You have to understand. This is Italy. This is not Paris or Frankfurt or Detroit or Chicago or LA. This is the Bologna Motor Show, and Bologna is in the center of Italy, home to Maserati, and close to Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Ducati, to name a few.
Italy is the home of style itself, and in its way, this auto show is a style spectacular. Every year, the show puts more than 450,000 people through the turnstiles, and more than 70,000 of them actually drive cars at the show. It’s easy to get to, and there’s a train stop right at the show.
Held every December in the gigantic Bologna Fiere complex, the show fills a dozen of the giant complex’s interconnected halls and features nine outdoor racing and demonstration tracks (ACI, the Italian auto club for safety training, Fiat, for the 500 TwinAir, then Renault, VW Group, VW commercial vehicles, Kia, for LPG-powered cars only, Dacia, and the Mobil 1 Arena for serious demonstration racing). Then there’s Electric City, an electric-car-only indoor driving track, and a professional auto racing hall.
Once you’re inside, there’s everything you need from a pizza to a pharmacy, from cigarettes to a bank. This place is enormous, and there’s something new through every door and around every corner.
The press room where we hung out was spectacular as well, all blond wood, leather and chrome chairs, and a constant supply of delicious Bolognese cooking, a wine bar, strong Italian coffee and the world’s best cookies, a press room festooned with giant movie stills of Sophia Loren, Anita Ekberg, Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, Elvis Presley, and other great beauties. Believe us, they don’t have any of that at Detroit, Chicago or L.A.
In order to keep it simple, the show crams all of the press conferences into a single day, allowing manufacturers 20 minutes apiece, no loud music, no smoke, no mirrors, no grandiose unveilings, and no showbiz nonsense.
This year, Bologna featured 47 product debuts, five European premieres, 36 Italian premieres, and six world-premiere introductions along with a slew of new and newish cars for Italy, mostly cars we’d seen before in Geneva or Paris.
Ford kicked off the proceedings with the introduction of the new Mondeo and Focus lines – the latter officially going into European production this week — and the new Fiesta WRC rally car, first thing in the morning, including two versions of the impressive new 2.0-liter GTDI or EcoBoost engine that we will get in the Explorer and Flex.
Citroen followed with the new C4 from Paris and the bizarre and wonderful Survolt electric race car, adorned by a hundred-color splashy paint job and an equally splashy, sequined and very leggy model. And then the other French giant, Peugeot, showed the 3008 diesel electric hybrid coming in 2011, premiered a shapely new 508 sedan, and had the world premiere of the laughably futuristic and oddball all-electric EX 1 race car prototype/concept car. EX1 is all carbon fiber, packing all-wheel drive propulsion through two electric motors with a total of 340 horsepower.
Smart displayed the electric-motor version of the ForTwo, which TheDetroitBureau.com told you about last summer, as well as the new Smart electric scooter, first shown in Paris and locally developed in cooperation with Enel, an Italian electric power company. Mini and BMW were not present at Bologna at all, so Mini did not show its electric scooter. All of the major Japanese companies stayed out of Bologna for cost reasons, excepting Mitsubishi and Nissan.
Fiat, of course, took up an entire hall by itself, showing off the new wares from Fiat, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, and Jeep, but not Chrysler or Dodge (it was reiterated at the show that the Chrysler 300 and other US models would be sold in Europe as Lancias, and that the American Fiat 500 would be built for America at the Toluca plant in Mexico).
Ferrari quietly displayed the new 458 Challenge race car, with a 4.5-liter engine producing 575 horsepower at a heavenly 9000 rpm, only steps away from the Ferrari Formula 1 car that did NOT win the championship this year.
At the end of Fiat row, Maserati introduced its home Bologna crowd to the Gran Turismo MC Stradale, the street-going version of the MC and GT4 racing models. It’s powered by a 450-horsepower 4.7-lire V-8, its electronics feature an Auto, Sport and now a Race mode, and the Stradale (Italian for street) is some 110 kg lighter than the GT S version. The bad news is that none is coming to the U.S. market. Darn!!!
After the lunch break, Opel showed two heavily facelifted models, the sharp little Corsa with a new start-stop feature on its new 1.3-liter turbodiesel engine, and the Antara all-wheel-drive people-hauler, only a few meters away from the Opel version of the Chevrolet Volt, the Opel Ampera. All of the Antara engines have been made Euro 5 compliant.
The last of the world debuts at Bologna was the pair of new models from DR. Never heard of DR? Neither had we. Turns out the company, based in Macchia d’Isernia, a small town in central Italy, is the brainchild of retired racing driver and car nut Massimo Di Risio, taking its name from the two parts of his surname. DR has forged a partnership with the Chinese company Chery, is building a dealer network inside Italy only for the time being, and introduced both a slick little DR-3 four-door hatchback sedan and a pure-electric version of its DR-1city car, said by DR to be the least expensive all-electric car available anywhere in Europe, priced at €26,000, or about $36,000 at current exchange rates.
Although Mercedes-Benz had a huge stand at Bologna, it had no press conference and introduced nothing we hadn’t seen before, except the E 200 NGT, which was shown on a separate stand under the banner of Eni, the Italian energy firm that owns the Agip gas-station business. The E 200 NGT uses a tiny 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine rigged to run on natural gas. It’s made right on the assembly line in Sindelfingen and takes advantage of Italy’s huge chain of Eni/Agip natural gas filling stations. It makes 160 horsepower, runs 0-60 in 10.3 seconds and runs as clean as the gas stove in your house.
In Pavilion 30, the show erected Electric City, the quietest room in the whole joint, where there was a double-loop test track laid out for anyone who wanted to drive any of the nearly 20 electrically powered cars available, from the Opel Antera and Nissan Leaf to a variety of bubble-like creations from a squadron of small Italian and European manufacturers. Nearly every manufacturer who displayed at Bologna offered a number of pure electric and/or hybrid (ibrido, in Italian) models, which makes a great deal of sense in light of Europe’s insanely high fuel prices and nightmarish commutes to work. A recent survey said that fully 67 percent of Italians would be interested in buying an electric car!!!
However, not everything at Bologna was green. In Hall 25, there was a magnificent display of vintage race cars from Alfa Romeo, BMW, Ferrari, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and Renault, some of the most beautiful and successful race cars of all time, gathered from museums and collections around Europe. Enough to make a gearhead cry.
We’ll just close by saying the Bologna show was a great one, and the predecessor to a number of new or revived auto shows around the world from GL Events, the company that has produced Bologna for the past four years, including Qatar, Turin, Rio de Janeiro, Delhi and possibly St. Petersburg (Russia, not Florida).