Paris Motor Show wrap: Germans steal the show from under French noses

French are recovering but German rivals like VW have moved well ahead

Motoring Editor Michael McAleer reports from the Paris Motor Show 2014.


Fuel economy and the feelgood factor: those are the big themes from the opening day of the Paris motor show, which boasts all the usual glitz and glamour you would expect from an international gathering in the French capital.

The feelgood factor is driven by the arrival of so many new models ready for the road in the coming months. For several years car firms were fearful of launching too many new models into a market that was bouncing along the bottom , at least whenever it wasn’t plummeting like a stone.

There is sales growth back across Europe - including Ireland, where new car sales are expected to top 100,000 this year and rise to 115,000 by the end of 2015. Irish dealers are cautiously starting to rehire staff again, a social media savvy sales person here, a receptionist and mechanic there.

So now the car firms are starting to prepare to give them all something to sell. Practically speaking the most important cars for the Irish marekt to make their public debuts in Paris are the VW Passat and the new(ish) Ford Mondeo. Both will do battle for Irish sales from November in a market that was once a family mainstay but which has lost a lot of its popularity to crossovers like the Nissan Qashqai or similar vehicles. Both the big car giants will be hoping their new arrivals will lure customers back to the more traditional format.

Overall, you would think that, with Paris taking its biennial turn from Frankfurt, to host Europe’s second biggest motor show, that one of Citroen, Peugeot or Renault would have stepped up to the plate with a show-stopper; something to grab the attention by the lapels and give the ’want one’ glands a vigorous shaking.

There was effort expended, clearly. The super-frugal triumverate of 208 Hybrid Air, C4 Cactus Airflow and Renault EOLAB concepts, all answering the French governments clarion call for an affordable 141mpg car, were arguably the most relevant cars at the show. They showcased high levels of technology that can potentially be brought to the market at affordable prices.

Citroen’s Divine DS concept previews both a new DS4 and the arrival of DS as a standalone brand in itself while Peugeot’s Quartz concept showed that it’s plotting a new family crossover with rather more exciting styling than the current 3008.

All were thoroughly upstaged though by Volkswagen, however.

The German car giant, as is its traditon, put on a massive pre-show-show last night and paraded its wares. It was possibly hoping that the Audi TT Sportback (yes; yet another slinky Audi 4-door to go with the A3 saloon, A4 and A5 Sportback...) or the Lamborghini Asterion coupe concept (hybrid drive and enough power to shatter the Moon) or even the incredibly frugal plugin Passat GTE which comes here next year would take the laurels. But actually, the most popular car of the VW’s show was merely a new version of a car we’ve seen and driven before.

VW’s XL1 is a tiny, two-seat coupe built in strictly limited number at eye-watering cost. Its mission is to squeeze the most distance possible out of a litre of diesel and thanks to a tiny TDI engine and hybrid assistance, this it does.

Last night, VW gave us the XL1 Sport... Out goes the diesel hybrid and in comes an 1,199cc engine, sourced from Ducati. It has just the two cylinders, revs to an astronomical 11,000rpm and has 200hp. Its tiny size and hot-hatch power output give the slipper, low-drag XL1 serious performance though, and push it to a top speed of 270kmh. The whole car still weighs just 890kg though, so it will doubtless be riotous good fun to drive. And drive it you can, if you’re well-heeled enough. This isn’t just a concept; VW will build and sell 250 of them. True, that’s barely a mainstream production car but it’s still going to some lucky buyers out there.

Elsewhere it was less about glitzy concepts and more about well-executed production models. Land Rover and Jaguar had shown their Discovery Sport and XE models before the show, but a chance to give them a closer inspection showed just how well thought out and desirable they are. The German grandees should be worried.

Mercedes probably isn’t that worried though - its AMG GT supercar was recieved with raptures from the press and public, as was a greater move towards more eco-freindliness for the S-Class. The poor (but still exciting ) C-Class AMG model almost got lost in the mix.

BMW’s 2 Series cabrio made a handsome appearance on its stand, as did the rather more brutal and brutish new X6. Neither made much of an impression though.

