Geneva Motor Show 2017: car companies play it safe

Firms stick with successful stalwarts amid falling sales, Brexit, Trump and emissions

Peugeot just can't seem to keep itself out of the news right now. First off, it has won the 2017 European Car Of The Year award and late on Sunday it was confirmed that the French carmaker, or at least the PSA Group which owns it and Citroën, has agreed terms to buy Opel and Vauxhall from General Motors.

Such a significant industry consolidation, and the creation of a new motoring group which has a combined total of 4.5 million sales and a 17 per cent share of the European car market, will quite possibly overshadow the actual show cars and show stars on display in Geneva’s Palexpo.

Neutral turf

Geneva is regarded as the most significant European car show, mostly because it takes place on ground that is regarded as literally and figuratively neutral. Quite apart from the traditional Swiss abhorrence of interference in the affairs of other nations, there’s the fact that there is no home-grown car industry to tub-thump in the manner of the home teams at the Detroit, Paris, Frankfurt, and Tokyo motor shows.

One potential star of the show is, you’ve guessed it, a Peugeot. The Instinct concept is a powerful (300hp) plug-in hybrid with a sports-car-come-estate rear end and a shovel-nosed front. It is designed to be both autonomous and fun to drive, and even has polished concrete, applied in a wafer-thin veneer, as an interior trim. It also has seats which can, allegedly, recline into a snoozing position without robbing space from the person sitting behind. Wonder if anyone’s mentioned that to Michael O’Leary?


Mercedes-Benz is also likely to cause some fuss of its own with a four-door version of its ultra-high-performance AMG-GT Coupé. With a 500-odd-hp V8 engine up front and space for the kids (just about) in the back, could this be the school-run special to finally stop the avalanche of SUVs? Of course not, but hey it's nice to dream.

Citroën will bring along its C-Aircross compact SUV concept for a start, which will be of no small appeal to school-run parents everywhere, not least because under the 4x4-ish styling lies a pretty practical MPV-esque interior. Its DS luxury brand will also be showing off its new DS 7 Crossback premium SUV, a putative rival to Audi’s Q5 and the Mercedes GLC.

German stable

Volkswagen will be showing off what should be a very-close-to-production version of its new Polo-based compact crossover, although it may well still be officially billed as a concept.

Most definitely not a concept is the new Arteon, which has a bizarre name but a very desirable, swoopy, four-door coupé body and is the new Passat CC. More practically minded buyers will prefer the new seven-seat Tiguan Allspace (someone’s already nabbed the “Biguan” name so we’re going to shamelessly steal it here).

Arch-rival for global supremacy Toyota will have its i-Tril concept, a tiny, electric city car with lots of autonomous features.

Audi will show a concept RS version of its upcoming new Q8 SUV, while Renault will have a new concept electric car, which it has so far managed to keep tightly under wraps.

Volvo crossover

On the production car front, Volvo will show its new XC60 SUV (complete with collision-avoiding steering), and Toyota will at long last create a proper hot hatch – the 200hp Yaris Gazoo, built to celebrate the brand's return to the World Rally Championship.

Suzuki will debut its sleek-looking new Swift hatchback, while Subaru will bring along its new XV crossover – a replacement for an underrated but over-priced car which looks barely any different to its antecedent.

Skoda will have its facelifted Rapid and Octavia hatchbacks and numerous extra versions of the Kodiaq SUV, while Seat will give its new Ibiza a first outing in front of Jean and Jeannette Publique.

Range Rover may just have a potential star of the show on its hands with the gorgeous new Velar SUV, but seeing as it was actually unveiled last week in London, it may not technically count as a Geneva show star.

Aston Martin will confirm the somewhat melodramatic name of Valkyrie for its new mid-engined 1,000hp hypercar, built in conjunction with the Red Bull F1 team, but it’s a car we’ve already seen and know about.

Franco-German friendship?

Opel will be bringing along the handsome new Insignia in both saloon and estate form, and presumably trying to get journalists to concentrate on questions about the car and not on how it feels to now be a French company. It will also have the new Crossland X small SUV, which is French – it borrows a platform from the Peugeot 2008 and the Citroen C-Aircross.

Nissan will have a facelift of the ever-popular Qashqai, incorporating some very high-tech autonomous driving systems, while Mitsubishi will court controversy by applying the classic Eclipse badge to a new crossover 4x4 – anyone under the age of 40 and not au fait with 1980s Mitsubishi sports cars will be entirely unconcerned.

McLaren will bring along its new 700-odd-hp 720S hypercar while Mazda will concentrate on showing off the new CX-5, unveiled for the first time late last year.

Kia will have the new Picanto, which looks rather like a cast member from Angry Birds, while sister brand Hyundai will come over all practical with the new i30 estate (and a possible fuel cell concept car too).

Jeep will try and get European buyers excited by the new Qashqai-sized-and-priced Compass (is this the Jeep that Irish buyers will finally take notice of?) and Honda will have its new 305hp Civic Type-R, previewed in barely-any-different concept form last year.

Ford, also in a hot hatch vein, will have the latest Fiesta ST on its stand, with its new 1.5-litre turbo three-cylinder engine producing 200hp.

Ferrari will have the 812 Superfast V12 coupé (essentially a facelift of the F12 Berlinetta), Dacia will have its now-entirely facelifted range on display (what a contrast to the Ferrari), BMW will have the 5 Series Touring and the new X3, while Audi will show off various RS models including those of the new A5 Coupé, the A1 small hatch and the new Q5.

Alfa Romeo will pull out a gorgeous double-whammy with the Stelvio SUV and a coupé version of the Giulia saloon and Renault will re-introduce the Alpine brand to the world with the lovely looking new A110 mid-engined coupé which, again, looks much like the concept we were shown last year.

Jaguar won't bother bringing its new Q3 and X1 rival, the E-Pace, to Geneva at all, preferring to generate its own publicity with a bespoke event in May.

Patterns and trends

Are you sensing a pattern? There seems, in these last few hours before the curtains are drawn back, very little that is dramatically new, or which has not been heavily previewed in advance, or which is not a safe-sales-bet mid-size SUV.

Following on from a couple of years of relatively bullish confidence at the Geneva motor show, 2017 could be one of the lowest-key events for years, its ebullience quashed by a combination of falling sales in the US and UK, the continuing political fallout from Trump and Brexit, concerns over the Russian market, and the potential for further industry consolidation and job losses in the wake of the PSA-Opel deal.

Plus, there's the lingering spectre of emissions, both of carbon (which is pushing climate change forward at an ever-accelerating rate) and harmful pollutants, largely from diesels, which the United Nations has just announced as the primary cause of the deaths of as many as 570,000 children worldwide every year. Against such a backdrop, the finer detail of the latest concept car or production model may seem like rather small beer indeed.

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe, a contributor to The Irish Times, specialises in motoring