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Optimism roars back as Geneva Motor Show opens
[GENEVA] Out with the gloom, in with the boom: Sleek luxury sports cars, high-end SUVs and nifty little city cars were bumper-to-bumper when the Geneva Motor Show opened to the media on Tuesday.
Thousands of journalists milled through the vast halls of the show, one of the auto industry's biggest and most diverse events, examining the vast array of vehicles in all shapes and sizes on display.
From small city cars for everyman to horsepower-infused "supercars" carrying six digit price tags, the Geneva Motor Show this year is showcasing some 900 cars.
And with 90 sleek never-before-seen machines making their world premieres in Geneva, the 85th edition of the show appears to be revving up to be one of the most spectacular on record.
The some 220 manufacturers showcasing their new beauties in Geneva are expected to be in high spirits as the long-suffering European car industry looks poised to swerve into the fast lane.
After being dogged by malaise since crashing into the economic crisis in 2008, European car makers finally emerged from the red last year.
"We saw some growth last year, we're forecasting more growth this year... The mood here is positive," Paul Willcox, head of Nissan's European division, told AFP.
Fiat Chrysler chief Sergio Marchionne agreed.
"We're seeing the beginning of a recovery, I think it's permanent," he said.
Among the eagerly awaited newcomers at the show are Renault's cross-over SUV Kadjar, aimed at taking on Nissan's popular Qashqai, as well as a new version of Skoda's flagship Superb sedan and a new Ford Focus RS.
But such family-oriented cars need to battle for attention with the latest generation of awe-inspiring luxury vehicles.
Ferrari is launching its new 488 GTB supercar, while Austin Martin is unveiling its new race car-inspired Vantage GT3.
And the front end of McLaren's brand new P1 GTR resembles a knowing smirk, a pointer perhaps towards the racetrack-ready motor powering this US$2 million dream car.
ON ROAD TO RECOVERY
With sales in Europe up 5.7 per cent in 2014 and swelling 6.7 per cent in January, automakers themselves also have something to get excited about.
"We are optimistic for the European market" this year, Volkswagen chief Martin Winterkorn told reporters late Monday.
The head of PSA Peugeot Citroen, Carlos Tavares, was meanwhile a bit more wary.
If the market could "continue climbing like last year ... we would obviously be very happy," he said.
But the situation "still seems a bit unstable," he said, explaining why the French company is only predicting cautious growth of one per cent for this year.
The European Automobile Manufacturer's Association (ACEA) has predicted two percent growth on the continent in 2015, but others are more upbeat.
"We can see that the recovery that we noted last year is continuing, and could even accelerate in early 2015," said auto market analyst Flavien Neuvy of Cetelem credit company.
But the European car industry still has a way to go before fully returning to pre-crisis sales volumes.
Last year, only 12.5 million cars were sold in the European Union, compared with 16 million eight years ago.
"We cannot say that Europe is growing, Europe is recovering," Renault-Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn said, pointing out that "the European market is still 20-per cent down from 2007." And the recovery remains uneven, with southern European countries like Spain, Italy and even France facing a particularly steep climb.
The European divisions of General Motors and Ford are meanwhile struggling, hit by the implosion of the Russian market amid the raging conflict in Ukraine.
GAS PRICE BOOSTS SALES
Crude oil prices, which have fallen by half since last June, could help jump-start the recovery, observers say.
"Certainly in most of the markets, it is helpful," said Dieter Zetsche, head of Germany's Daimler, which owns Mercedes-Benz.
Lower oil prices, he added, "might affect the decisions in favour of a new car or in favour of a more powerful car." After being forced to undergo painful and dramatic restructuring processes during the crisis, French car manufacturers are meanwhile finally able to be more upbeat.
PSA Peugeot Citroen recently posted its first operational profit in three years, while Renault said it would create 1,000 permanent jobs in France this year on the back of strong profit growth.
But French manufacturers are still trailing German carmaker Volkswagen, which with its stable of brands like VW, Audi and Skoda, alone accounts for a quarter of the European market.
The German behemoth, which appears set this year to take the lead in global auto sales for the first time, on Monday saw its new Passat crowned European Car of the Year.
The 85th Geneva Motor Show, which opens to the public on Thursday and runs to March 15, expects to draw some 670,000 visitors.