Hyundai’s new i20 certianly did, and probably not least in the senior echelons of Ford, VW and Peugeot. This new supermini is dripping with high quality, neat design and, probably, sharp pricing. The European big names should be worried because Fiesta, Polo and 208 buyers are going to be seriously tempted.

Sister brand Kia had a slightly quieter show, with really only the new Sorento big SUV (handsome and nicely done, as you’d expect these days from Kia) making much of an impact, but word filtered off the Kia stand that it is working on a smaller brother to the Sportage to sell alongside a Soul that, while impressive, seems too quirky to strike a chord with European buyers.

Honda put a brave face on falling European sales, but there was much hope on its stand that new production models and a halo high performance model could turn things around. The updated Civic still looks challenging, but improved and the ultra-hot Type R should lift the brand. A new HR-V and a more powerful ore frugal 1.6 diesel engine for the CR-V are probably more important for actual sales though, as is a long-overdue new Jazz.

Ferrari brought along the delectable 348 Speciale convertible, respledent in searing yellow paint and stripes. It should provide an intoxicating cocktail of sound and fury while trying to peel your wig off. Ferrari also announced that it has taken out a patent on a two-cylinder engine, most likely the powerplant for a motorbike to rival VW-owned Ducati. It’s the first sign of the Sergio Marchionne-led expansion of the Ferrari brand which is kicking off in the wake of the departure of its former, talismanic, president Luca Di Montezemolo, who made his last offical Ferrari appearance at the show today.

Bugatti’s last, desperate roll of the Veyron dice; a special edition named after the company founder Ettore Bugatti showed how quickly though did motoring’s Concorde moment become a sideshow in Jurassic Park.

Ford had a lot of new production metal on show, cars tht it hopes can sustain and extend its recent European combeack. The Mustang muscle car still looks cool in full Euro-friendly trim, while the new S-Max and revised C-Max should keep families happy. The Edge SUV looks dangerously out on a limb though, selling alsongside, as it must, the already-pretty-big Kuga.

Nissan tried to convince us that the new Pulsar hatchback isn’t dull by showing a NISMO sport version, reviving memories of the wild old Sunny GTi-R. A concept for now, it looks pretty much production ready and will probably use a 220hp version of Nissan’s 1.6-litre petorl turbo.

Mazda’s all-new MX-5 showed that Japan still knows how to make an enjoyable car though - in amongst bigger and heavier machinery, it looked positively delicate and bijou, with its tiny, high-revving new 1.5-litre SkyActiv engine. Hopefully, it will retain the agility and simplicity of the original.

Opel’s debut of the new Corsa was somewhat dulled by the fact that we had already seen the first imaes some months ago, not to mention that much focus was on the curent steering-related safety recall for the current Corsa. GM really needs it to be a hit if it is to reverse its losses and its image problems in Europe, but against the likes of the i20, it could find the going pretty hard.

Speaking of GM, the annual ’Cadillac is coming back to Europe’ announcement was made. New Caddy boss Johan de Nysschen (formerly of Infiniti and Audi) reckons Cadillac has to sell in Europe if it’s to be taken seriously as a global luxury brand. Smaller models (a rear-drive A3 competitor, for instance) and diesels were spoken of and right hand drive seems certain. We’ll believe it when we see it though.

Skoda’s new Fabia made a low-key, sensible appearance, entirely in keeping with the model’s outlook. It looks like a typically slick Czech interpretation of what small car buyers need, and the 530-litre boot on the Combi estate model should make it popular in householdsfocusing on practicality.

Toyota’s C-HR and Suzuki’s new Vitara (one a Qashqai rival concept, the other shrinking down to Juke size) kind of got lost in the rush, but ably exhibited the yin and yang of Japanese design. The Toyota is futuristic and exciting, the Suzuki almost embarrasingly derivative.

Even so, the German victory on French soil was as palpable today as it was when the Prussian army marched into Paris in 1870. Even given its recent announcement of cutbacks and overly-expensive model programmes, who would bet against VW utterly dominating European motoring for another year?