When the going gets tough, the tough gear up

Wed, Oct 3, 2012, 01:00

PARIS MOTOR SHOW:CARMAKERS DEALING with weak consumer appetite in the battered European market pointed towards inevitable cuts to plant capacity and labour costs at the Paris Motor Show, which opened last week. Company bosses were resigned to a further slump in demand, as industry gloom overshadowed the no-frills small cars and gleaming cars displayed on the stands. But there was still some new metal on show that will be coming to Irish forecourts in the coming months.

Jag goes for the jugular

The Jaguar F-Type was one of the surprises of the show, a really tidy, stylish little package with a design that offers a mix of artistic lines to the rear and real menace at the front. Some suggest it has Maserati looks in its DNA, but Scottish designer Ian Callum was clearly playing on the heritage of the E-Type when he was sketching this car. And he needed to keep it modern and sleek, because the F-Type has its sights firmly set on taking sales from the likes of the Porsche Cayman.

On offer with three powertrain options – 3-litre V6 in 340bhp or 380bhp format, or 5-litre supercharged 495bhp – it will hit Irish showrooms in March. Prices are likely to start at €80,000 for the 340bhp version. It is launched in a soft-top, but we can already start to imagine how good a coupe version would look. Jaguar might be a niche brand, but it’s really on the rise.

Sister firm Land Rover is also bucking the industry trend with phenomenal demand for its Range Rover Evoque. Sales are up 40 per cent year-to-date, and while European sales might not be challenging the big-volume players, the Asian markets can’t seem to get enough of the British brand. With that in mind the arrival of new Range Rover – the fourth since the model was launched in 1974 – should spell sales success for the firm, particularly in China. It’s got a noticeably smaller front grille that takes a little away from the usual Range Rover stance, but the car is as plush inside as any luxury car. By using aluminium, the firm has also drastically reduced its weight, down a whopping 420kg on the outgoing model. It’s still going to be silly money to tax one, but at least the emissions are going in the right direction, with promises it will come in below 200g/km.

Golf ups its game

Sticking on the weight loss theme, the new VW Golf has dropped an impressive 15 per cent on average compared to the previous version. The new car’s engine options include a BlueMotion version that will deliver 85g/km. It’s still clearly a Golf, but has been tweaked enough to please the millions of customers who keep coming back for more. When the flagship GTi arrives next year the 2-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged engine will have an optional power boost package that will bring it from the standard 218bhp to 227bhp. New to the GTi range is VW’s progressive steering system, which reduces the number of degrees of turn the driver needs to apply to the steering wheel. That means lighter parking and tighter handling on twisty roads.

Toyota’s Tourer de force

Over at Toyota, the big news is the arrival of the new Auris, even if it’s not quite that big news since details and images of the car have been on the go since mid-August. New to the range is the Auris Tourer, an estate version that was sadly missing from the range since the end of the Corolla estate in the early 2000s. Toyota has also confirmed new versions of the Auris people-carrier variants.

The Auris estate will arrive in Ireland in November with an engine range that includes a 1.4-litre diesel, 1.3- and 1.6-litre petrol and a hybrid variant running on the same powertrain as the current Prius. While the estate is unlikely to exceed 10 per cent of Auris sales in Ireland, on the Continent it makes up over a quarter of sales.

BMW and Audi drive ahead

At the premium end of the market BMW and Audi both revealed concepts that showcase future production models. First up was Audi with its Crossland Coupe concept car, a sneak peek at what the upcoming Q2 will look like.

Meanwhile, arch-rivals BMW showed off its upcoming rival to the Mercedes B-Class. The Concept Active Tourer is not only a high-roofed family hatch, but also breaks with the BMW rear-wheel-drive tradition.

The firm is also boasting another first in Paris in that it has opened one of the first BMW boutique shops in the city, on the famous Avenue George V. Sitting alongside the highest of high-fashion brands in the plushest shopping street in Paris, the store will be a front for selling the brand not only in terms of merchandise but, BMW executives hope, selling some cars as well through association with the other names it sits alongside on Paris’s most prestigious avenue.

Doth they protest too much?

It’s perhaps a reflection of the introspection of the motor industry these days that with the European market in the doldrums, the most talked-about event of the first day of the Paris Motor show was the banner that Greenpeace unfurled during the Volkswagen press conference. It was a bit of a PR coup, but in some ways it was a win-win for both.

Greenpeace proved once more that it can get its message across despite security. But it hardly compares with their recent endeavours in France, when they managed to sneak into a nuclear power station. The message it was trying to get across is that VW needs to come onside with moves to set low emissions targets for car firms. However, their point was rather weakened by the fact that their protest took place during the launch of the VW Golf, whose fleet boasts variants that achieve sub-99g/km in CO2. The eponymous brand from the car giant is in fact making great strides to reduce emissions; its overall emissions averages are being pushed up by the fact that VW is a sister brand to supercar brands – and big emitters – such as Bentley, Bugatti and Lamborghini. For Volkswagen it’s not as bad in terms of PR as it might appear. The new Golf and its lower emissions received far wider coverage because of the protest than its marketing team could have hoped.

So it’s another win for Greenpeace but in a way it’s another win for VW and its new Golf, which, for those eco-warriors who are wondering, will be in showrooms in Ireland from December. And with only 99g/km in emissions it will be one of the cleanest family hatchbacks on the market.

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