I spent the morning at US Consulate, getting my visa sorted out, but the eyes of the automotive world this week are on a different area of Paris with the biennial Mondial de l’Automobile show at the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre. This is one of the biggest car shows in the world and in 2010 attracted an impressive 1.2 million visitors.
This year’s show has seen the launches of some cars that are likely to be remembered, notably the McLaren P1, the latest sports car from the Woking firm. This will cost a cool $1.3 million and only 500 of them will be built. It is the first McLaren to be launched at a major automobile show, previous cars having been presented more discreetly. There was much praise as well for the Jaguar F-type, which has been unveiled by the Indian-owned firm. For supercar lovers there was also a new version of the Bugatti Veyron and a Bentley Contintental GT3 racing car.
However, it is fair to say that the mood in Paris is anything by optimistic for the mainstream automobile companies. New car sales in Europe are at a 17-year low and even some of the big premium brands are beginning to feel the heat, while the big mainstream companies such as Renault, Peugeot and Fiat are struggling. The French brands in particular are not in a happy place. Last year France produced 2.2 million cars, compared to 3.5 million back in 2005. The workforce is 30 percent smaller than it was 10 years ago.
The one trend that everyone seems to agree on is that the focus of the industry has switched away from producing electric vehicles and has moved towards cost-effective, real-world, fuel-saving cars. Aside from Renault’s Zoe and a Mercedes SLS AMG EV concept car there was little of interest in the electric car sphere with even Lexus looking at more efficient conventional machinery. Volkswagen had a new Golf capable of impressive economy; engines are getting smaller and efficiency is getting better.
The Renault-Nissan Alliance and Daimler announced that they are to further extend their collaboration with two new projects, focussed on a new four-cylinder engine family that is being developed by both companies, which will target low emissions and much better fuel economy. There is also a new transmission project and continued research into fuel cell vehicles.
The drive towards better hybrids continues with even Ferrari planning one in the months ahead. The Italian supercar manufacturer said that it will have a composite chassis for its forthcoming hybrid car. All of which fits in nicely with the planned new F1 rules in 2014.