Automakers target hot-selling SUV segment

The Maserati Levante has the brand’s aggressive front but also introduces new, tapered headlights separated into two elements, with the upper headlight unit connected to the radiator grille.Photo credit: MASERATI

Automakers will debut their latest SUVs and crossovers at this year’s Geneva auto show in an effort to win more sales in Europe’s fastest-growing mainstream segment.

Masarati takes aim at the lucrative sporty luxury SUV market with its Levante, while Audi seeks to win affluent young buyers with the Q2 small crossover. Three Volkswagen Group brands will debut SUVs. The core VW marque will show a subcompact crossover concept while Skoda previews a potential seven-seat large SUV and Seat will unveil the compact-sized Ateca, its first SUV.

Toyota expands its SUV lineup with a production version of the CH-R concept seen at recent auto shows

SUV sales in Europe increased 22 percent to 3.05 million units last year, according to data from JATO Dynamics, outpacing the overall market’s 8.1 percent increase to 13.7 million. SUVs and crossovers accounted for 22 percent of all European passenger vehicle sales, up from 20 percent in 2014 and 17 percent in 2013.

Supercars will also take center stage in Geneva, with the Bugatti Chiron — billed as the world’s fastest production sports car — likely to be the showstopper. Other automakers debuting high-performance models will be Lamborghini, Aston Martin and Jaguar.

The show’s press days are March 1 and 2. Here are some key debuts:

Alfa Romeo

Alfa is expected to unveil the everyday versions of its key Giulia midsize car after the Giulia Quadrifoglio, the sedan’s range-topping version, had its public debut at the Frankfurt show in September. The Giulia is likely to be shown with a 2.0-liter gasoline powerplant, which will be the entry-level engine, and a 2.2-liter diesel version. Deliveries of the Quadrifoglio and the diesel variants to Italian dealers are scheduled to begin by late May or early July. The Giulia Quadrifoglio has a Ferrari-derived 505-hp twin-turbocharged V-6 engine. The Giulia with the 2.0-liter gasoline is due in Europe by the end of the year. U.S. sales of the Giulia Quadrifoglio will begin in the third quarter, with other versions arriving in U.S. showrooms in late 2016.

Aston Martin

Aston Martin’s new DB11 coupe will kick-start a product offensive at the British sports car brand, which has struggled since Ford Motor Co. sold it to an investors’ consortium in 2007. The DB11 debuts an all-new aluminum platform that will underpin future Astons, along with a V-12 engine that uses turbocharging for the first time in a production Aston model.

Audi

The Q2 that debuts in Geneva will be Audi’s entry-level SUV, sitting below the Q3. Its sporty styling is designed to attract younger buyers. Unlike the Q3, the subcompact-sized Q2 is not likely to be sold in the U.S. because it’s too small for most American buyers.

BMW

BMW will unveil the 600-hp M760Li xDrive, the flagship of its new 7-series range. The all-wheel-drive sedan is powered by a twin-turbocharged 6.6-liter V-12 engine and gets slight exterior tweaks. BMW also will show the 740e iPerformance, a plug-in hybrid 7 series.

Bugatti

The Chiron replaces the brand’s sole model, the Veyron. Bugatti says the Chiron will be the world’s “most powerful, fastest, most luxurious and most exclusive production super sports car,” although the brand is not disclosing performance details until the Geneva reveal. Motoring press reports say the car is likely to get an upgraded version of the Veyron’s 1,200-hp engine with performance boosted to at least 1,340 hp.

Ferrari

The GTC4Lusso is a face-lifted FF with a new name, a more powerful engine and exterior design tweaks to give it a more streamlined look. The FF was Ferrari’s first car with all-wheel drive. Rear-wheel steering is now added to improve high-speed stability and cornering maneuverability. The GTC4Lusso has the same 6.3-liter V-12 engine as the FF, but horsepower has been increased by 30 hp to 680 hp.

Ford

Ford is expanding its upscale Vignale trim line currently offered only on the Mondeo midsize sedan, the automaker’s European version of the Fusion. The S-Max large minivan is getting a Vignale variant and Ford is expected to announce in Geneva that its European Edge SUV will have the trim line. Vignale models are finished in luxury materials and sold in dedicated “Vignale Lounge” areas in selected European showrooms. Ford and its mass-market rivals are promoting upscale trim lines in Europe in an effort to prevent customers from switching to premium brands.

Fiat

After focusing on expanding its 500 minicar lineup in recent years, Fiat turns its attention to the compact segment. The brand will debut the Tipo hatchback and wagon. The Tipo will be positioned in Europe as an affordable, roomy, five-door car at the lower end of the segment, replacing the Bravo.

Honda

Honda will show a near-production prototype for the next-generation Civic hatchback. Unlike the current Civic hatchback, the new compact car will be built on a global platform, which will allow it to be exported to worldwide markets, including the U.S., from Honda’s factory in Swindon, England. The five-door model will be rolled out globally next year. The concept has sporty styling tweaks such as central twin exhaust pipes and a swooping roof that may make it onto a high-performance Civic Type R that will be sold in the U.S.

Hyundai

Hyundai will give its Ioniq hybrid car its auto show debut in Geneva. With the Ioniq, Hyundai aims to gain traction in the alternative-powertrain segment dominated by the Toyota Prius. The five-door Ioniq will go on sale in the U.S. in the fourth quarter. It will be sold in three electrified versions: a traditional hybrid and an all-electric variant at launch and a plug-in hybrid later.

Jaguar

Jaguar has given the F-Type sports car a performance upgrade. The F-Type SVR gets more horsepower and a top speed of 322kph (200 mph) from an upgraded version of Jaguar’s 5.0-liter supercharged V-8 engine. The two-seat model is the first series production Jaguar car to be developed by Jaguar Land Rover’s Special Vehicle Operations unit.

