As always, the annual Geneva auto show served as the stage for premieres of exotic sports cars, sumptuous luxury automobiles and other-wordly concepts. A few vehicles unveiled, however, were worth taking note of by ordinary American consumers.
Taking a page from Mini, Fiat is extending its line in more than one way. It is adding more versions of the 500, like the sporty Abarth, and the 500L, introduced in Geneva. The L is for large as the 500L is built on a different architecture than the 500 and one that will also be used for a new Jeep. That results it in being wider and three inches longer than the current 500. The Fiat 500L goes on sale in Europe by year-end; it arrives in the U.S. in early 2013.
The Mercedes-Benz A-Class, which hasn't been sold in the U.S. but has been elsewhere for years, received a makeover. The revamp will make it more suitable for the U.S. market where it is headed in 2013. One of the biggest improvements is on the interior, one worthy enough to wear the luxury three-pointed star. On the outside, the little A-Class is sleeker than the boxy model it replaces. The one shown in Geneva isn't identical to what Mercedes will sell in the U.S. but it's close, Mercedes execs assure.
The A-Class will go up against the Audi A3, the third generation of which was unveiled at the Geneva auto show. It goes on sale in Europe this summer and arrives in the U.S. next year. Like the A-Class, the A3 steps it up with luxury amenities, including an upscale audio system, a panoramic glass sunroof and Audi's signature navigation system. Both the A-Class and A3 will be part of a test to see how receptive American consumers are to buying small cars from luxury nameplates like Mercedes and Audi. The BMW 1-Series, already on sale in the U.S., is another contender in the category.
A concept displayed at the Geneva auto show would fit perfectly on American roads and fill a gaping hole in Volkswagen's U.S. product line. The Volkswagen Cross Coupe was unveiled at the 2011 Tokyo auto show, and in Geneva it was shown powered by as a hybrid but with a diesel engine instead of a gasoline one. Volkswagen executives wouldn't confirm for certain that the Cross Coupe concept would go into production and be sold in the U.S. but they sure hinted strongly. It would slot beneath Volkswagen Tiguan and go up against the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V in the fast-growing compact crossover segment.