Last night, the Volkswagen Group held its traditional pre-Geneva motor show bash. It was a 90-minute tour de force of new models and concepts that no other automotive maker could hope to match.
There was triple-level security at the hall in central Geneva, not just because the VW top brass were in attendance, but because the night’s proceedings took place under the benign gaze of supervisory board boss Ferdinand Piech, who has spent the last two decades steering VW Group to what it is today.
With the media stacked up on both sides of the ‘catwalk’, all VW’s brands rolled in new models: Skoda’s Octavia Wagon, Seat’s Leon three-door SC, the new Golf estate, and the Audi A3 plug-in hybrid. VW’s commercial arm even showed a stylish concept urban deliver van.
But the evening began with the unveiling of the extraordinary Volkswagen XL1, probably the world’s most economical car. The project started at the end of the last century when then VW brand boss Piech decided he wanted to build a viable production car capable of travelling 100km on 1-litre of petrol (282mpg). The tandem-seated L1 concept (which had a single cylinder engine and weighed 290kg empty) was shown in 2002.
11 years later, the production XL1 was unveiled as Piech and his wife (also a member of the VW supervisory board) looked on from centre stage. The evening ended with the European Car of The Year award being presented to VW bosses for the Golf 7.
It’s 21 years since the Golf - in Mk3 guise - last won the ECoTY. It was a high point in a dire time for VW. When Piech took over the VW Group in 1993, it was said to be just months from going broke. After nine years in charge - and a raft of audacious brand purchases - Piech left to become the head of the VW supervisory board. But he kept a very firm hand on the tiller.
Last night was Piech’s victory parade. His multi-brand strategy has been a near complete success (only Seat is struggling to become sustainably profitable) and the MQB platform and factory combination is being rolled out across the world, giving the company a huge competitive advantage. VW shifted 9.3m vehicles in 2012, is net profits in 2012 were up 40 percent and it is also on track to become the world’s largest carmaker.
It was bookended by the remarkable XL1 - a swaggering technology showcase - and the Golf 7 retaking its definitive ‘all the car you need’ title by a massive majority in the ECoTY voting. Rivals such as GM Europe, Ford Europe and Peugeot-Citroen are losing billions. The VW juggernaut looks unstoppable. Ferdinand Piech, meanwhile, has cemented his place as one of the all-time great automotive industrialists and engineers.