Geneva motor show: Car makers get bullish

Supercars and confidence everywhere you look at the Geneva motor show

If you had to pick a word to sum up this year's Geneva motor show, I think it would be one-upmanship. Is that two words, technically? Perhaps it is, but if so then it's even more appropriate, giving the whole event a certain ring of classic, malaprop-spouting Hollywood moguls.

The build up had been little short of astonishing. Now that the global motor industry has broadly recovered from the dark years between 2008 and 2014, there was a distinct sense of muscle-flexing in the distance as we approached Geneva. A feeling that the world’s car makers were about to let loose after six years of being tied down by budgetary concerns and environmental worries. Heck, even the price of petrol had the good grace to plummet in the weeks running up to the show.

So, as we began, all of the major supercar makers had set out their wares. Ferrari with its turbocharged 488 GTB; McLaren with a pairing of 675LT and a track-only P1 GTR; Lamborghini's 760hp Aventador SV; Audi's slick new 610hp V10 R8, Aston Martin's track-only Vulcan with its 800hp V12 and Porsche's 500hp 911 GT3 RS.

These big hitters would be ably backed up by lesser, but still staggeringly sporty, new models. Aston Martin would bring a stripped and lightened GT3-spec Vantage V12; Porsche a hard-core (and sold out as it turned out) Cayman GT4 while the hot hatch wars would be fought out by a 323hp Ford Focus RS, a 320hp Honda Civic Type R and a sharper, lighter 220hp RenaultSport Clio RS.


We also thought that, in the run up to the show, we knew what the various car makers had to offer. We thought there would be no surprises. We were very, very wrong.

There is little that is no surprising about an Aston Martin off-road Coupe with a luxury interior, electric propulsion and four wheel drive. There is little about that whole sentence that is not, indeed, entirely unlikely and almost inconceivable – yet there was the DBX concept on Aston Martin’s stand, alongside which stood Aston boss Andy Palmer promising that it would go into production.

A decade of big, hefty, twelve-cylinder Bentleys had also left us totally unprepared for the EXP10 Speed 6 concept – a low and light two seat sports coupe that will platform share with a new front-engined Porsche GT. It was brought to the show to demonstrate what Bentley will do when it's finished creating its controversial and heavy Bentayga SUV and it shows that the future of the brand seems to be in good hands. It will, incidentally, tip the scales at less than two-tonnes, making it potentially the lightest Bentley ever made.

At the more demarcating end of things, Opel with its Karl city car and Skoda with the rather gorgeous Superb saloon showed that you didn't have to spend big money to find a terrific car at Geneva. Opel is particularly proud of the interior space in the Karl – a handy side effect of only designing the car to use one specific (and compact) three-cylinder engine.

Peuegot abstained from the big, showy concept car parade but it did bring a very real revised 208 hatchback which can score a 75g/km Co2 rating – unthinkable for a non-hybrid not so long ago, and this is with a 1.6-litre diesel engine, which has rather torquey performance.

Citroen was at a slight loss though at Geneva. Its C4 Cactus just missed out on the European Car Of The Year award (which went to VW's Passat) and all it really had to show us was the separation of the DS badge out into its own brand. There was a much-updated DS5 hatch to show us, but the problem was that Citroen also included an original 1955 DS saloon, which is celebrating its 60th birthday. It rater unfortunately demonstrated all that a modern DS isn't.

Mercedes showed is the gargantuan and luxurious interior of the S600 Maybach limousine while also telling us that it was planning more and more hybrid and plugin hybrid models, including hybrid AMG sports models. It was the gorgeous, outrageous GT3 racing version of the AMG GT coupe that rather better held our attention though…

Over at Nissan's luxury brand Infiniti, things are also beginning to make rather more sense. We're still waiting for Infiniti to arrive in Ireland, and to be honest, thus far, we've not missed much – some rather poor attempts to make US-centric models appeal to Europeans. Even Cadillac has given up on that wheeze – announcing at the show that a European return is still some years away.

Infiniti though had the rather neat QX30 crossover concept – based on a Mercedes A-Class and a production model in all but name and detailing. It’s a handsome little thing and one that could do well for Infiniti here.

Better yet on Nissan’s stand was the new Micra. OK, so it’s the Sway concept car for now but it’s dramatic to look at and, apparently, will be the new Micra when it arrives next year.

Also arriving next year will be a god-looking new Suzuki Swift (if the iK2 concept is anything to go by) while the iM4 small 4x4 concept showed that Suzuki is serious about getting back to its Rhino and Jimny roots.

Meanwhile the Audi Q7 e-Tron showed that you can, apparently, take a big, luxury seven-seat SUV and, thanks to plugin hybrid technology, give it a 50g/km emissions figure. It as joined in the plugin lineup by the Volkswagen Sport Coupe Concept GTE (or the new Passat CC as it's better known), the Mitsubishi XR PHEV II concept (a preview of the new ASX) and a Mercedes C-Class plugin, using a 2.0-litre petrol engine and emitting just 48g/km. Maserati announced that it will make plugin hybrid versions of its Ghibli and Quattroporte saloons and its upcoming Levante SUV. Parent Fiat didn't have much to show (another retro-special 500 was all) but did announce that it would make a new 124 Convertible sports car, based on the same platform as the Mazda MX-5. That had been supposed to be a modern-day Alfa Spider, until Sergio Marchionne decreed that all Alfas had to be built in Italy.

As press day wound down to a close, there was time for one last surprise from Aston Martin; that it's striking Taraf luxury car will in fact be coming to Europe. It had originally been planned just for Middle-east-sales, but the response has been so significant that Aston has been persuaded. It will probably wear a Lagonda badge when it arrives here, though.

Elsewhere, Seat finally got the SUV it needs to become profitable, in the shape of 20V20 concept which goes into production next year, while VW boss Martin Winterkorn underlined the bullish nature of the show by basically saying "come at me, bro…" when questioned about the possibility of computer giant Apple entering the car market.

So, what have we learned today? We've learned that there's nothing quite so exciting as a British sports car maker producing something unexpected. We've learned that a front-drive Honda hatchback can circulate the world's most fearsome race track in less than eight minutes. We've learned that Porsche won't be extending the Cayman GT4's production run beyond its oversubscribed 2,000 units. We've learned that a big Audi SUV can be as frugal and clean as a Toyota Prius plugin – theoretically of course.

Toyota didn’t bring much to the show, but updated versions of the Avensis and Auris (new engines, including an all-new 1.2-litre petrol turbo) are easily of more importance to more Irish buyers than any multi-million-Euro supercar.

One unspoken worry did cloud the show floor though - what of the Chinese economy? With Beijing proposing stimulus packages, could a collapse in China’s car market spell doom for the Western world’s car industry?

For all that though we seem to have learned that the global car industry is back to producing exciting vehicles. Until or unless there is another financial or environmental shock, supercars are firmly back on the agenda. Oh, they’re lighter and more sophisticated than once was the case, but big engines and big power still have some time left on the stage, if Geneva 2015 is anything to go by.