Ford Europe to expand upscale Vignale brand in Geneva

Neil Winton
Special to The Detroit News

Geneva, Switzerland – Ford Europe has taken on what looks like an impossible task: daring to challenge German luxury manufacturers like BMW, Mercedes and Audi.

At the annual Geneva Motor Show this week Ford will reveal new vehicles under its Vignale brand. Ford has already launched an upscale version of its Mondeo sedan, a European version of the Fusion. The automaker will announce details of the expanded brand at the show on Wednesday.

Ford is expected to add the new Kuga SUV to the Vignale lineup, plus the newly imported big Edge SUV, the S-Max minivan, and the Ford Fiesta ST200, the most powerful Fiesta model.

General Motors European subsidiaries Opel and Vauxhall will be having a quiet show, after investing heavily last year in the new family sedan, the highly regarded Astra. Opel sells a range of cars in mainland Europe, while Vauxhall sells the same ones in Britain with its badge. Opel will unveil its GT Concept, a design exercise for the styling of its cars of the future. Opel-Vauxhall also will unveil a face-lifted Mokka, a small SUV which sells as the Buick Encore in the U.S.

Ford is expected to add the new Kuga SUV to the Vignale lineup.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) subsidiary Alfa Romeo, the storied but stricken Italian sports car maker which has been about to launch a revival next year for as long as anyone can remember, will finally show key versions of its Giulia, which competes with the BMW 3 Series and Jaguar XE. Fiat, long-dependent on just the little 500 city car in Europe, will launch the bigger Tipo.

The rest of the show will be dominated by high-performance gas-guzzling supercars led by the 1,482 hp Bugatti Chiron at an expected price of $2.4 million. Aston Martin will unveil its DB 11, powered by a new 5.2 litre-V12 motor. Debutants also include the Ferrari GTC4 Lusso and McLaren 570GT. BMW has a hot new 600 hp 7 series flagship, the M760Li xDrive, flaunting a 6.6 litre V-12 engine. Lamborghini will show its limited edition Centenario.

Europe’s love affair with the SUV will gather momentum, led by Maserati with its first in this sector, the luxurious, sporty Levante. Volkswagen will reveal its new compact SUV, which is slightly smaller than the Tiguan, and set to compete with the booming sales of the Opel-Vauxhall Mokka, Renault Captur and Suzuki Vitara. Audi’s new Q2 will also plunge a toe into this sector.

Ford's upscale Vignale brand includes this version of the Mondeo wagon, which is based on the Ford Fusion. The automaker will unveil more vehicles carrying its Vignale brand this week at the Geneva Motor Show.

Meanwhile, expect some harsh criticism when Ford details its expanded Vignale line. Ford has said Vignale will boast a high level of luxury items, technology and service, and boost profit margins.

But the history of the European automotive industry is littered with failed examples of mass car makers trying to muscle in on German upmarket territory. Sales disasters like the Renault Vel Satis and Renault Avantime remind shareholders that companies enter this expensive territory at their peril.

And yet the mass car makers refuse to be daunted. Renault is making another attempt to break in with Initiale Paris versions of its cars and SUVs. Peugeot has its DS brand. Nissan’s Infiniti is making a half-hearted effort in Europe too. So far, Honda has resisted trying to sell Acura cars here.

The annual Geneva Motor Show, which opens to the public Thursday through through March 13, is Europe’s most important, not least because it is held on neutral ground and not dominated by local manufacturers like the biennial Paris and Frankfurt shows.