This feels so odd. We’re going to spend roughly the next 24 hours reporting from the Geneva motor show without actually being at a motor show, nor even in Geneva.
The cancellation of the 90th running of what is arguably the most important motor show of all, thanks to worries about potential coronavirus infections, means that the world’s car makers and car fans will have to make do with a virtual motor show instead. Many are turning to online presentations that will run through the day.
That, in and of itself, throws up a major conundrum for the organisers of the Geneva motor show, and all other motor shows. Which is to say that because of the ineluctably grinding gears of the global motoring public relations machine, concept cars have been built, new models preened, press releases prepared, and so - whether in Geneva or in cyberspace - these cars are going to damned well be revealed, debuted, shown off, and generally displayed. If the car makers see sufficient returns on that virtual publicity - be it in the shape of deposits from customers, or media coverage - then it could entirely undermine the point of having a motor show at all in the first place.
Motor show attendances and popularity have been in decline for some time now, driven in large part by a Kamikaze attitude to publicity by the car makers themselves. The constant pre-show drip-feeds of sketches, glimpses, photos both occluded and revealing, takes away from the surprise and impact of each successive show.
Geneva remains important, but the Frankfurt show is now dead, and looking for a new host city to reverse a 30 per cent decline in visitors. Detroit has switched from its traditional January week to a summer event, in the hope of ditto. Paris is promising a dramatic reinvention for its biennial motor show due to be held in October (Covid-19 allowing, of course).
Still, virtual or otherwise, there are new cars and concepts to talk about, and that is what we like to do around here, so welcome to our #NotGeneva coverage. Don’t forget to wash your hands…
First out of the blocks with something genuinely interesting was Renault, which is showing off the Morphoz concept. Now, this one gets a big wacky but there is more serious intent packaged in behind the silliness. The Morphoz's big show trick is that it's actually a Transformer, although instead of turning into a robot, it simply turns into a slightly bigger SUV.
The Morphoz has two ‘modes’ which Renault calls City and Travel. In City form, it’s a compact SUV, 4.4-metres in length, with a 40kWh battery which gives it a supposed electric range of around 400km. However, if you should fancy taking on a longer journey, or simply need more space, then a visit to a specialised swapover station can see the Morphoz’s body stretch and warp so that it’s 4.8-metres long, has a longer wheelbase, more rear seat space, a bigger boot, and space for a bigger battery pack.
Okay, that’s the silly stuff, but as I said, there is serious intent here. The expandable battery pack idea is a solid one, and Renault has plans to try and produce it. The idea is that you can buy the car with the standard 40KWh battery pack - which is more affordable, and has sufficient charge to cover most journeys for most people - but that you can buy or rent a plug-and-play expansion pack, which adds 50kWh extra, bringing the total to 90kWh, and a potential range of as much as 700km.
The batteries can be charged wirelessly (including on sections of road which may, some day, be equipped for just such a thing) and the spare battery packs can be used locally as power storage units, soaking up excess wind energy production, and shoring up the national grid at times of peak power demand. Theoretically, of course - this is a concept car, after all.
More sensibly, the Morphoz’s styling (and its two sizes) seems to be a pretty good signpost to the next generations of Kadjar and Koleos SUVs, and if they look this good, then sign us up.
VW's Spanish brand Seat, meanwhile, is really pushing its new Cupra high-performance brand forward, and no surprise. The car maker has been pleasantly surprised by Cupra's sales success (especially considering that thus far it has only had the slightly disappointing Cupra Ateca version of Seat's family SUV to sell) and it's proved hugely profitable so far.
Not appearing at Geneva will be the Cupra brand’s first unique car, a sporty SUV called the Formentor (named for a rocky outcrop on the Spanish coast) which is also a plugin-hybrid SUV.
Well, not entirely. Cupra will sell you a Formentor with an entirely conventional 310hp 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine, but there is a 245hp plugin-hybrid version too, which borrows the 1.4 TSI turbo petrol engine, battery, and electric motor from the hatchback Cupra Leon (which is, alongside the standard versions of the Leon, making its debut this week too). Seat, sorry Cupra, claims a battery-only range of 50km for the plugin Formentor.
