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Letter from Europe - Andrew Frankl European Bureau Chief

Andrew Frankl European Bureau Chief

I should start by pointing out to those thinking of flying not just to Europe but within Europe as well that cheap air travel in the shape of various new airlines is very much the way the locals are getting around these days.

Therefore it came as no surprise to me that the first person I should have bumped into at London's Gatwick Airport waiting to board old friend Stelios' EasyJet was none other than former colleague and current Land Rover PR supremo Gavin Green.

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Gav was just recovering from 6 weeks at Scibo Castle in Scotland. May sound a bit crazy as this is one of the finest hostelries around but as he was running the intro of the new Range Rover for journos from the four corners of the World the attractions of haggis were beginning to wear a bit thin by the end of it.

He kindly offered me a lift to the hotel and much to our amazement the vehicle waiting for us at Geneva's Cointrin airport was none other than the brand new Range Rover he was telling me about.

Even though the roads of Geneva can hardly be compared to the rugged mountains of the Scottish Highlands first impressions were very favorable indeed.

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Can't wait to test it in California.

The 4.4 liter engine was silky smooth and whatever one might say about BMW"s abortive marriage with Rover, this particular product benefited greatly from the TLC emanating from Munich.

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Which brings me neatly to the Ford Press Conference the following morning on their stand, Europeans journalists are not known for getting up at the crack of dawn so all the credit has to go to the company's new and highly charismatic leader-Bill Ford…having dispatched former CEO Jacques Nasser back to Australia with a large bag of gold Bill was giving a badly needed pep-talk to the troops and to the Press, things have been pretty awful back at the ranch.
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The company desperately needs to improve quality control and produce fresh, exciting products. The jury is still out on Nasser, he made some mistakes but the Focus is a huge success as is the Premier Group which is showing one exciting product after another: a Volvo to challenge BMW's X5, a Jaguar S type with "R" specification to take on BMW's legendary M5 and of course the afore mentioned Range Rover which is unashamedly aimed at very serious punters from St Moritz to Aspen and from Hong Kong to Hollywood.

BMW-the company everybody is trying to knock off the pedestal-is having a boom year. There are however question marks over the controversial 7 series, a lot of people hate the styling and the much-heralded iDrive which can do 700 functions. From what I've heard a lot of people are having problems to figure out even a fraction of that. Dynamically though it is a class act ready to take on the Mercedes S class.

The Stuttgart automakers gave us a sneak preview of their Maybach, a pretty ostentatious piece of automobilia if I've ever seen one.

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Longer than the longest Mercedes, it is for people who have lots of money and HAVE to show it from the minute they are driven through the wrought iron gates of their residences. Yuk. On the other hand the new "E" class looks very nice indeed and the waiting list for the SL stretches from Santa Monica to Sunset Boulevard.

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One of the stars of the show was the new MINI. While it is owned by BMW the company are very cleverly keeping it as a separate brand. I know two leading auto journalists who have ordered one each-without having been inside the car. The Cooper "S" is set to be the trendiest, most desired car of 2002 bar none. In Britain if you order a MINI now you might get it in August if you are lucky. Amazing.

As if MINI was not sufficient at the lower end of the market BMW also showed the prototype of their new 1 series. The finished product will resemble the CS1 concept and yet again, just like the 7 series, will cause controversy with its unusual styling.

BMW are certainly pushing the styling envelope, question is-will paying customers follow?

There are of course cars that don't make it to the United States which is a shame.

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Renault-who left these shores after trying to sell some truly appalling cars are now very much back in business making very good and highly popular cars just like the rest of the French auto industry.
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Peugeot, another former visitor to the States are putting on extra shifts to cope with demand for their 206 and 307 models. They are also living proof that you don't have to be in Grand Prix racing to be successful.

A sport which may come to the United States at some stage and which is something Peugeot are very good at is rallying. It used to be a poor relation to Formula One but has recently been re-packaged providing good racing and very good television indeed.

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Rolls Royce and Bentley had their last joint appearance, Bentley is about to become the VW group's flagship while BMW are building a brand new factory for Rolls-Royce near Goodwood in Great Britain. Volkswagen seem determined to move into BMW/Mercedes territory which is understandable in view of the higher profit margins.

Carlos Ghosn was there to take the plaudits for turning round Nissan, a remarkable achievement.

Toyota are becoming a major player in Europe with plants in England and in France and their unexpected early success in Formula One can only contribute to their success.

Bob Lutz of GM was there to do a "Bill Ford"-namely to tell his troops that relief in the shape of good, new products are on the way. There was huge interest in the new Caddys, for some reason the Swiss have always been very keen on American cars. Ferrari were very happy with their result, record numbers sold, record profits made. Their Maserati brand is about to make its presence felt in the States.

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Aston Martin, another leading brand at the top of the price range is banking of some of the James Bond magic which they will certainly have once the latest movie-currently in production-is released. I was seriously jealous at the LA Auto Show where their PR directed Tim Watson left me on the stand with apologies as he had to go off to the studio to discuss all the various gizmos that were needed for the special effects.

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The technological piece de resistance had to be Bugatti's Veyron-the Concorde of automobiles. Would you believe 1001, yes, one thousand and one horsepower from a 16 cylinder engine with a top speed of 406 kilometers per hour?! Yes, you might as well, as it under construction at present. Will someone buy it? Of course. It will cost less than a private jet and if one looks at EuroBusiness magazine's Rich 400 in Europe, even the guy coming in last has $250 million dollars, so would it really break the bank if he were to splash one on the Bugatti?

I think he could still survive on $249 million.

While it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Geneva Show or The Auto Channel I thought you might like to know who is Number One on the rich list. It is a lady by the name of Liliane Bettencourt who owns the French L'Oreal with world-famous brands such as Maybelline and Garnier. And no, at age 75 she will NOT be buying a Bugatti.