An industry that was on its knees just five years ago, has fought back with the most stunning supercars to be seen in a long time
Luxury and super sports cars are the order of the day at this year's Geneva Motor Show
The Geneva international motor show has traditionally been a crystal ball for the industry, with concepts and styling exercises to tease, tantalise and traumatise the eyes.
This year, however, it wasn't the concepts that stole the show. Rather, it was the production-ready launches of jaw-dropping supercars and the final word in luxury. The industry has acknowledged the task of reducing CO emissions, studying alternative fuels and hybrids, yet it has still found ways to keep the stuff we love alive and kicking.
Volkswagen introduced the world's most efficient car, the 900cc XL 1 plug-in hybrid that can reach 160kph on the electric motor alone. It does 0-to-100kph in 12.7 seconds and sips a paltry 0.9 litres per 100km (or 314mpg). The two-seater weighs 795kg, runs a seven-speed, dual clutch auto through to its twin-cylinder, 47hp TDI diesel engine and produces zero emissions for up to 50km from its 27hp electric motor.
Yet, with the greatest respect, no one cared, because you can judge the success of a motorshow car by the crowds around it, and the XL 1 was a proverbial barren wasteland compared to the film-star reception cars like the Lamborghini Veneno, McLaren P1 and Ferrari's 963hp LaFerrari received all day long.
Just getting past the velvet rope and onto the Ferrari stand was harder than sneaking through the door of an LA nightclub after the Oscars. You needed to know people.
Oddly named, the Ferrari LaFerrari won the day for crowd pulling muscle and, according to the company president, Luca di Montezemolo, they have already taken 700 paid deposits from invited Ferrari owners. The problem is that they are only building 499 units, making it "tough for us to make the right choice" as to who will eventually get to own one, according to Montezemolo.
Owners will visit the factory for a seat fitting and the seat will be fixed to offer an F1-like driving position developed by Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, with an adjustable steering column and pedal box.
The big news, of course, is that this is the first hybrid Ferrari to use the combination of a 6.3L V12 mated to an F1-developed KERS system. Unlike most hybrids, the LaFerrari won't run on electric power only, as the company says it doesn't fit the mandate for an Enzo successor, but it hasn't ruled out electric-only drive in future Ferraris such as the FF and the California.
Developing 800hp at an ear-splitting 9,250rpm, the V12 is the most powerful road car engine the company has built - before it's mated to a 125hp electric motor. When combined, the car develops 900Nm of torque and produces 50 per cent fewer emissions than the Enzo.
Ferrari's age-old nemesis, Lamborghini, couldn't let the Scuderia grab all the limelight and very nearly rained on its parade when it surprised the assembled media by unveiling the outrageously styled, Dh14.9million Veneno.
Just four will be built, with the show car staying at the factory, while the remaining three have already been sold. Each of the three 750hp, 6.5L, V12 monsters will be painted in either red, white or green to represent the Italian colours and, according to hushed whispers, two will go to the United States with the third finding home in the Middle East, most likely Saudi Arabia.
Entirely made from carbonfibre and weighing in at just 1,450kg (which is 125kg lighter than the Aventador), the company claims it accelerates from zero to 100kph in just 2.8 seconds and has a 355kph top end. Publicly, Veneno was built to celebrate Lamborghini's 50th anniversary, though there's little doubt that an under riding theme was a nose in the air to LaFerrari.
Whichever way you cut it, the raging bull has developed a car that will, in time, be worth considerably more than Ferrari's flagship due to its rarity.
The luxury grand tourer sector received an exciting new player in the form of the Rolls-Royce Wraith. Based on the Ghost, the Wraith is the most powerful production car in the company's 108-year history and, while the obvious comparison to the Bentley Continental GT was brought up, it was batted away by both sides, claiming that they are targeting different buyers.
To keep its velvety ride, Rolls-Royce has employed clever technology to reduce the number of gear changes by being able to read the conditions ahead using GPS data. Called "Satellite Aided Transmission", it uses GPS info to anticipate a driver's next move based on location and the driving style. Corners, highways, roundabouts and junctions are all anticipated in advance.
With 624hp on hand, it will get to 100kph from rest in 4.6 seconds and, while local pricing is yet to be announced, it will retail for €245,000 in Europe (Dh1.17million).
Farther down the scale and closer to reality, Mercedes debuted its foray into the hot hatch market with the release of the A45 AMG. With 355hp from a 2.0L turbocharged engine, the A45 achieves the highest specific output of any 2.0L engine fitted to a production car. It is the most powerful hot hatch ever, capable of 0-to-100kph in 4.6 seconds, and should cost around Dh200,000 when it lands here after the summer.
Mercedes Middle East expects to win over new customers to the brand most notably from Audi and BMW. However, when it comes to hot hatches, the VW Golf GTI is still king, helped in no small part by the Golf being announced as the 2013 Car of the Year on the eve of the press day in Geneva.
For the first time it will be available with two power options, comprising the standard 217hp version and the GTI Performance, which includes a front axle diff lock and punches out 227hp.
Both develop 350Nm of torque but, where the standard version gets to 100kph from rest in 6.5 seconds and reaches 246kph, the performance version does it in 6.4 seconds and touches 250. Aside from the traditional red brake callipers, the exterior gets 17-inch alloy wheels on 225/45 tyres, unique side sills, a diffuser and smoked LED tail lights. Priced at €28,350 in Europe, it goes on sale immediately.
However, the perfect compromise between high-end supercars - which seemed to be the theme of the show - and more affordable sports motoring, came via the stunning Alfa Romeo 4C. With styling that lies somewhere between a Lotus Elise and a Ferrari 458 Italia, the mid-engined, rear-wheel drive baby Alfa is being built at Maserati's Modena plant, and will also spearhead the company's return to the US market.
The limited build 4C immediately brings to mind some of the traditional, iconic models from the company's past, including the 33 Stradale that still gains recognition 45 years after it was unveiled.
Previewed as a concept at the 2011 Geneva show, the 4C uses a carbonfibre monococque tub that weighs 65kg, giving it a total weight of just 850kg, and is powered by a 237hp, 1742cc, turbocharged engine, which will be good enough for 4.5 seconds to 100kph and a (limited) 250kph top speed.
This scaled down supercar has been confirmed for the Middle East, either towards the end of the year or in early 2014, with pricing of more than Dh230,000.