Also on the plugin-hybrid trail is Mercedes-Benz, which is showing off a whole litter of compact plugin models, based on the A-Class, B-Class, CLA, and GLA. They all use a combo of 1.33-litre petrol engine and 75kW electric motor to provide 218hp and 450Nm of torque.
The best eco-figures are actually produced by the sleek CLA four-door coupe, which registers Co2 emissions of 31g/km and a WLTP-tested electric-only range of 69km (the heavy GLA represents the other end of the scale, with Co2 emissions of 42g/km and range of 58km, but that’s still good enough to qualify for the combined VRT rebate and SEAI grant here of €7,500). Fuel economy, if you’re up for a giggle, is quoted at 1.5-litres per 100km. Anyone who can match that in the real world gets a lollipop from us.
Alfa Romeo, which as a brand somehow still manages to cheat death, is showing off an uprated version of its hot V6 turbo-engined Giulia Quadrifoglio saloon. Resurrecting yet another name from Alfa’s past that will, again, only appeal to those who know who Fangio was, this one is called the GTA, and it combines a power boost of 30hp, leading to a total of 540hp, and a weight reduction of 100kg (thanks to the use of carbon fibre for the drive shaft, bonnet, roof, front bumper, front wheel arches and rear wheel arch inserts). There’s also an aerodynamic bodykit provided by Alfa’s Swiss-based F1 team, Sauber. 0-100km/h comes up in a supercar-like 3.6 seconds.
Alongside an even-more stripped-out GTAm version (no back seats, racing buckets, six-point harnesses) only 500 of these will be built. Buyers will also get a Bell crash helmet in special GTA livery, and a full racing suit set by Alpinestars. It’s unquestionably an intoxicating petrolhead-pleasing mix, but there’s the faint whiff of depression that Alfa will have an easier time selling 500 crazy-fast, crazy-expensive specials such as this, than it does trying to sell conventional Giulia saloons to normal folk.
So, what else can we expect from this show-without-show? Well, Aston Martin, as traditional dictates, is hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons (cashflow constriction, a new buyout, cancelling its Le Mans plans) but will attempt to cover that up by showing off the gorgeous new convertible Vantage Roadster. No, we don’t know why it’s not called the Vantage Volante either.
Audi has a big new car to show off, but we mean big in terms of importance, rather than size - it's the new A3 hatchback, which will as ever use the same underpinnings as the new Mk8 VW Golf, but which will charge you an extra €2,000 for the privilege of the badge. We should get to see the sporty S3 model too, and just possibly a first site of a major update for the Q5 SUV.
Bentley will be there with its stunning new Mulliner Continental GT convertible, and just might bring a (much-needed?) facelift for the hulking Bentayga SUV. There will also be the Bacalar concept - named for a lake in Mexico, the first two-seat-only Bentley since the 1930s, and apparently featuring dramatic new bodywork wrapped around a Continental GT chassis and engine.
BMW has to prove that it's finally catching up in the electric car race, and so will digitally unveil a near-production ready concept version of its upcoming i4 electric sports saloon, as well as an extended family of 330e plugin-hybrid models, which now include estate and xDrive four-wheel drive versions. For those of a more traditional bent, there'll be a diesel M340d too, but that also features mild-hybrid tech. And will we get to see the production version of the potentially-controversial new big-nose 4 Series Coupe? Just maybe.
One of the biggest and most important debuts at the no-show will be that of the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class, which is getting a big overhaul for 2020, which includes a more advanced suite of electronic driver aids, a new turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, more plugin-hybrid variants, and some interior upgrades.
Volkswagen might have an updated version of the popular Tiguan SUV on its web presentation, but will definitely showcase a new GTD version of the Golf 8 - probably the last time we’ll see a hot Golf with a diesel engine.
As to what else happens at this stage-less motor show, we shall have to wait and see.