A day trip to Stuttgart, and it’s deja vu time. I’ve been here before, just seven months ago, for a very similar purpose. The venue is Mercedes-Benz’s Sindelfingen technical centre, and we’re here to look at a car. Seven months ago that was the new S-Class; now it’s another vehicle that’s just as important for the chauffeur sector.
This time, we’re getting a glimpse of the V-Class, which will replace the Viano next Spring. Note the name change – Mercedes is bringing in consistency to its badging policy, and more importantly, it’s letting us know where the new big MPV sits in the range. As design chief Martin Kreidl enthusiastically puts it: “This is a car!”
Mercedes is taking no chances. Cameras and mobile phones are checked in at the desk, and we’re ushered into a darkened room, deep within Mercedes’ advanced technical centre near Stuttgart.
I’m here with an elite group of UK journalists to see what’s inside the room - three examples of 2013’s most anticipated car, the next-generation Mercedes-Benz S-class. But there’s a catch – Mercedes wants us to see the car from the inside only. So the three cars are covered with light-absorbing black material, hiding the car’s distinctive lines.
Supercars and city cars may have grabbed the headlines at the Geneva Motor Show – but there was plenty of interest for the chauffeuring and private hire market - across the full spectrum from Bentley to Dacia. Professional Driver editor Mark Bursa hasn’t missed a Geneva Show since 1992 – here are his highlights of the 2013 event.
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Tesla Model S
American electric car company Tesla says it wants to "take away every hurdle" to electric car ownership - and is setting up a chain of free fast-charge stations whenever it launches in a particular market.
The first Tesla car for the UK is the Model S, which is expected to reach the UK by late 2013 or early 2014. It’s a large four-door saloon and Tesla claims it has a range of up to 300 miles on a single charge – which could make it the first practical battery-electric chauffeur car.
And with prices likely to start from around £60,000, it’ll be priced competitively against traditional chauffeur saloons such as the Mercedes S-class – but with much lower running costs.
The Model S is driven by a rear-mounted electric motor which produces 362bhp. The total range for the Model S depends on the choice of the battery pack installed. In the UK, the choice will be a 60kWh pack offering 230 miles and an 85kWh pack giving the Tesla a range of up to 300 miles.
Tesla calls its fast-charge stations ‘Superchargers’ and opened eight at the end of last year, mainly in California. They are said to be capable of giving the mid-sized Model S saloon a 150-mile range top-up in 30 minutes. At Detroit, Tesla executives confirmed the supercharger idea will be rolled out in other countries where Tesla sells.
“It is our aim that you will be able to take a trip just as you would in an internal combustion-engined car,” said head of sales and ownership George Blankenship. “In the time it takes for you to stop and have lunch you can put another 150 miles of range into the car. Ultimately it's our goal to do this with solar energy.”
Tesla expects to sell 20,000 cars globally in 2013 and to increase its total of worldwide stores from 33 to 58. Half of the additions will be outside America, including its first store in China.
At Detroit the company also showed a design concept based on the platform of the Model S. The Model X is an MPV crossover with an additional electric motor between the front wheels to give it all-wheel-drive capability.
Maserati has offered a super-luxury four-door Quattroporte performance saloon for many years, and with the arrival of competitors such as the Porsche Panamera and BMW 6-series Gran Coupe, there’s more attention on this niche than ever before.
Now Maserati is launching a new Quattroporte, sticking close to the lines of the previous model but making the car lighter, larger, and faster than before. The Quattroporte is now longer than a LWB Mercedes S-class and, at 1,948mm, 80mm wider. The wheelbase has grown to allow an increase in rear legroom.
Initially the Quattroporte will powered by a choice of petrol engines: 410bhp twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6, giving a 0-62mph time of 4.9 seconds; or a turbocharged 3.8-litre V8 with 530bhp and a top speed of 191mph. A V6 diesel is rumoured for 2014, which would make the Quattroporte a genuine contender for high-end chauffeur work. The car retains a conventional rear-wheel drive layout.
The new Maserati Quattroporte goes on UK sale in June 2013, priced from around £80,000 for the V6, rising to £110,000 for the V8.
