Automakers desperate to generate buzz at Geneva show

The Geneva auto show in Switzerland this week provides desperate automakers from around the world a chance to stir interest in their new vehicles.

Geneva, held from Thursday to March 15, is annually Europe's first major auto show, but as other shows from London to Tokyo shrink and consider cancellation in the face of the worldwide recession, Geneva takes on unprecedented importance and the list of vehicles to debut there grows.

Chevrolet will show the production versions of two small and fuel-efficient cars GM developed to raise the brand's global profile and rejuvenate U.S. sales. Fiat, Chrysler's potential Italian partner, will reveal new engines the company calls vital to its plan for the United States.

Ford's spicy 300-horsepower Focus RS performance compact foreshadows the broad range of small vehicles the automaker is engineering in Europe for production and sale around the world. The next generation of the European-engineered Focus is to go into production at Ford's Wayne, Mich., assembly plant next year.

The lightning-fast Focus RS uses its turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine to combine 30-miles per gallon fuel economy with 0 to 62 mph acceleration of just 5.9 seconds and a top speed of 163 mph.

Ford will combine turbocharging with direct fuel-injection in the EcoBoost system it will offer in V-6 engines to provide fuel economy and power in the Taurus SHO and other models in the United States this year. Ford will also use turbos and direct injection to wring more power and fuel economy out of the array of small cars and crossovers it will build and sell in the United States.

The Focus RS is the first product of Ford's new global performance team.

Ford also plans to show the latest in the line of Iosis concept vehicles its European design team created to introduce the brand's striking new design. No advance details are available, but any Iosis is worth watching. Previous concepts led to stunning vehicles like the Kuga sporty crossover and Mondeo sedan.

GM will reveal the production version of the first European car to use the revolutionary electric drivetrain it developed for the Chevrolet Volt. Called the Opel Ampera, the new car will probably come from the same Detroit/Hamtramck assembly plant where Volt production is to begin next year.

Chevrolet will show the production version of its Spark minicar, which is to go on sale in the United States in 2011. The tiny four-seat Spark is even smaller than Chevy's Aveo subcompact.

Chevrolet hopes its sharp looks and a range of accessories will help the brand gain traction with the same kind of hip and environmentally conscious buyers who line up for the Smart Fortwo and Toyota's Scion brand.

The roomy Chevrolet Cruze compact, scheduled to go on sale in the United States next year, goes on sale in Europe this month and will also feature prominently in GM's display.

Fiat, which is negotiating to provide technology and platforms for fuel-efficient small cars to Chrysler, will reveal a new engine technology that company considers key to its U.S. play.

Fiat also wants to sell its cute 500 city car and its sporty Alfa Romeo brand in the United States in a deal that would see some models built in Chrysler factories and sold by Chrysler dealers.

Fiat's stand at the show will feature a convertible model of the hit 500, while Alfa will show a lightweight GTA version of its charming MiTo subcompact.

Geneva will also see the rebirth of one of the auto industry's great heritages in the Citroen DS3 concept car. The subcompact DS concept borrows its name and an air of elegance from the classic Citroen DS large cars.

The French brand plans to launch three new models to regain its prestige image over the next several years, beginning with a subcompact DS in 2010.

Other intriguing models debuting at the show include Audi's 300-horsepower TT RS, which has a 2.5-liter turbocharged engine and a top speed of 155 mph, and the BMW 5-series Gran Turismo, a fastback concept that's close to an upcoming production model and reveals the styling of BMW's next 5-series sedan.

Rugged crossover station wagons at the show include the Saab 9-3X, which goes on sale in the United States later this year, assuming Saab is around, and the Europe-only Audi A4 Allroad.

Volkswagen will reveal the new version of its Polo subcompact, one of the brand's best sellers and a model that is a candidate for sales in the United States as VW strives to more than double its sales in America by 2018.

Mercedes-Benz will show the production version of its new E-class sedan and coupe. The E-class is the first vehicle to get a new family of four-cylinder engines Mercedes developed for use across its model line as the German luxury brand works to boost the fuel efficiency of its vehicles.

Mercedes had planned to introduce the coupe later in the year, but reportedly pulled it forward because of the uncertain prospects for the rest of Europe's auto shows.