Lamborghini

To mark the centenary of founder Ferruccio Lamborghini’s birth, the supercar maker has developed the limited-run Centenario. Lamborghini hasn’t released any specifications for the model, but reports have said it is based on the Aventador midengine coupe and powered by the brand’s 6.5-liter V-12 engine with horsepower upgraded to 759 hp from 690 hp. Lamborghini will build just 40 units — 20 coupes and 20 convertibles. All have already been sold to brand enthusiasts despite a price tag of $2.5 million, according to motoring press reports.

Kia

Kia is launching a wagon version of its Optima. The Optima Sportswagon is the brand’s first midsize wagon. It will compete in Europe against cars such as the Volkswagen Passat and Ford Mondeo wagons in the key business fleet sector. The Sportswagon retains the same width and length as the saloon but is 5mm taller to accommodate the expanded trunk. Kia plans to begin sales across Europe in the fourth quarter.

Lexus

Lexus will unveil the LC 500h, the hybrid version of its LC flagship coupe. The car is equipped with Lexus’ next-generation hybrid powertrain, which the brand says has better performance, improved fuel efficiency and enhanced driving dynamics. Lexus unveiled the LC 500 at the Detroit show in January. The coupe is likely to go on sale next year as an image booster to strengthen Lexus against its German luxury rivals.

Maserati

Maserati will enter the rapidly growing segment of luxury crossovers with the Levante, a Porsche Cayenne rival. The Levante will have all-wheel drive and off-road capability, but its main appeal will be its sporty handling. The Levante will have front-end styling inspired by the much-praised Alfieri sports car concept unveiled in Geneva in 2014, reports said. A plug-in hybrid variant also is being developed.

Mercedes-Benz

The Mercedes-Benz C class gets a convertible version for the first time. It will have a fabric folding roof. The convertible will go on sale later this year.

Opel

The Opel GT concept for a small sports coupe showcases the General Motors division’s desire to bring more emotional appeal to its European range. Opel denied German media reports that a production version is planned as an image booster. The concept’s front grille with wing-like chrome lines likely will appear soon on new Opels, starting with the Insignia successor, but other features such as electric touch pads that replace door handles and rearward-looking cameras instead of side mirrors may be farther off. Opel’s other debut is the Mokka X, a face-lifted version of the Mokka subcompact SUV. The Mokka X’s redesigned grille and front and rear lights are likely to appear on the Buick Encore, the Mokka’s U.S. sister model.

Porsche

Porsche will debut its 718 Boxster roadster in Geneva. It is renaming the Boxster roadster and Cayman coupe to mark a switch to turbocharged engines, along with a fresh styling that gives the models a wider and more sculptural profile. The sibling midengine sports cars will now be called the 718 Boxster and 718 Cayman. The 718 designation harks back to the 718 racecars built by Porsche between 1957 and 1962. The 718 Cayman will appear at the Beijing auto show in April.

Renault

Renault has given its Scenic compact minivan a fresh, more appealing design to woo family buyers away from trendy SUVs and crossovers. The latest-generation Scenic is underpinned by Renault-Nissan’s CMF-C/D modular platform like its sibling, the new Megane compact hatchback. The Scenia will have five- and seven-seat versions. The Scenic likely will offer advanced safety equipment and connectivity features such as four-wheel steering and a color head-up display. The new Scenic will reach showrooms toward the end of 2016.

Seat

The Ateca is Seat’s first SUV. The compact model shares VW Group’s MQB platform with the VW Tiguan, but it has a more muscular styling highlighted by sharp creases in the side panels. Seat says the 4360mm-long Ateca is among the roomiest SUVs in its segment. Its lightweight, stiff body shell makes it agile to drive, Seat said. It is the first Seat to have wireless smartphone charging. The Ateca will expand Seat’s lineup to cover 80 percent of Europe’s auto market, up from 50 percent now.

Skoda

Skoda plans to expand its SUV offerings with a new model that will rival vehicles such as the Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento. VW Group’s Czech brand will unveil the VisionS large SUV concept. The seven-seat model shows how the brand’s second SUV that would sit above the Yeti could look.

Subaru

Subaru will debut the XV Concept as a preview of its next-generation XV compact crossover, sold in the U.S. as the Crosstrek and Crosstrek Hybrid. The next-generation Impreza, on which the Crosstrek is based, enters production at Subaru’s Indiana factory later this year. The redone Crosstrek is expected to follow in 2018.

Toyota

Toyota will broaden its SUV/crossover range with a production version of the C-HR concept that has been seen at recent auto shows. The production car is expected to retain much of the concept’s distinctive chiseled, angular styling.

Volkswagen

Volkswagen is expected to debut a subcompact crossover that will sit below the Tiguan in Europe. It is unlikely to be sold in the U.S.

Volvo

With the V90, Volvo shows its commitment to station wagons. Despite the boom in SUVs and crossovers, wagons are key in Europe’s premium-car market. Wagons accounted for 50 percent of total large premium vehicle sales in the region last year compared with 44 percent for sedans and hatchbacks and 6 percent for coupes and convertibles, according to JATO Dynamics. Volvo says it has focused on making it easier to put items in the V90 with the help of a power tailgate and a low loading height. European deliveries of the V90 will start in the summer shortly after its sibling model, the S90 flagship sedan, arrives in showrooms. The V90 will go on sale in the U.S. before the end of the year. Along with diesel and gasoline variants, a plug-in hybrid version is planned.

Luca Ciferri, Nick Gibbs, Douglas A. Bolduc, Hans Greimel, David Undercoffler, Amy Wilson and Gabe Nelson contributed to this report.