Dec 22 2008 Steve Hughes
A year of mixed fortunes
WHAT a difference a year makes! It turned out to be the most important year since the invention of the motorcar more than a century ago but unfortunately for all the wrong reasons.
There was little hint of the manufacturing meltdown that was looming large as we went into 2008 with a mission to spend, spend, spend.
Car makers were on a roll after several years of boom, spurred on by the soaring house prices that convinced consumers it made sound financial sense to borrow on the back of the unprecedented equities in their properties.
When January arrived the auto firms were fighting each other for pole position at the North American Motor Show in a bid to gain the limelight for the new cars that would be the year's biggest sellers both in the States and throughout Europe.
It heralded the return of Abarth, with the Fiat 500 and Grande Punto lined up as the first recipients of the iconic sporting badge.
We also caught our first glimpse of the all-new Ford Focus, which aimed to retain its long-held crown as the nation's favourite, together with the fastest Fiesta in the guise of the sporty ST.
Audi gave us a taste of the awesome diesel-powered super cars that were to come with the 6.0-litre V12 R8 TDI that could rocket from rest to 60mph in just over four seconds.
In February Jaguar unveiled the car that it said would be regarded as a latter-day E-Type and Fiat introduced the 500 that was to become the 2008 Car of the Year.
The following month sister company Alfa Romeo revealed its MiTo and the great British car-buying public became familiar with the term credit-crunch for the first time.
Ford announced that it was planning a coupe rival for the Scirocco, which was immediately branded the new Capri.
MINI showed us its idea for a 4x4 version, which it called Crossman, Ford introduced its Kuga and Renault showed us the forthcoming Laguna Coupe.
Behind the scenes two of the greatest names in British motoring were being sold to India, although with what we know now the timing for Tata to acquire Jaguar and Land Rover could hardly have been worse.
The Geneva Motor Show in spring was buzzing with exciting new models and Subaru finally introduced a diesel.
At opposite ends of the scale Ferrari lifted the lid on its stunning new California and Ford revealed the stylish new Ka city car.
Renault revealed the new Megane and Fiat said there would be a rag-top version of the 500.
By May we were all going eco-crazy and manufacturers were introducing ultra-economical models to help save the planet and people's wallets.
Mercedes had spent several years developing its new X6 model so despite the circumstances it duly arrived in May to be followed by news of a super-fast RS version of the Focus and the first new car from Lotus for years in the form of the Evora.
The British Motor Show in the summer made the usual claims of being the biggest and best ever, despite the non-appearance of some of the most important names on the grounds of cost.
Speaking of cost - a mystery buyer defied the credit crunch by commissioning Italian styling house Pininfarina to give his brand new Rolls-Royce Phantom a make-over in return for a cheque for one million pounds.
In the real world the wraps came off the new Volkswagen Polo and Golf models and Vauxhall's important new Insignia took to the roads.
Peugeot decided it was time to emerge as a potential purveyor of supercars when it revealed its stunning RC concept car at the Paris motor show.
Back in Blighty the forthcoming recession was looming large and councils up and down the land reported the theft of roadside signs and manhole covers for their scrap value.
MG re-emerged in the UK thanks to the Chinese and we also welcomed the return of the VW Scirocco in addition to a stylish coupe version of the Passat.
By October the recession was causing serious damage and even Lewis Hamilton's spectacular Formula One victory could not lift us out of the doldrums, with Honda, Suzuki, Subaru and several others announcing their decision to withdraw from motorsport.
We said goodbye to the 200mph Mercedes SLR McLaren and hello to the MG ZS plus electric and convertible versions of the MINI.
By the end of the year there was no avoiding the effects of the recession, with UK manufacturing and sales suffering the same fate as those in every other country in the world.
Begging bowls, rescue plans, production cuts and mass redundancies signalled a regrettable end to the annus horribilis that was 2008.
One of the few companies to be relatively immune was Audi, which introduced a plethora of new models including the A3, A5 Cabriolet, Q5, R8 Diesel, R8 V10, S4, TT Clubsport and Diesel plus the TTS.
Ford also offered a glimmer of hope for better times ahead with an announcement just before Christmas that its new Fiesta had attracted 11,500 buyers in the UK in just 80 days.
Of these, more than 9,000 were private buyers, which equates to 80 per cent in comparison to the usual proportion of 60 per cent, indicating a welcome return of confidence among consumers.