Infiniti chose Detroit to unveil the new Infiniti Q50 luxury sports sedan, which sets the tone for the styling of Infiniti’s next generation of cars, as well as introducing a new “Q” naming system for all the company’s cars.
All saloons will be Qxx-badged, while SUVs will carry QXxx nameplates. Infiniti says the new naming system harks back to its first-ever car, the Q45, launched in 1988 in the US.
The rear-wheel drive Q50 goes on sale in North America in summer 2013, with European sales following later in the year. It’ll replace the G37 in the Infiniti range, and the models at Detroit carried over the G37’s 3.7-litre V6 petrol engines and optional four-wheel drive. A petrol-electric hybrid, using a powertrain similar to that in the Infiniti M35h, will also be available.
However, the European versions, which will be shown at Geneva next month, will feature four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines, sourced from Mercedes as part of a wide-ranging tie-up between Mercedes and Infiniti parent Renault-Nissan.
The Infiniti Q50 takes many of its styling cues from the Infiniti Essence concept. Inside, the Q50 interior includes the new Infiniti InTouch communications system with large dual touch-screens.
New technologies will also make their debuts in the Q50, including Direct Adaptive Steering technology and Active Lane Control, which uses a camera-based lane marker detection system to enhance on-centre driving capability.
Ford Tourneo Connect
Ford is taking the Transit brand global – the European vans will replace long-serving US E-series ‘Econoline’ models, and larger Transits will be built at Ford’s plant in Kansas City.
And the new Transit Connect will also be sold with two different wheelbases in North America, and a choice of the 1.6-litre Ecoboost engine or a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol unit. Global production of the new Transit Connect – and its passenger-carrying Tourneo Connect sister – will start this year at Ford’s Romanian factory – indeed, this plant will serve all world markets.
Despite missing out to the Nissan NV200 as the basis for the new New York Taxi, the current-shape Transit Connect has been a big success in the US. The new model has smoother, more rounded styling, Ford’s latest family grille and a much more up-market interior. In the UK it’s likely to be popular as an alternative to the Galaxy, especially for disabled access conversions.
Mercedes-Benz E400 Hybrid
Mercedes-Benz’s restyled E-class range made its global debut at Detroit – but US customers will miss out on many of the most advanced models in the range. America is not ready for diesel hybrids, it seems, though a regular diesel E250 with 4Matic all-wheel drive, will be part of the line-up.
But instead of the E300 Bluetec Hybrid that’s on sale in Europe, American E-class buyers will get a petrol-electric hybrid, the E400, which combines a 27bhp electric motor with a 3-litre petrol engine. Mercedes also unveiled the top-line E63 AMG version of the E-class, with a 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol engine under the bonnet, pushing out 577bhp.
A final decision on whether Bentley will go ahead with its first SUV, based on the concept from the 2012 Geneva Show, will be made in the “relatively near future,” says member of the board for sales and marketing Kevin Rose.
“We have always said that if we decide to do it we would like it by 2015, and it would take two to two-and-a-half years to complete,” he said. “We are working as if it is going to go ahead and I am optimistic that it will, but this would be a big investment for the group, and we would be going into a market which currently does not exist.”
An SUV would be “significant for volumes,” with the potential to push sales way beyond the company's 2007 record of 10,000. “Thirty per cent of our customers have an SUV and we estimate that 90% of our sales would be capture business,” Rose said.
Looking further ahead, Rose sees the potential for a longer wheelbase version of the flagship Mulsanne when the next-generation model comes along at the end of the decade, with the option of an electronic separator between the driver compartment and the rear of the car. "It's something we at looking at for China," he said.
This big saloon won’t be coming to Europe – but it gives an indication that Korean automakers are getting much better at building executive limousines. The 3.5-litre V6 petrol-engined Kia Cadenza has been styled by Kia’s German chief designer Peter Schreyer, in response to demand from customers in the US and Asia for bigger cars.
The Cadenza offers an impressive list of standard and optional equipment that takes in-car technology and premium features to an entirely new level. “An increasing number of Kia customers around the world are looking for vehicles with even more premium amenities and advanced technology,” said Hyoung-Keun Lee, Vice Chairman and CEO, Kia Motors Corporation.