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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 March 2007, 11:50 GMT
GM refocuses on European growth
By Jorn Madslien
Business reporter, BBC News, Geneva motor show

Opel GTC
GM believes the GTC will be a worthy replacement for the Vectra

In a gloomily-lit marquee, adjacent to a stylish manor house in Geneva, the automotive equivalent of 1980s-style power-dressing roars onto stage to the tune of raw rock'n roll riffs and heavy bass.

Red and black is back. And General Motors' (GM) jeans-clad head designer, Bryan Nesbitt is here to show it off.

"We carried the red theme throughout the vehicle," he says, describing it as a sign of the car's "confident performance".

"This style is what to expect of future Opel products."

The General, as the world's largest carmaker by volume is sometimes nicknamed, is certainly coming across as confident at the Geneva motor show, where it has unveiled four world and four European premieres.

If it is just marketing, it is a bit like lipstick on a pig
European Opel Marketing boss Alain Visser

And GM's new-found bullishness accompanies early indications that its restructuring efforts are working.

Still, it also appears to disguise some deep-seated and well founded inner insecurity.

GM is struggling in Europe - particularly in Germany. Its sales there fell by more than 50% in February: considerably worse than the 15% average fall in car sales which followed a 1 January rise in value added tax to 19%.

Buying Chrysler?

But in truth, nobody wants to hear about GM's plight during this show. The key question for both journalists and rival car executives at this show is:will GM buy Chrysler?

GM chief executive Rick Wagoner, who was conspicuous in his absence from Monday night's car launch - apparently his flight had been delayed - declined to comment on Tuesday morning when he was tackled by reporters.

DaimlerChrysler's chief executive, Dieter Zetsche, was more forthcoming - in that he was at least prepared to talk about Chrysler's future.

Mr Zetsche is "confident of the success of the plan announced three weeks ago", he says, referring to his announcement that Chrysler was for sale.

Dieter Zetsche
Dieter Zetsche is confident about a Chrysler sale

However, he also insists that whether or not the US division is sold, his first priority will be to aid its recovery and restructuring.

New models

Rather than talk of potential deals, though, GM prefers to focus on the battle to retain its position in the European market, where a version of its GTC Concept is expected to replace the Opel (Vauxhall) Vectra next year.

The concept communicates a "new interpretation of the Opel brand," according to Alain Visser, head of European Opel marketing.

Yet, this is about more than just striking a pose, says marketing boss Alain Visser.

"You don't build a product by marketing," he says.

"It has to be product led. If it is just marketing, it is a bit like lipstick on a pig."

Saab additions

After years of scant attention from the US parent company, GM's Swedish subsidiary is also being given a boost.

Saab's engineers are pushing the envelope, and an example of this is on show in Geneva: a specially modified 2.0 litre Saab Biopower concept car with 300bhp, equivalent to a 4.0 litre car according to Saab's engineers.

Saab has made a splash with its E85 biofuel cars in recent months - that is, cars that run on a mixture of ordinary 15% petrol and 85% ethanol made from plants.

Worker preparing car for motor show
GM is buffing up its credentials with eight launches

"We look to the European Commission to help create a strong policy framework to develop the E85 infrastructure," GM's boss Rick Wagoner says.

"In 2007, we'll stay focused on moving from turnaround to transformation... and a key element of our strategy is our drive for environmental and technology leadership."

Now that the ethanol-powered cars have boosted Saab's green credentials, there are hopes that it can make it as a successful luxury marque in Europe, where its leading rivals BMW, Mercedes and Audi are working hard to reduce average emissions from their fleets.

Mr Wagoner is keen for Saab's model line-up to be broadened - perhaps as early this spring, with new models including a 4x4.

Eco-car designers battle it out to be the greenest

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