Will VW super-cars leave diesel-gate in the dust?

Nancy Hungerford
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Perhaps a display of arrogance is exactly what the car industry needs (Source: Getty)

If you happened to miss out on all the Oscar buzz and are still browsing Mail Online to decide whether Leonardo DiCaprio’s suit was a hit or miss, stop wasting your time! Because the greatest red-carpet show in Europe is kicking off this week in Geneva at the eighty-sixth International Motor Show.

And this year, the luxury capital will command heightened attention as it hosts the first European car show since Volkswagen’s diesel scandal sent shockwaves around the world. The spotlight will inevitably fall on VW chief executive Matthias Mueller, who is still licking his wounds after a rocky US apology tour (which the company conveniently blamed on language issues). Pundits and analysts are predicting that the Geneva Motor Show will be suffocated under a cloud of diesel smoke, but I beg to differ.

The naysayers are turning a blind eye to the impressive line-up of new super and hyper-cars debuting in Geneva. Volkswagen-owned Lamborghini and Bugatti are taking the wraps off some of the most closely watched models: the limited edition Lamborghini Centenario and the Bugatti Chiron. You don’t have to be a car guy (or girl in my case) to marvel at the wonder of the Chiron. The details have been closely guarded by VW but a teaser version of the Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo hints at an eight litre V-16 engine packed with 1,500 horsepower generating a top speed of up to 288 mph. I know what you’re thinking... time to cash in the pension, this is the one you’ve been waiting for! But think twice before you drive away with your dream cottage in the Cotswolds. The Chiron is due to set you back $2.5m.

With total production of the Chiron expected to be under 500 units, the hyper-car won’t make a dent in Volkswagen’s balance sheet. But it speaks volumes about management’s commitment to staying on top of the game in engineering and performance. The mere fact the C-suite didn’t scrap the costly project as soon as the crisis engulfed VW’s Wolfsburg headquarters should comfort investors that some things are still sacred in a post diesel-gate world. The brash Bugatti might even keep outraged climate officials and EU regulators at bay, with a hybrid option rumoured to be on offer.

VW’s chief executive has repeatedly apologised in the aftermath of the crisis and has vowed to restore a sense of humility to Europe’s largest automaker. He has made good on that pledge on a personal level by reportedly scrapping the firm’s largest Airbus private jet (not all of them mind you) and by assuming a more open door approach than his predecessor, Martin Winterkorn. But when it comes to the Geneva Motor Show, which has earned its reputation for defying practicality by showcasing super cars for the super rich, perhaps a display of arrogance is exactly what VW and the industry need.

Even before the emissions crisis, bearish analysts were forecasting the end of an era for automakers, with sales threatening to peak at post-crisis highs as a generation of Uber-addicted urban dwellers shuns car ownership altogether. But rather than turn cars into eco-friendly smartphones on wheels, Europe’s premium brands have an opportunity to remind the world why cars can be the things dreams are made of.

Legendary boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr has been tipped by celebrity bloggers as one of the early customers of the new Bugatti Chiron. Mayweather never earned accolades for humility or sportsmanship, but he knows a thing or two about winning. Had he witnessed Mueller’s December press conference, where the VW boss repeated the familiar refrain “our best days are ahead of us,” I can’t help but think the boxing champion would have interjected with one of his widely-quoted lines: “showing is better than telling.”

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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