasts 1,900 horsepower and 1,696 pound-feet of torque. It can go, according to its creator, from 0 to 62 mph in less than two seconds and on to 186 mph in barely 12 seconds. Top speed is 250 mph, ten down on the Rimac because, well, the Croatians weren’t going to play second fiddle after they did all the work developing the drivetrain. The juice is delivered from a 120 kWh lithium-ion battery pack that can be fast-charged to 80% in just 20 minutes. 300 miles on a charge is how far the Battista can go, and it’s nothing short of impressive.

Other coachbuilders with their homework ready for Geneva were Italdesign Touring Superleggera. The former unveiled a four-seat grand tourer with butterfly doors named DaVinci. It’s a good looking car that can host both a traditional ICE drivetrain as well as an electric one being designed to house one electric motor in the front and one in the rear. The show car, however, was fitted with a V-8.

Superleggera, the company that built in the ’60s many legendary cars like the Maserati 3500 GT, the Aston Martin DB5, and the Lamborghini 350GT, reminded us it’s still in business with the Sciadipersia Cabriolet. Last year, the Sciadipersia Coupe was presented, and the open-top version looks just as distinguished and classy. It has to be, though, because its name translates to ’Shah of Iran’ in English, so it’s a car fit for kings and heads of state. There’s quite a bit of chrome on the outside for a car of its kind, but we get Touring’s wish to underline its luxurious appeal: only 15 will be built, and they’ll be expensive although we don’t know just how expensive at the moment.

The Sciadipersia Cabriolet is powered by a naturally aspirated V-8 engine good enough for 468 horsepower.

It’s not going to turn the world on its head, but that’s the job of the styling anyway.

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Moving away from coachbuilders, others tried to grab some headlines with their sporty creations. British automaker Ginetta unveiled its first new front-engined car since the diminutive G40. It features the nose and rear wing from the company’s P1 racer and enough underbody aero and winglets to keep it pointing straight at 200 mph. Its name? Akula - Russian for ’shark’ and the name of some Cold War-era Soviet submarines. You may dislike the sharp nose, but the design is purposeful. After all, it has to be because the Akula is urged on by a naturally aspirated, 6.0-liter V-8 capable of 600 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. That’s nice but what’s nicer is that, when you purchase an Akula, you get a full-blown training course with a professional driver as well as the chance to drive some proper Ginetta race cars.

Also making the trip from the U.K. was Morgan. The formerly-family-owned operation came to Geneva to take the wraps off another retro-chic car: the Plus Six. In pure Morgan tradition, it still looks like a sports car manufactured sometime after World War II, but 21st-century technology abounds under the skin. The engine, for instance, is the one from the Supra or the European BMW Z4 M40i, namely a twin-turbocharged, 3.0-liter inline-six. It puts out 335 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque that translate to a 0 to 60 mph time of 4.2 seconds, 0.1 seconds quicker than the Supra. Top speed is 166 mph, and the whole car weighs just 2,370 pounds thanks to an aluminum bonded chassis.

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I also want to mention three other cars. All three are electric(ish) and, to me, two of them are actually quite similar, at least in terms of philosophy. First off, the Piech Mark Zero, a sports car from the company founded by Ferdinand Piech’s son. The car looks nice with just enough Aston Martin cues to make it good looking without giving the impression of a copycat. WIth three electric motors onboard, the Mark Zero should have a combined output of over 600 horsepower although the exact number is unknown. That’s because Piech’s emphasis fell on efficiency and battery tech.

We know that the Mark Zero can go 311 miles on a charge and, while that's already quite impressive, what's astonishing is the company's claim that, through fast-charging technology, 80% of the battery's energy can be replenished in just four minutes and 40 seconds - the fastest time of any EV out there in the whole wide world!

Secondly, take a moment and look at the Puritalia Berlinetta. It’s a hybrid (hence the ’ish’ in my previous statement that all three of these cars are electric) and it has the face of a bewildered Alfa Romeo 8C. But there’s nothing puzzling about the stats. Puritalia says that the combo of a Ford-sourced engine and a Yasa-built electric motor is enough for 951 horsepower and 920 pound-feet of torque. From 0 to 62 mph you only need to wait 2.7 seconds, 0.5 seconds less than if you were driving a Piech, and top speed is 208 mph (the Piech won’t exceed 155 mph). The catch is that the Puritalia can only cover a meager 12.4 miles in all-electric mode. Let’s hope the company won’t vanish the same way it did after unveiling the 427.

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The last car that, in my mind, shaded most anything that came from the established brands was the Hispano-Suiza Carmen. It’s not the first car to bear a female name (anyone remembers the Pontiac Catalina?), but it’s surely the most striking. Hispano-Suiza goes back all the way to the early days of motoring but, other than a GT racing concept unveiled in the early ’00s; the company has been off the radar for the better part of 70 years. The Carmen aims to change that.

