This year’s two press preview days at the Geneva Auto Show were like high school all over again, but on a corporate level: There was the popular crowd — big international carmakers and noted specialty market players — introducing their latest vehicles on the first day with the fanfare and production value of a rock concert; while the second day was left over for the beanie-wearing boutique manufacturers lucky to have a podium and press conference time slot at all, but pushing hard to get in with the cool kids.
It was a big year for world debuts relevant to North America, but many fascinating new models were unveiled in Geneva that will likely never make it to the U.S., where stricter federal safety and emissions laws become a barrier to small firms who can’t afford the hundreds of thousands — and sometimes millions — of dollars required for developing and testing expensive emissions and safety equipment for their vehicles.
Here’s a sampling of oddballs unveiled at this year’s Geneva Auto Show that are intriguing enough to merit a closer look, even if they never make it to North America:
Penned by designer extraordinaire Henrik Fisker — famous among automotive industry watchers for creating the stunning and timeless look of the Aston Martin DB9 and V8 Vantage and BMW Z8 — the Artega is a new car from a new German company, that aims to build high-performance sports cars for everyday use. The two-seat 2008 Artega uses a 3.6-liter Volkswagen-sourced V6 and that company’s well-regarded DSG twin-clutch gearbox to get its 300 hp to the ground via the rear wheels. The body is immaculately proportioned, with a footprint about the size of the petite Lotus Elise, but with a sultry silhouette that resembles a Porsche Cayman that magically shrunk in all the right places. This is almost a move downmarket for Fisker, who works on his own rebodied BMW 6 Series and Mercedes-Benz SLs, which he calls the Latigo CS and Tramonto, respectively.
Dutch company Carver revealed what it calls “the world’s first commercially available self-balancing, tilting, three-wheeled vehicle.” This contraption is part motorcycle, part car, and all about thrills over practicality. Its bike-like single front wheel guides an enclosed body with a door for the driver/rider and a space directly behind for a passenger (preferably someone small). When the pilot of the Carver turns the steering wheel, the front wheel and body bank into the turn, just like a motorcycle, while the rear end is kept planted by two wheels at the back that do a grown-up, high-speed imitation of training wheels. The Carver One has a removable roof panel and is powered by a tiny, 660-cubic-centimeter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, putting out 68 hp and 74 pound-feet of torque. Carver plans to produce 500 models per year and estimates a basic cost of about 30,000 Euros, or roughly $39,000.
Gumpert Apollo Sport
German manufacturer Gumpert, founded by Roland Gumpert, the former head of Audi Sport, hit the scene at the 2006 Geneva show with its first model, the Apollo, a high-performing, street-legal (not in the U.S.), mid-engine supercar powered by a 4.2-liter Audi V8 engine. This year Gumpert follows up its initial offering with the Apollo Sport. The design features a fixed rear wing and more aggressive body that looks like a race car straight out of the FIA GT European supercar series. The Apollo Sport features an 800-hp twin-turbo 4.2-liter V8, to go along with gullwing doors that flip up on their roof-mounted hinges. The 0-62 mph run is reported at an insane three seconds flat, with a top track speed of 224 mph.
Swiss firm Peraves calls its country the “home of the cabin motorcycle” and is positioning its new Monotracer as a modernized version of a vehicle type that has tooled about the mountainous roads of its country for nearly 20 years. The vehicle’s futuristic monocoque body is composed of glass, Kevlar and carbon-weave bonded together and reinforced with aluminum roll bars. Powering the two-wheeler is an inline four-cylinder engine putting out 130 hp, which gives the Monotracer a 0-62 mph time of 5.7 seconds. Its driver uses handlebars similar to a motorcycle’s; air-conditioning and other basic amenities are optional. A low curb weight of about 1,000 pounds helps the Monotracer attain a healthy 57 mpg at a constant 56 mph, the company says. Europeans will be able to purchase the vehicle for a base price of 52,500 Euros, or about $68,850.
In its third collaboration with one of the largest plastics producers in the world, Bayer MaterialScience AG, Swiss manufacturer Rinspeed has come up with this drivable “glass” car that features an aluminum frame with a clear plastic body and floor. Powered by a 150-hp two-cylinder engine, which, oddly, sits above the transmission, this car’s power-to-weight ratio puts it in line with the likes of a Porsche. The two-seat eXasis’ insect-like yellow body with exposed wheels was built by Swiss engineering specialists Esoro and houses a lightweight Weber engine that runs on ethanol, a fuel derived from renewable natural resources. The rear-wheel-drive car with a six-speed sequential-manual gearbox features a top speed of 130 mph and a 0-62 mph time of 4.8 seconds.
The Spanish company A. D. Tramontana created this carbon-fiber road missile as a melding of Formula One cars and fighter planes. With a twin-turbo V12 engine that puts out 720 hp, it’s about as powerful as a race car. The company says the Tramontana was “modeled on the streamlined curves of the Costa Brava’s winds.” A concept version of the Tramontana was shown at the Geneva Auto Show two years ago. The full production version unveiled this year will go on sale this summer in Europe. Typical of European haute couture cars, prices were not part of the announcement. But judging from production that’s said to be limited to 12 vehicles a year — plus an interior treated with gold, silver and platinum accents, as well as stainless steel, exotic leathers and specially treated wood — the Tramontana will be priced such that those who can afford it probably won’t even be asking, “How much?”