June 2009 will go down as a watershed month for the car industry. The biggest of the Detroit Three, General Motors, entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the largest failure of an industrial company in US history. The leaner GM that emerged under US government ownership focused on just four brands: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC. Pontiac and Saturn were discontinued.
As part of its restructuring process, GM looked to sell off its two European arms. In what have since turned into long-running, on-off deals, Canadian parts supplier Magna looked set to buy Opel/Vauxhall, while Swedish supercar maker Koenigsegg agreed to buy Saab.
As GM went into bankruptcy, Chrysler came out the other side and Fiat took a 20 per cent stake in the newly formed Chrysler Group.
Meanwhile, in Germany, Mercedes’ S-class Experimental Safety Vehicle previewed a novel external airbag. It inflated when a collision was imminent and helped the car decelerate by creating friction and lifted the front of the car to compensate for dive.
Closer to home, it proved to be a sad month with the passing of former TVR boss Peter Wheeler. The maverick was the Colin Chapman or Enzo Ferrari of his day and he is still sorely missed.
At a time when the global car industry was focused on downsizing and cost cutting, Aston Martin and Bugatti were left wondering what the fuss was all about. Steve Sutcliffe got up close and personal with all £1.2m worth of Aston’s One-77. Its 750bhp sounded a lot, but it was nothing compared with June’s other £1.2m supercar, the 987bhp Bugatti Veyron Gran Sport. Even without a roof, the Veyron was still good for 200mph.
A mouth-watering twin test also occurred in June when the Ferrari F40 went up against – and beat – the modern-day 430 Scuderia. Andrew Frankel thought the F40 was still the most spellbinding experience he’s had in a road car 15 years after testing it.
At the other end of the price scale, Sutcliffe and Matt Prior proved you needn’t own a supercar to have a memorable and involving driving experience. The RenaultSport Clio 200 Cup triumphed in our budget hot hatch shootout, beating five similar-priced rivals. Along the way it also proved it could keep pace with the considerably more powerful and expensive Ford Focus RS.
The two best diesel saloons in the world went head to head in June, with the new Jaguar XF 3.0D narrowly beating the BMW 535d. But they weren’t the most interesting diesels this month; that honour went to Volkswagen’s Bluesport Roadster Concept. We were full of praise for the Bluesport, deciding it was even better to drive than to look at. Best of all, at £20k it was affordable and proved, in an environmentally conscious world, driving fun would remain in reach.