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3 Major Takeaways From the Geneva Auto Show

By John Rosevear, Rich Smith, and Daniel Miller – Mar 13, 2016 at 2:00PM

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It's the most important auto show in Europe, and there's always signifcant news for the global auto industry. Here are three stories that caught our auto Fools' attention from the show floor in Switzerland.

Korean auto giant Hyundai chose Geneva to unveil its new long line of alternative energy-powered vehicles. Image source: Hyundai.

The International Geneva Motor Show, held every March in Switzerland, is the biggest and most important auto show in Europe. Traditionally, all of the European automakers have looked to make a big splash in Geneva every year. But increasingly, as the market for new cars has become a global one, major automakers based elsewhere have also chosen to unveil important models before the global media in Geneva.

This year's show offered up a slew of important new-vehicle debuts. We asked three of the Fool's auto-minded contributors to tell us about the new models that caught their eyes from the floor of the Geneva Palexpo convention center. 

Rich Smith: It's Hyundai'(HYMTF -0.03%) "three-fer" of green automobiles that really caught my eye in Geneva. 

With offerings that include a hybrid gas-electric vehicle, a plug-in hybrid, and even a totally electric EV, Hyundai is offering something for everyone in its Ioniq line -- so long as what you're looking for is green cars to save the planet, and your wallet. 

On the other hand, this is probably not what Toyota (TM -1.47%) was hoping to see. Currently, Toyota's Prius is the best-selling hybrid on the planet, and arguably Toyota's best reply to Hyundai, which has for years boasted that its car fleet gets the best mileage of any automaker.

As more and more automakers venture into hybrid waters, however, Hyundai's claim to fame could be at risk. Its decision to go all in on alt-en looks to me like an effort to ensure that Hyundai stays at the head of the pack, mpg-wise. And the fact that the new Ioniq hybrid boasts better horsepower than the 121-hp Prius tells me Hyundai has put Toyota front and center in its crosshairs.

That said, I'm not certain that Hyundai's effort will succeed. According to Autoblog, the plug-in hybrid Ioniq will only go about 31 miles on all-electric power. That lags the 35 mile target that Toyota has set for its 2017 plug-in Prius, and falls even farther short of the 50-mile all-electric range of General Motors' (GM -1.98%) Chevy Volt. Similarly, Ioniq's all-electric EV variant is said to boast a 155-mile range that will fall short of the 200 miles boasted by GM's Chevy Bolt.

It's possible that Hyundai's three-pronged attack on the electric-car market could still end up being too little, too late.

Daniel Miller: One huge takeaway from the Geneva Auto Show wasn't merely a one-off product or concept. Rather, it was the story of an entire strategy. Here's what we know: Luxury sales are increasingly important to automakers to generate more profits per vehicle. But how does Ford Motor Company (F -0.75%) compete for those highly valuable sales in Europe when its Lincoln brand is at least a decade away from competing with Europe's homegrown luxury brands?

Well, looking at Ford's debuts in Geneva, the answer is its Vignale line. Vignale is basically a super-premium trim of Ford vehicles, an attempt to hit a valuable sweet spot between Ford's mainstream vehicles and Europe's top luxury vehicles. Here's a look at the Vignale version of the Kuga (Escape), which Ford unveiled at the auto show.

Ford showed off the Kuga Vignale in Geneva earlier this month. Image source: Ford Motor Company.

Currently, Ford only sells the Mondeo (Fusion) in the Vignale version, but it plans to expand the lineup with the addition of the S-MAX Vignale, Edge Vignale, Kuga Vignale, all while offering consumers exclusive benefits for travel, lifestyle, and event offers such as the F1 Monaco Grand Prix, throughout Europe.

The good news for investors is the strategy has already worked, to some degree. Nearly 80% of the record 102,000 Kugas sold in Europe last year were premium Titanium models, emphasizing consumers desire SUVs and really premium trims of those SUVs. If that consumers steps up to the Vignale version of the Kuga and Edge, Ford could have found its answer to roping in a more valuable consumer, while avoiding competition from the big boys and avoiding cannibalizing its mainstream sales. 

John Rosevear: Toyota had a solidly profitable fourth quarter, but there was a little cause for concern: The Japanese auto giant's global sales were down 2.2%.

Toyota's vaunted quality hasn't slipped a bit, and most reviewers agree that its mainstream models have become more appealing in recent years. So what's the issue? It's this: Buyers want SUVs, and Toyota doesn't have as many as its rivals. It's losing sales.

That's why I was glad to see the long-awaited new Toyota C-HR crossover SUV unveiled in Geneva.

The Toyota C-HR is an all-new subcompact crossover SUV. It's expected to arrive at U.S. dealers next year as a 2018 model. Image source: Toyota

Originally planned as an entry for the soon-to-be-discontinued Scion brand, the C-HR (for "Coupe High Rider," Toyota says) is a sharply styled little crossover one size down from the hot-selling RAV4. It'll line up against models like Fiat Chrysler's (FCAU) popular Jeep Renegade, the Mazda CX-3, Nissan's Juke -- and Honda's (HMC -0.38%) recently launched HR-V. 

The subcompact crossover segment is one that's starting to take off worldwide. In addition to the list above, GM has had a big hit in its small and stylish Buick Encore (and in Europe, its Opel Mokka twin), and Ford is doing well with its Fiesta-based EcoSport crossover in China and Europe.

We still don't have a lot of details about the production version of the C-HR. (In fact, Toyota hasn't even shown off its interior yet.) But we know that it will be built on the same architecture that underpins the new 2016 Prius; it'll come in at least one hybrid version; it will almost certainly be rolled out in Japan, the U.S., China, and Europe over the next year or so; and it's likely to be priced very competitively. 

Toyota has really needed an entry in this booming segment for a couple of years now, and the eye-grabbing new C-HR should do well. 

Daniel Miller owns shares of Ford and General Motors. John Rosevear owns shares of Ford and General Motors. Rich Smith has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Ford. The Motley Fool recommends General Motors. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Stocks Mentioned

Ford Motor Stock Quote
Ford Motor
$13.28 (-0.75%) $0.10
Toyota Motor Stock Quote
Toyota Motor
$141.09 (-1.47%) $-2.10
General Motors Stock Quote
General Motors
$38.02 (-1.98%) $0.77
Honda Motor Stock Quote
Honda Motor
$23.70 (-0.38%) $0.09
$30.49 (-0.03%) $0.01
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Stock Quote
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

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