FRANKFURT: The Paris Motor Show, or the Mondial de l’Automobile, is widely recognized as the ultimate show for cars lovers and manufacturers alike. Held every two years in Paris since 1898, the oldest motor show in the world is where major trends in the automotives industry are revealed.
This year 13,000 journalists and almost 1.5 million visitors came to see the latest wheels from the world’s leading carmakers.
In the last two decades, it has been a race of power as the most prestigious tuners brought their tools to make the most exclusive vehicles in the market even more powerful. And the race of supercharged cylinders began.
The 2008 edition, however, witnessed a change of course: The profusion of electric and hybrid models was staggering, with models from established carmakers as well as newcomers to the industry. Sharply fluctuating oil prices and an increasing awareness of the environment seems to have steered manufacturer’s technical and aesthetic choices towards more “green cars.
Despite the sheer number of electric vehicles, the key players were few. One car that will likely conquer the streets in the future is the B Zero, an electric vehicle born from the marriage of French industrial group Bolloré and Italian designer PininFarina. This sophisticated four-seater hatchback is designed from scratch to be an electric car, unlike the majority of models that are simply derived from traditional platforms.
The Lithium Polymers batteries ensure an autonomy of approximately 250 km and its top speed will reach 130 km/h. The B Zero will be launched by the end of 2009 at a price tag that is very similar to its petrol powered competitors. The same date is announced for the commercial release of the Smart ForTwo ElectricDrive, which is already being tested by the London and Berlin police departments.
Honda revealed a model at the Paris Auto Show that has already been dubbed the “Prius Killer. The Insight 2 is billed as being more economic, lighter and more spacious, in addition to being better looking that than the competition.
The other hybrid star comes from the US and has been tasked with rescuing Chevrolet from its current slump. The carmaker, famous for petrol-thirsty engines, suffering from a severe decline in the volume of sales and is counting on this new model to begin its second century in the black. (Chevrolet celebrated its 100th birthday in 2008)
The Volt has two engines under the bonnet: a small petrol engine that generates electricity to charge a battery used to power the second electrical engine. In city traffic, it runs exclusively on electricity, with zero emissions. The price tag of $35,000 seems to sit well with the public – more than 25,000 orders are now confirmed with a deposit of $10,000. Delivery date: 2010.
Back to streamline models, General Motors revealed Nubira’s successor: the Cruze. Improvements were made to every single aspect of the car: it’s safer, more comfortable and way better looking than the aging Nubira. The carmaker’s objective is to re-conquer its lost market shares.
Volkswagen unveiled the sixth generation of its bestseller Golf model. Aesthetically modern and elegant, the car features a range of new energy-efficient engines (80 to 270 hp) and the list of available options makes it possible to equip the car like more high-range models: eight airbags, parking sensors, radar controlled cruise control, and a dozen other electronic gadgets.
Renault responded to the German competition by revealing its Megane 3, with a design more in phase with the other new models of the brand, and features focusing on security and comfort.
While the other two French manufacturers, Peugeot and Citroen, did not debut any significant models, all eyes were on their concept cars – a real turning point in the design philosophy of both carmakers.
Peugeot presented the RC HyMotion, muscular and feline, its lines break with the fading design of the current models and introduce the future trends of the brand. Citroen, on the other hand, showed less realistic concept cars: the GT concept and the Hypnos. Both very sporty and massive, they underscore the brand’s eagerness to offer more exciting vehicles as opposed to the family cars it is reputed for.
The ever-popular BMW displayed two interesting concept cars, both with off-road pretensions: the Mini Crossover Concept and the X1. Due to hit the road soon, the X1 is the smallest SUV on offer by the Bavarian’s carmaker, and the other prefigures the 4×4 declination of the Mini Clubman.
Surprisingly, there were no big surprises at the Mercedes-Benz stand, except the concept Fascination, which introduces the new face of the future E-Class. As always, it is a mix of the brand’s legendary prestige and refined modernity. The S600 Pullman Guard is a longer version of the S600 with shield armors and high tech security features – a model made with heads of states in mind.
The big surprises of the show were without a doubt two Italian creations, two unexpected newcomers in the exclusive circle of supercars. The first is the baby Ferrari: the first cabriolet with a metallic roof in the history of the brand. It is called the California, an ode to the legendary convertible that brought glory to the brand in the 70s. It is the cheapest model available in the catalogue with a price tag of $240,000. The model is already sold out until 2011.
The other surprise was an oeuvre by Lamborghini: the first four-door sports car ever manufactured by the brand. The model will be on the road by 2009, and is set to compete with the Porsche Panamericana and the Aston Martin Rapide. All of these target wealthy executive buyers who want the sporty charm of a GT coupe plus the comfort and practicality of a four-door model.
This is just an overview of the highlights presented at this year’s Paris Auto Show, which from now on will be considered the “green show. Models you see today in pictures will be on the streets of tomorrow.