By Brendan Moore
After the press days last week in Paris at the 2008 Paris Auto Show, I had a lot of information from the various manufacturers to go through, as well as the photos and notes I myself took during the show. There are a couple of cars I want to focus on in separate articles shortly, but here are some general observations about the show.
Besides the ever-present diesels, there are electric cars and electric-gas hybrid vehicles everywhere at the show this year. There are also a lot of gasoline-powered, tiny urban cars. Many of the cars in all three of these non-diesel categories are from small specialty car manufacturers, who, sensing a market vacuum, have rushed in with a product to fill that vacuum. A fair amount of the very small cars from specialty carmakers were very challenged in the looks department.
The small cars as a group were drawing large crowds of journalists. The new Ford Ka, the electric Smart car, the Toyota iQ, the Chevrolet Volt, the Mitsubishi MiEV, the Nissan Nuvu, and, of course, the new Honda Insight, had standing room only around the cars during press days. Smaller manufacturers’ efforts were drawing well, too, with the Pininfarina-Bolloré joint electric car project due in 2009 completely mobbed by journalists, although the mob effect was probably amplified considerably by the fact that they were in a very small room. And the Venturi Eclectic was getting a lot of foot traffic when I visited there.
There were also a great many suppliers at the 2008 Paris Auto Show hawking various types of alternative energy or alternative fuel products. As an example, I spent some time with a French vendor there who was selling ethanol conversion kits for the European market. He had a 2007 Ford Mustang on his stand that had undergone such a conversion. When I told him that General Motors produced over six million OEM vehicles able to run on ethanol or gasoline, this was news to him. In fact, it is a safe statement to say that he was stunned at the production numbers. When I then added that very few of the vehicles ever got to run on ethanol because there were no fueling stations that offered ethanol in most parts of the U.S., he was puzzled. I didn’t have the time or the French language skills to explain the inanity of CAFE regulations to him, so I gave him my best Gallic shrug when he asked why so many cars would be built to use fuel that you couldn’t buy. Conversely, I was surprised at how many ethanol stations were in France – the vendor had a map of France (about the size of the state of Pennsylvania) with the various retail locations selling ethanol shown on the map, and there were a fair amount of locations. Maybe GM should sell some of those flex-fuel vehicles in Europe.
Speaking of GM, and Ford, and Chrysler, it looked as if the Paris show this year was invaded by the American car companies, which is in stark contrast to previous years, when only Ford had a large presence at the Paris show.
Chrysler had a huge display, populated by models in faux camping outfits with small tight shorts. GM also had a lot of real estate, even more than Chrysler, with separate stands for Chevrolet, Saab, Cadillac, Opel and Hummer, although GM’s territory was in Hall 5, one of the more remote exhibition halls. The GM stands had a lot of traffic, with, of course, the exception of Hummer, who was the odd man out in the current economic and environmental environment in Europe. Just like in the States. Ford commanded a large stand in the main hall with the French makes, and so was reaping the rewards of that strategic placement.
The French and the Italian manufacturers in the main hall had some great displays with some delectable cars. The American public just doesn’t know what its missing, with Peugeot, Citroen, Renault, Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo having been gone so long from this side of the Atlantic. Yes, Alfa is coming back with their flagship car, to be sold through Fiat Group’s Maserati subsidiary, but I’m talking about the mass-market cars sold by these manufacturers – the cars that regular people and poorly-paid auto journalists could afford. My favourites came from the same manufacturer, Citroen. Both the Citroen C5 and the unapologetically French C6 would be the cars I’d save for if I were in Europe. And although I wouldn’t be a buyer, the Citroen C3 Picasso is another design that stands out in its uniqueness (read: French to the max). If money were no object, perhaps the voluptuous Maserati Quattroporte S, which was unveiled here.
And it’s not just the European makes that sell cars in Europe that Americans don’t see; there are also plenty of Asian models that don’t make it to the States that are sold in Europe. I just about fell in love with a small Daihatsu utility vehicle called the Bakley that was on display at the show.
There have been some articles in other media outlets that describe the mood at the Paris Show this year as “muted” or “somber”. I didn’t pick up that vibe at all. There is some anxiety over the economy and the future EU emissions requirements, but I wouldn’t characterize it as anything resembling depression. Make no mistake, everyone is acutely aware that things will be different going forward, but, at this point, the manufacturers believe that they can produce cars and trucks that will be: fun to drive, or, luxurious, performance vehicles, or some combination of all three, within the new constructs of fuel economy and emissions constraints.
Lastly, the city of Paris itself, was, well, Paris. The women are beautiful, the food is wonderful, the waiters are puffed up with themselves, and the traffic is a bit insane. You should visit there (again or for the first time) as soon as possible.
Some random photos of the cars at the 2008 Paris Auto Show can be found HERE.
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