McLaren 570 GT (McLaren Automotive Limited via AP)
Frankfurt: While waiting for the much-discussed future of driverless cars to arrive, European automakers are focusing on tried-and-tested sales winners at this year's Geneva International Auto Show — rolling out the small SUVs that are increasingly replacing hatchbacks and sedans in people's driveways.
Long after it has ceased to be an innovation, the small SUV category is drawing carmakers like catnip because it's seen as the best chance to continue to increase sales and keep development costs down.
Europe's car industry finally bounced back strongly in 2015 after the eurozone debt crisis that started in late 2009. Sales rose 9.3 percent to 13.7 million vehicles in the European Union countries in 2015 and have risen now for 29 straight months.
Meanwhile, the shadow of Apple and Google hangs over the industry, as people wonder when, if and how non-industry players will compete with incumbents. There will be plenty of discussions about Internet-connected cars, car sharing apps such as GM's Maven, and self-driving cars.
Until those driverless cars arrive, the metal on display in Geneva still represents the current model of people buying cars and driving them themselves.
Here are the most anticipated themes and vehicles at the Geneva Auto Show:
SMALLER AND SMALLER
Volkswagen AG's luxury brand Audi offers a tiny SUV, the Q2, which is aimed at attracting younger buyers to the brand. Audi is the first of the three high-priced German carmakers — the others being Daimler and BMW — to have an SUV this small.
Analyst Tim Urquhart from IHS Automotive said the business rationale is compelling. He said Volkswagen, like other carmakers, can use engines and transmissions from other models, in this case the Audi A3 compact car, "and get two cars for the price of one."
"The public sees a brand new model — but the research and development costs are relatively little," he said.
The Q2 will also likely share some components with a nearly production-ready Volkswagen-branded concept SUV that's also on display. Concepts are cars meant to show possible new designs, with only some eventually being produced.
Volkswagen's SEAT brand offers its mid-sized Atec on underpinnings shared with the Leon hatchback, giving the brand its first SUV offering; Skoda, another VW brand, has an SUV concept.
And Fiat Chrysler Automobile's Maserati brand is coming with the Levante, an SUV crossover that offers powerful 350-horsepower and 430-horsepower engines and a silhouette that stands out due its sharply tapered back window. A crossover combines SUV features such as higher driver seating and lots of cargo room in back with a lower, sloping roofline more like a sedan.