This is The Weekend Shift, our one-stop weekly roundup of all the most important auto news you missed during the week. The world doesn’t stop just because it’s Saturday. Who says you should sleep in?
1st Gear: I Hear Geneva’s Lovely This Time Of Year
This week marked the start of the annual Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland. As Switzerland professes to be neutral territory, it serves as the big hub for a lot of the European companies to show off their offerings for the earlier part of the year.
We saw cars like the Lamborghini Huracan for the first time, the new Audi TT, the Fiat 695 Biposto, the BMW X4, a sweet Volvo wagon, yet another Pagani Zonda (the Car that Lived), a 3D-printed composite passenger cell, a new SEAT, a new Skoda, a new Opel, a new Honda, a new Apple, a Mini concept, a tacky Mercedes, and everything was orange.
And that was just a little bit of it. But one car is probably more important than all the others.
2nd Gear: Jeep Brings A Renegade
The Jeep Renegade is a tiny little SUV, but it made a bigger splash than any other vehicle at the show. Jeep’s caused some consternation among the old guard as of late, what with the new Cherokee being not the lean truck it used to be. But the Renegade may put all that aside. For the first time in a while, Jeep is offering what appears to be, on paper at least, a small vehicle that’s plenty capable off-road. If you wanted something like that up until now, you really had to settle for a Wrangler. And Wrangler’s aren’t exactly considered very cheap or very small anymore.
The Renegade, based on the Italian Fiat 500L, will come available with four-wheel-drive variants, manual transmissions, and a diesel, for Europe. For the non-enthusiast it’ll come with features like lane-departure warning systems and collision warning systems and many other warning systems besides.
But the reason why it’s so important is that the little Jeep will serve as a test, of sorts, for the American consumer. Will we, the People, buy a small SUV? Recent history says no, but on the other hand, most of those weren’t very good. So maybe it was due to a dearth of desire, the thing which sparks all purchases. We’ll see what happens.
3rd Gear: Van Bonanza
Want a glimmer of hope that the Renegade will live up to the market hype? Let’s look at another segment of captive European imports that have turned a market on its head – vans. Big vans, like the Mercedes Sprinter and Ram Promaster, and smaller vans, like the Nissan NV200 and the Ford Transit Connect, have combined to boost van sales by 40% since 2010.
When the new generation of vans first debuted, they were derided by some fans of the older models like the Ford E-series, for some reason, but mostly because they were European designs that didn’t look like the vans people were used to. Those fans were wrong, as now those same people can’t wait to buy a van that was actually made in this century.
4th Gear: The Life and Death of Canada’s Auto Industry, In About An Hour
In one of the weirdest auto industry blips in a while, Canada’s auto manufacturing industry nearly died for about an hour, before coming back just as quickly. It’s premature death was feared mainly because Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne hinted, ever so slightly, that Chrysler minivan production may be moved away from the Windsor, Ontario plant where the vehicles are currently made.
Then about an hour later Fiat-Chrysler said no, instead they plan on upgrading the plant, and Canadians all over breathed a sigh of relief and dug into their poutine.
The Windsor plant is crucial for the Canadian auto industry, mainly because a certain baseline number of factories need to be present in a given area to support all the feeder industries that contribute to the larger whole. Take away one big assembly plant, and you don’t just lose the jobs in that one factory, you can potentially lose thousands in a ripple effect.
But that probably won’t happen, this time. Hooray.
5th Gear: Mulally Is So Money
Ford CEO Alan Mullaly already makes quite the bundle as the top guy at one of the world’s largest car companies. Ford earned more than $7 billion last year, though, so as a little extra present the company gave him another $13.8 million in restricted stock options. That’s a 13.8 million dollar smile right there.
Reverse: Bring on the Bus!
Volkswagen, maker of the Beetle automobile, expands its product offerings to include a microbus, which goes into production on this day in 1950. Known officially as the Volkswagen Type 2 (the Beetle was the Type 1) or the Transporter, the bus was a favorite mode of transportation for hippies in the U.S. during the 1960s and became an icon of the American counterculture movement.
Neutral: Surely We’re Missing Something
Van sales have been huge since we got the European models, and if the Jeep Renegade is a success, it may herald the arrival of a wave of smaller European SUVs. What other market segments do you think would do well here in the States?
Photo credits: Getty Images, Chrysler