x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Gearing up on the world stage

Jack Hammond reports from this week’s biennial motor show, which is playing host to a total of 17 global car model launches and 150 of the world’s biggest automotive brands.

The one-off Meo Costantini special edition of Bugatti’s 1,200hp Grand Sport Vitesse. Pawan Singh / The National
The one-off Meo Costantini special edition of Bugatti’s 1,200hp Grand Sport Vitesse. Pawan Singh / The National

Dubai’s appetite for the extraordinary knows no bounds, something that’s never more apparent than when the automotive industry arrives in town for the biennial International Motor Show.

By international standards, the show is compact. Spread over three main halls of the World Trade Centre, it pales in size to the gargantuan Frankfurt motor show – but it’s a condensed, focused collection of some of the most exclusive, extravagant and elusive cars destined for the UAE.

The 12th edition of the show may be smaller than some, but it packs a punch. Of the 150 companies present, there are 17 global launches, 76 regional launches and 15 concept car unveilings at the show. That’s far more than there were in 2011, when the show was last in Dubai, and a sign of the growing importance of the UAE and wider GCC car industry for major manufacturers.

It’s the first time that the staggering Alfa Romeo 4C coupe has been seen in the UAE, and while the MiTo and Giulietta have been available here for some time, the 4C is a significant return to the UAE for Alfa.

Aston Martin dropped the cloth on four cars that included the CC100 concept car that marks the company’s centenary, and the new V12 Vantage S, and Nissan chose Dubai to stage the international launch of the all-new Patrol, much of which was developed in the UAE desert with the local demands high on its list of design parameters.

GM’s head of global design, Ed Welburn, says: “This show is a very significant show. I love it. I love the Middle East, I love coming to Dubai, I love coming here. This is my third time here, and it’s always ­interesting.”

Welburn is the man responsible for everything that GM designs. He’s the guy to thank for the look and appeal of the 2014 Corvette Stingray, and the man responsible for steering Cadillac, GMC, Chevrolet and Opel through its troubles and back into the black over the past two years.

“Every designer wants to design a Corvette, but only a few have had that opportunity. There’s only been a few of us, and you don’t want to be the guy that screws it up,” he says.

“There’s a lot of pressure in designing a Corvette, but we had a lot of fun with the project. It was not easy. To build on the great history of that car but do it in a contemporary way.”

“We’re busy. You see the product line at Chevrolet, GMC and Cadillac – and with everything you see here, we’re already working on the next generation. We are busier in design now than at any other time in our history. I don’t think that pace will ever slow down. The pace of change is so rapid that design makes a huge difference. It’s hard to have a technological advantage, a fuel economy advantage or even a price advantage for long, so design is important – and the leadership of GM recognises that.”

GM launched the all new GMC Yukon, Cadillac Escalade and Chevrolet Tahoe SUVs in Dubai, three enormous, well-specced people movers that we can expect to see plying the UAE’s roads next year.

“From day one, I said that we had to improve getting in and out of the back seat. That foot room was very tight on the Escalade, Tahoe and Yukon. I wanted a two-inch improvement, and we got it, a bit more actually. A lot of careful engineering, repositioning of the B-pillar, a lot of attention to detail went into achieving that.”

“The Escalade is such an icon for the brand, and is bigger than life in many ways, but we wanted it to be a bit more lean in this generation. It’s big, bold and dramatic, but without being excessive. The face is everything, the shield-shaped grille and crest are new, too, as are the very technical lamps front and rear. In fact, the lamps on the car are very much inspired by contemporary architecture here in Dubai.

The Jaguar C-X17 crossover concept debuted in Frankfurt in October, but the Dubai show car was a more demure silver version with the same well-proportioned bodywork coupled with huge wheels and thin, bespoke tyres. The C-X17 may be a design concept, but it’s based on some very real structural components underneath that skin that will be rolled out on future Jaguar models. The aluminium chassis architecture is entirely new, which gives Jaguar the flexibility to not only create an SUV like the C-X17 concept, but also cars smaller than the current XF sedan. We’re likely to see that small car concept appear at a motor show next year.

Jaguar’s head of advanced design, Julian Thomson, says: “Reaction to the car has been very encouraging. It comes down to two things: people aren’t surprised we’re doing it and they’re able to identify it as a Jaguar. No one has asked why we’re looking at a crossover, so it seems it’s an acceptable direction for us.”

Rolls-Royce has unveiled four special models, including the most expensive car that they’ve ever designed. Rumoured to be valued at more than US$1 million (Dh3.7m), the Celestial Phantom was commissioned by the factory to commemorate the handover of the first Phantom, the first that was introduced under BMW stewardship, to its owner at midnight at the Goodwood factory in the UK on January 1, 2003.

It’s an example of just how far Rolls-Royce is able to push its limits. The starlight headliner has been mapped out with constellations visible from Goodwood that evening, while diamonds have been inlaid, by hand, into the door cappings, centre console lid and the rear privacy divider. The car was sold even before it arrived in Dubai, and has since been shipped to its new owner outside the region. Rolls-Royce wouldn’t disclose exactly where its new home was, or just how much its new owner had spent.

Bugatti continued its roll-out of the Les Légendes De Bugatti one-off versions of the 1,200hp Grand Sport Vitesse. The Meo Costantini is the third of six Légendes models planned and it’s named after the two-time winner of the historic Sicilian endurance race the Targa Florio, who was a close friend of company founder Ettore Bugatti. The Dh10.6m supercar is based largely on the colours and style of Constantini’s 1920s Bugatti Type 35, and follows the launch of two similar models earlier this year; the Jean-Pierre Wimille at Pebble Beach, and the Jean Bugatti (named after Ettore’s son) in September.

BMW’s impressive i8 plug-in hybrid also made its regional debut. The car’s structure is made entirely from carbon fibre and bolted to an aluminium chassis that carries the electric motor up front, and a standard, three-cylinder, turbo petrol engine in the rear. The car has two transmissions: a regular six-speed automatic that feeds power to the rear wheels, and another mated to the electric motor up front to deliver power to the pointy end. It’s a two-stage transmission that’s geared to work independently of, or in unison with, the petrol engine.

The car is expected to launch in the UAE early in 2104. Final prices have not yet been decided for the region, but base price in Europe will be €126,000 (Dh625,008), and a fully loaded one with full leather, navigation, 20-inch wheels and head-up display will carry a €14,000 ­premium.

High performance remains a high priority for Porsche, but its regional managing director Christer Ekberg says it must not come at the cost of fuel economy and tailpipe emissions.

Ekberg unveiled the new, 475hp 911 GT3 and the revised, 520hp 911 Turbo, both of which have more power than their predecessors, but also use less fuel and blow out fewer emissions.

“Performance has to come, but it needs to be a balance here. Anybody can build a fast car; if you don’t care about fuel consumption [or] the environment, it’s very easy. But it you want to build a car with this kind of fuel consumption and emissions, you need to think through the whole process,” Ekberg says.

“It’s not a simple thing. Raising power by 30hp and cutting emissions by 16 per cent needs a lot of work.”

To help, Porsche has equipped the new Turbo and Turbo S with adaptive aerodynamics – a first, they say, in a production sports car – and four-wheel steering. The GT3 also gets four-wheel steering, but it’s also equipped with a motorsport-derived PDK gearbox that comes standard for the first time.

• The Dubai International Motor Show continues until tomorrow at the Dubai World Trade Centre

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