For those of you that are now confused because they heard about the Maguari HS1 GTC which is also made by a company called ’Hispano-Suiza’, let me clear the confusion for you: the Carmen will be built by Hispano Suiza Cars, part of a Spanish conglomerate called Grup Peralada that also built that GT racer and allowed SunRed to actually race it under its own name. The Maguari HS1 GTC, on the other hand, is the brainchild of Hispano Suiza Automobilmanufaktur AG. While the Maguari looks modern (and a bit too extreme for my liking), the Carmen echoes the Art Deco styling of pre-War automobiles. However, there’s nothing pre-War in the way it goes.

With a fully-electric drivetrain delivering 1,000 horsepower, the car can accelerate from naught to 62 mph in under three seconds all the way to an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph.

It can surely go quicker if allowed to because it’s quite light as a result of the heavy usage of carbon fiber in the construction of the chassis and body panels.

The 2020 Ferrari F8 Tributo and its Friends Didn’t Cut It

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After talking so much about what the coachbuilders and smaller manufacturers had on display, let’s move on to the folks that actually build more than a handful of cars this year. Of course, you’ve got to start by talking about the Ferrari F8 Tributo. By virtue of being a new Ferrari, it earned its spot at the top of many automotive websites including this one but, in my book, it’s not as impressive as it could’ve been.

To begin with, the architecture is largely carried over from the 488 GTB which, in turn, featured similar underpinnings to the 458 Italia.

But Ferrari's focus laid elsewhere as the F8 Tributo is the stopgap to a new design language for Ferrari.

You can see it’s somewhat inspired by the 488 Pista, but it’s edgier everywhere, and the rear end is also different with four circular taillights instead of two.

Why I think it’s underwhelming is because we were all waiting for that hybrid drivetrain and the F8 Tributo doesn’t have it. It’s also not that big of a departure from the 488 GTB for one to hail it as ’revolutionary’ in the looks department. I am actually of the opinion that the rear half of the car as seen from the side actually looks worse in comparison to the 488 Pista. But what’s undeniable is that it will be a terrific road car with brain-numbing performance. The engine, a 4.0-liter V-8 producing 710 horsepower and 568 pound-feet of torque is basically from the Pista. It makes the Tributo go from 0 to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds, while top speed is 211 mph.

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Lamborghini didn’t bring an entirely new model, but it did have two versions of existing models that are ready for the summer: the Huracan Evo Spyder and the Aventador SVJ Roadster. The latter is cool because it’s almost as potent as the coupe version, but the Huracan Evo Spyder is a bit of a letdown. I’ve explained in the piece you’ll find by clicking on its name that the Evo isn’t much of an improvement over the Performante Spyder launched at Geneva last year. Effectively, the Evo puts out nine more horsepower than the Performante Spyder but, otherwise, the two are roughly even stevens in terms of performance. But the Evo is the better deal because it costs $20,000 less with an MSRP of $287,400 compared to $308,859 for a Performante Spyder.

McLaren and Mercedes-Benz played the same part as Lamborghini and graced the Geneva floors with a roofless version of existing models, the AMG GT-R and, respectively, the 720S. Both are great cars, but there was nothing genuinely new from these two automakers although McLaren did let a few words out about a new grand tourer it’s cooking, and that could be cool.

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Aston-Martin, by my reckoning, was the established brand that put in the most effort this year but, in the grand scheme of things, it didn't impress me all that much.

Why, you may ask, when they wowed the crowds with two new models, the mid-engine Vanquish concept and the AM-RB 003. Look at the Valkyrie and you’ll get why. Both of those cars are basically downsized Valkyries, and that’s sad. I just hope Aston Martin’s new-found desire to build mid-engined cars won’t see a whole fleet of baby Valkyries coming to showrooms.

I can’t sign off this piece without mentioning, albeit fleetingly, a few other important names. The once great Maserati company keeps us waiting for a replacement for the geriatric GranTurismo and, instead, showed off a few cheeky versions of the Levante SUV at Geneva. Porsche also didn’t plan on gathering a crowd at its stand. The Germans had the new 992-generation 911 Cabriolet there, but the highly-awaited Taycan will only come in September, so not many people were overjoyed at seeing the 911 ready for hot weather.

What Does All This Mean?

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I really enjoyed seeing all the lesser known brands coming to the fore with their interesting cars at the 89th edition of the Geneva Auto Show. That’s simply because it shows that small-volume manufacturers are still out there and that there’s still a business case for pumping money in new businesses of the same kind (like Piech). It’s awesome in a world of ever-rising costs and ever tougher laws to be talking of so many companies that make really fast, really exciting, and really dramatic cars.

Further reading

2019 Piëch Mark Zero Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2019 Piëch Mark Zero.

2019 Lamborghini Aventador SVJ Roadster
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Read our full review on the 2019 Lamborghini Aventador SVJ Roadster.

2020 Ferrari F8 Tributo
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Read our full review on the 2020 Ferrari F8 Tributo.

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