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Crisis in rear-view as Geneva car show revs up

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Crisis in rear-view as Geneva car show revs up
Visitors at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
08:27 CET+01:00
The front end of McLaren's brand new P1 GTR seems to form a knowing smirk, a pointer perhaps towards the race-track ready motor powering this $2 million dream car.

It is one of 90 sleek never-before-seen machines due to have their world premières when the Geneva Motor Show opens on Thursday.

After being dogged by malaise since crashing into the economic crisis in 2008, the European car industry is finally picking up speed.

Luxury sports cars, high-end SUVs and "green" cars will be bumper-to-bumper at the show -- one of the auto industry's biggest and most diverse events -- with around 900 shiny vehicles and more than 130 new models and "concept cars" on display.

Among the eagerly awaited newcomers are Renault's new cross-over SUV Kadjar, aimed at taking on Nissan's popular Qashqai, a new version of Skoda's flagship Superb sedan, as well as a new Ford Focus RS.

But such family-oriented cars will as always need to battle for attention with the latest generation of jaw dropping luxury vehicles.

Ferrari is launching its new 488 GTB supercar, while Austin Martin will unveil its new race car inspired Vantage GT3.

"Green" cars, boasting next-to-no emissions, and concept vehicles focused on the autonomous vehicles of a driverless future are also expected to draw crowds at the show.

"The Geneva Motor Show will open in a positive context for the European car industry," said auto market analyst Flavien Neuvy of Cetelem credit company.

With sales on the continent up 5.7 percent last year and swelling 6.7 percent in January, there is finally something to get excited about.

The European Automobile Manufacturer's Association (ACEA) has meanwhile predicted a cautious two percent growth for the European car market in 2015.

The positive mood in the industry will certainly rub off on the display of new vehicles, according to Euler Hermes analyst Yann Lacroix.

Trade shows generally reflect "the overall climate in the car sector," he said, pointing out that "the market is growing a bit, company results are improving, so we're on a positive track."

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 to 16 million in 2007.

And the recovery remains uneven, with southern European countries like Spain, Italy and even France facing a particularly steep climb.

But shrinking oil prices may help jump-start the process, according to observers.

Black gold recently tumbled to a six-year low of just over $40 (over €35) per barrel, resulting in lower fuel prices that are "revitalising household purchasing power a bit", said PwC analyst Josselin Chabert.

"Consequently, if the tendency continues, this could soften the effect of the crisis, which European countries still have not fully exited," she said.

After being forced to undergo painful and dramatic restructuring processes during the crisis, French car manufacturers are finally able to be more upbeat.

PSA Peugeot Citroen, which almost plunged off a cliff a year ago, said recently it had slashed its losses by three quarters and posted its first operational profit in three years.

Renault meanwhile announced it would create 1,000 permanent jobs in France this year on the back of a strong growth in profits in 2014.

Despite their recovery, the French manufacturers are still trailing behind German carmaker Volkswagen, which with its range of brands like VW, Audi and Skoda, alone accounts for a quarter of the European market.

The German behemoth appears set to this year take the lead in global auto sales for the first time, if it manages to swerve past Toyota.

Another German carmaker, Borgward, will make its return at the show. It went belly up more than half a century ago and may have a new model to show off.

The 85th edition of the show, which will take place March 5-15th and expects to draw some 670,000 visitors, will offer up 90 world premiers and 41 European premiers.

"There will be quite a few luxury vehicles. That is part of the trademark of Switzerland, where purchasing power is not the same as in other countries," Lacroix said.

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