Geneva motor show: Despite worries about industry there’s still fun to be had

Electric confidence at Swiss show, but what lies beneath?


You might have been forgiven for thinking that there’s nothing wrong with the global car industry, judging from the Geneva motor show in 2019. Amid a gaggle of new car launches — from multi-cylinder supercars to electric city runabouts to the most expensive new car ever offered for sale — there seemed to be bullish confidence about. Confidence that seems to fly somewhat in the face of swingeing reality, a reality that includes tumbling car sales in China (the market that was long supposed to prop up the over-extended global car industry), the spectre of a tariff war between Europe, China, and Trump’s America, and the ever-dangling sword of Brexit Damoclese.

In spite of all these apparent headwinds, the car makers of Europe (and beyond) soldiered on, turning a blind eye to the issues facing the industry (except for BMW, which with nothing much in the way of new metal on its stand to talk about, issued dire warnings about its UK factories in the face of Brexit). Mind you, it’s noticeable how many big-name cars, not least the new VW Golf Mk8 and the Porsche Taycan, were not present at the show, almost as if they’re being held back to see how the global car market develops this year.

Electric power was to the fore, with all but a handful of brands (generally the smaller, specialist marques) launching either fully electric models, or plugin hybrid ones. The VW Group was pushing hard on the electric car button, with battery-powered concepts from Volkswagen itself, Audi, Skoda, and Seat plus news from Bentley that it is considering not only electric models to sit alongside its existing plugin hybrid tech, but also is interested in developing synthetic low-carbon fuels to help keep those V8s and W12s burning for a little longer.

However, all of the VW Group electric cars — the VW ID Buggy, the Audi Q4 e-Tron, the Seat El-Born, and the Skoda Vision IV — were all concept cars, not yet ready for production and none due to appear on sale until at least next year.

Confidence was most definitely in the air, or perhaps confidence’s distant cousin — bluster. For every conventional car on show (Renault’s smart new Clio, Mazda’s very handsome CX-30 crossover) there was a glut of electric or half-electric cars promising the Earth when it comes to range and performance.

Peugeot’s e208, Honda’s E-Prototype, Pininfarina’s Battisa supercar concept, Fiat’s Centoventi concept, Audi’s Q4 e-Tron and e-Tron Sportback, Mercedes EQV concept, Citroen’s Ami One concept, Volvo’s Polestar 2, and Aston Martin’s Lagonda All-Terrain concept — all entirely powered by electricity, and only one of which — the Peugeot — which you’ll actually be able to buy in production form today.

Jaguar’s impressive I-Pace electric car picked up the European Car Of The Year prize the night before the show kicked off, but Jaguar and sister brand Land Rover were both absent from the show, as was Ford and (technically) Volvo. The most famous electric car brand in the world, Tesla, also held back, waiting to unveil its new Model Y SUV in 10 day’s time.

Of supercars and high performance machinery, there were many from which to choose. Ferrari’s F8 Tributo and Lamborghini’s menacing Huracan Evo Spyder (all 631hp of it) would make a nice matching pair, but perhaps Aston Martin’s striking Vanquish Vision mid-engined hybrid concept would be more tempting?

Elsewhere at the show, Seat’s high-performance sub-brand Cupra launched its first standalone model, the Formentor which gets a coupe-ish SUV body, and a 245hp plugin hybrid powertrain. Citroen’s dinky little Ami One concept is a two-seat city car which, thanks to technically being a quadricycle, can be driven in France with no drivers’ licence, while Mercedes added a mild hybrid AMG engine to its big GLE SUV, and a new dashboard, new engines, and a facelift to its GLC crossover SUV.

It also showed what will be the last of the current crop of the small SLC sports car, and which might just be the last SLC ever — the market for small sports cars is shrinking fast, and even Audi admitted that its evergreen TT Coupe might be not make the cut when it comes to creating a replacement. A world that doesn’t have the TT, but does have the barking-mad Seat Minimo tandem two-seater, a rival to the Renault Twizy? We’re not sure we want to live in that world.

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