Is the European auto industry, as one writer put it, “acting like a complete Debbie Downer?” Amid the gleaming sheet metal and glowing parti-colored paint there’s a distinctly pessimistic undertone to the 2012 Paris Mondial, running through October 14. It’s a marked contrast to what’s going on here in the U.S. with the auto industry.
The biggest talk in Paris is about the European auto slump. Aggregate European sales figures showed a drop of almost nine percent in August – the 11th consecutive monthly decline. Meanwhile, one of Europe’s biggest markets, China, also is slowing down. Meanwhile, U.S. sales figures posted a 13 percent gain in September, making last month the best since 2008’s crash.
Pessimism aside, Paris serves lots of food for the automotive soul. There’s good news for fuel efficiency and enough sexy, speedy stuff to get car buffs’ motors running.
The show’s motto is, “The Future. Now,” and there is some cool stuff to look forward to.
Suzuki offers the S-Cross Concept, its entry into the C-class, but didn’t provide any details about the amount of power or its source. However, the Japanese maker did say to expect it to go on sale in Europe (not necessarily here) next year and then to expect annual European launches in the future.
Mercedes-Benz Concept B Class Electric Drive is planned for a 2014 launch, though again, it’s not sure it will show up here. It has a 100kw electric motor with 134 hp and a 124-mile range. Mercedes calls this a “family-friendly electric.” The Daimler Smart Forstars concept is bigger than the current Smart ForTwo but it has a 60kw motor that gives 81 hp. It’s real claim to fame is that it has a movie projector hidden in the hood intake that can be operated with a smartphone. Turn it toward a wall and you’ve got yourself a “drive-in” theater.
BMW is showing off a hybrid concept, the Active Tourer. The car has a three-cylinder gas-powered engine for the front wheels and a plug-in electric motor for the front. This is BMW’s first front-wheel drive car. The size and engineering show that BMW and its MINI subsidiary are sharing more. Expect to see it after 2014.
Even supercars are going electric, at least partly. There’s huge buzz over the McLaren P1 concept that uses a Formula 1 electric-boost system to wring 960 hp out of its engine. Of course it won’t come cheap: $1.4 million predicted when it goes on sale in a year or so.
More realistic are some standouts in the “coming soon” department. The 2013 Land Rover Range Rover, while expensive ($83,000) and still big, weighs 700 pounds less than the model currently for sale. Almost make this a gas-sipper.
The VW Golf is being lauded for larger size but lighter weight. It comes with three engines, including a turbocharged four cylinder. It has both a City Emergency Braking system that protects against collisions and lane assist to keep drivers on the straight-and-narrow. Due in the U.S. in 2014.
There’s big buzz for a restyled Honda CRZ and also for the Mazda 6. The Mazda’s somewhat lighter but with a bigger interior and two four-cylinder engine options, one that Mazda says will provide up to 40 mpg combined city/highway.
Jaguar F-Type re-imagines the iconic E-type. It’s smaller and lighter than the XK. You’ll need $95k to drive away in this 340hp supercharged V6, or more for a 495hp V8 S. Watch for them next year.
As usually is the case, there are many more cool cars than there’s room for here. Clearly, lighter vehicles with electric and hybrid technology are a priority for most automakers now, as is increased safety technology. Europeans, with their high gas prices should be glad about that. As gas prices here continue to fluctuate, American drivers may be, too.