Paris Motor Show 2016: C’est une wrap.

Electric cars to the fore in Paris, but diesel and petrol still relevant says the industry

 

While the Paris motor show this year might have had slightly bare cupboards (Lamborghini, Bentley, Ford, Mazda, McLaren, Rolls-Royce and Volvo were all no-shows) it has still turned out to be one of the more interesting car shows of recent years.

Free from the cloying embrace of the recession years, car makers are rediscovering their creativity, both stylistically and in engineering terms, and while some of the style on show won’t find happy homes everywhere (Lexus UX concept, anyone?) the big news is actually on the engineering front. There’s a growing feeling that in Paris the electric car has finally come of age, able now or at least in the next few years to deliver the sort of one-charge range that makes electric power practical and useable for a majority of car owners, not just a dedicated band of early adopters.

Many have made the argument that adding extra battery capacity, and therefore cost and weight, to electric cars is wasteful, that 90 per cent of the time we don’t really need longer ranges. That’s technically true, but it misses the point that people want and need their cars to be truly versatile, and not to be constantly sweating and fretting, looking for a plug or a charging point. 

So, Renault has given the small Zoe a new bigger battery that will take it for 400km on a single charge. Mercedes has shown the Generation EQ concept, which previews a 2020 model of a new SUV that will go for 500km on one charge. Opel showed the Ampera-e – a compact hatch with a 204hp electric motor which will also do 500km (although sadly it will never be made in right hand drive…).

And of course Volkswagen showed its ID concept, a Golf(ish) sized hatchback that boasts, depending on the depth of your pockets, a range of between 400km and 600km on one charge. The ID is a hugely significant car in so many ways. VW itself is keen to compare its arrival to the transformative effects of the Beetle and the original Golf, and it also allows the embattled car maker to start showing the public that it really is trying to clean up its post-dieselgate self. For those looking for real Beetle throwbacks, the ID even keeps its 170hp electric motor in the back, and drive goes to the rear wheels…

More significant than that will be the on-sale date of 2020 and a price tag that’s likely to start within shouting distance of a well-specced diesel Golf. It’s roomier than a Golf, will eventually come with autonomous driving capability and will never need to visit a petrol station. And if you’re buying a car this year, it will start to become available around the time many of us will think of trading it. It really could be your next car. The Zoe and the Ampera-e bring the possible electric future that bit closer, both going on sale next year.

Of course, that’s not to say that diesel, or petrol, is dead. Many senior industry execs at the show, not least Mercedes’ Dieter Zetsche, were fulminating about the bad press diesel cars have been receiving of late, and saying that internal combustion engines will still be needed, and still be relevant, for at least the next two decades. One suspects that more than a few were throwing “look at the fine mess you’ve gotten us into…” glances towards the VW stand.

Certainly, in spite of the electric cars, the hybrids and the occasional hip-high supercar on display, utterly conventional cars were much in evidence at Paris. The new Audi Q5 looks exceptionally smart, has a gorgeous cabin and will doubtless deserve its place as one of Audi’s best-sellers once it hits dealers early next year. And it will stick, very firmly, with diesel power at least until the plugin hybrid version arrives late in 2017.

Hyundai and Honda both proved that there’s life in the shove-a-big-engine-into-a-small-hatchback ruse, and both the N30 and RN30 versions of the new i30 hatchback have enthusiasts drooling, possibly for the first time, at the prospect of a new Hyundai. Likewise, the Honda Civic Type-R concept looks very mean and moody, and bloody quick too.

Serious motorsports weaponry was also on show with both Hyundai and Toyota wheeling our World Rally Championship versions of the i20 and the Yaris. Toyota’s presentation brought a warm smile to many a mid-nineties rallying fan as former Mitsubishi superstar Tommi Makinen was introduced as the new Toyota rallying boss. Toyota’s also claiming that the rally programme will feed data on vehicle dynamics and responses to Toyota’s autonomous car programmes. A robot car with the skills of Tommi Makinen? Yes please.

One of the unexpected pleasures of the show was the arrival of the new Nissan Micra. In terms of its class, it doesn’t really break any new ground, but for a Micra it’s a revelation – beaky, attractive styling and a roomy, well-made cabin will surprise many who long felt that a Micra was merely for the blue-rinse brigade. It could cause serious upset for the likes of the Fiesta and Polo when it goes on sale in the new year.

Peugeot pleased many with its twin SUV debuts – the 3008 and the seven-seat 5008, and execs are already laying plans for a whole lineup of plugin hybrids and pure electric cars. Sister brand Citroen was proving that there’s life in the big saloon yet (at least as long as Chinese buyers continue to like them…) and the CXPERIENCE concept will apparently lead to a new C5 and a new C6. News like that warms the cockles of our hearts like no other.

Renault definitely won the battle of the French brands on home soil, though. The 400km Zoe was interesting enough, but the stunning Trezor concept car really stole the show. Motors editor Michael McAleer reckoned that the Mercedes-Maybach coupe concept was the best looking car at the show, but I’d give the result to the Renault. Quite aside from its overall gorgeousness, it also boasts the coolest way of getting into or out of a car ever – the entire roof, windscreen and bonnet lift and tilt forward to allow access to the ash-lined cabin. Renault says it’s inspired by classic racing cars. We say it’s much more Captain Scarlet, and all the better for it.

BMW’s X2 also proved an unexpected highlight of the show. It’s only a concept car for now, but the 2017 production model will look all but identical, and it’s shaken us out of our apathy when it comes to coupe-crossovers. You’ll not find a better looking SUV this year.

Land Rover’s new Discovery arrived in a blaze of pre-event publicity, and it’s doubtless desirable, but some of us long for the unadorned simplicity of Geoff Upex’s 2003 Discovery 3 and Land Rover still has to convince us that it can build an expensive SUV which has proper long-term reliability. Will the new Discovery manage that? Hopefully.

In spite of all the new metal (and plastic, and carbon-fibre) on show (and we’ve not yet mentioned Ssangyong’s new Rexton concept, the electric lineup of Smart cars, the Infiniti concept SUV with a trick ultra-frugal petrol engine, the Mitsubishi GT-PHEV concept, Renault’s seven-seat Koleos SUV and Alaskan pickup and Mercedes’ plans for a mid-engined AMG supercar using the hybrid engine from Lewis Hamilton’s Formula One car) the Paris show this year did feel a little bit bare. With so many big brands missing, there was a slight sense of a bit of pizzaz lacking, and a definite sense that car makers all had their serious faces on, the better to present ultra-frugal plugin hybrids or long-range electric cars.

Hopefully, by the time the Geneva show rolls around next March, they’ll have had a chance to cheer up a bit.