Even without the presence of the mighty Volkswagen, it was a German make which dominated the reporting from the Paris motor show. BMW's seventh generation 3 Series was the stand-out world premiere, although PSA and Renault also had much to show and tell, including new insight into future electrified models.
The spending on electrification keeps on rising and in certain European markets, EVS and PHEVs are certainly very popular. The trouble is, tax breaks seem to be the main reason why cars such as the Nissan Leaf dominate the sales charts in Norway or why the Renault Zoe does well there and in a few other countries. Eventually, this system of support may be phased out but by then, the hope is that consumers will have become fond of the electric or electrified car ownership experience.
Will we look back in a few years' time with disbelief when anyone points out the fact that in August 2018, at a Europe-wide level the Tesla Model S (859 but 9,551 for Jan-Aug) was not as good a seller as the ancient and not-so-popular Alfa Romeo MiTo (879 and 8,472)? Or that the Mustang (762 and 6,969) was in higher demand than the Prius+ (742 and 5,978)?
Registrations data crunched by JATO Dynamics further show that 87 people bought an Aston Martin DB11 in August. And that Jaguar delivered only 85 examples of the i-Pace to owners in the same month. The Opel Ampera-e wasn't exactly a brisk seller either, a mere 296 cars being sold. Due to WLTP, August was a strange month but the general point applies: we are a long way from electrified vehicles being anything more than a small niche.
If more than 20 years on from the arrival of the first Toyota Prius, Europeans still haven't become too fond of that model (8,248 delivered from Jan-Aug), this fact certainly hasn't discouraged the multitude of OEMs which see that electrified cars are a relatively cost-effective way of readying themselves for future emissions norms. Euro 6d-TEMP limits are now with us and Euro 6d becomes mandatory for new models on 1 January 2020.
Daimler is among the first to be trumpeting its compliance with the next round of exhaust regulations, this being one of the points pressed on the media as the new B-Class was announced at the Paris show. The car is notable for going against the trend for giving up on C segment MPVs. As BMW continues to sell a large number of 2 Series people movers, it's easy to see why so much effort went into creating the new B-Class. The car uses the same MFA2 architecture as the A-Class and while these models share much, the front Seat occupants sit 90mm higher than in the A.
There are two additional world premieres with the W247 B-Class: Daimler's own eight-speed dual clutch transmission and the first east-west positioning of OM 654, the engine code for a still-new but existing 2.0-litre diesel. OM 654q (the q means transverse mounted) is also already compliant with Euro 6d. A variety of Daimler and Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance engines will be available in the new model when it appears in dealerships in four months' time. Other variants will follow, including some with 4MATIC all-wheel drive.
Another world premiere for Daimler was the GLE-Class. What to many Europeans is considered a large SUV will be most popular in the USA so why not hold it over until next month's LA auto show? The likely answer is that's when we'll instead first see a new GLE Coupe.
The Mercedes-AMG A 35 was talked about in the show preview Management Briefing so no need to repeat the car's statistics here. However, what hadn't been known was that the A 50, which is coming in 2019 to take on the Audi RS 3, will have Daimler's just-announced eight-speed DCT. Will this set off a fresh arms race for the number of ratios in dual clutch transmissions?
Arch rival Audi had its world premieres somewhat overshadowed by the news that CEO Rupert Stadler had been dismissed after a career with the firm and other Volkswagen Group divisions which began in 1990. More than three years on from when it admitted to fitting cheating software to diesel engines, Volkswagen must keep wondering if the scandal and resultant fall out will ever end.
As for Audi's new models, the e-tron garnered most of the headlines but it will sell in smaller volumes than two other debutantes: the Q3 and A1 Sportback. It's worth noting that BMW still sees strong demand for the three-door Mini even as Audi insists it couldn't make a business case for a new generation of its A1 rival.
BMW will have been delighted with the wealth of media coverage given to its new 3 Series sedan (just-auto's take can be seen here). Publicity was overwhelmingly favourable, the interior in particular being much commented on in a highly positive way. Next comes a new Touring as well as a long wheelbase Li for China and potentially, a replacement for the five-door hatchback. This may or may not be merged with a successor for F36, the 4 Series Gran Coupe. Similarly, there may be electric versions of the 3 Series and next 4 Series or instead, just the one car.
Also premiering on the BMW stand was the Z4, although it had been seen in the summer at Monterey Week. It wasn't until the Paris show though that the full line-up of four- and six-cylinder engines was made official. We also learned that Toyota will reveal the Supra at the NAIAS in January.
Aside from the German makes, Groupe Renault and Groupe PSA made worthy attempts to dominate their home city's bienniel show. A new Clio had been rumoured but Renault instead concentrated on some concepts, one of which, the K-ZE, was a thinly disguised version of the future electric Kwid. Will the little SUV be built in Europe and India as well as China? Renault isn't saying.
At Groupe PSA, there was no presence for Opel, which seemed very odd and electrification was the name of the game for Peugeot, Citroen and DS. The company now refers to the architecture which will be the basis of the battery-electric DS 3 E-Tense as e-CMP, while multiple larger plug-in hybrids will use a modified version of EMP2. Some of these were displayed as prototypes: Peugeot 508 Hybrid, 508 SW Hybrid and 3008 Hybrid4. All three go into production next year, as does the Citroen C5 Aircross Hybrid. Ignore the suffixes, by the way – each is a plug-in hybrid, not a hybrid, while the 4 signifies how many wheels are driven.
Peugeot's e-Legend should also be acknowledged as one of the event's most-admired debuts. If an autonomous vehicle can look this good, why don't all such self-driving models? Journalists will inevitably be comparing the BMW i-Next to the e-Legend when the former is displayed at the Los Angeles auto show in November and the debate over retro versus futuristic AVs will start afresh.
There had been whispers that a new 911 could have caused a surprise at the Paris show but Porsche decided against that, instead announcing that it will build just shy of 2,000 units of the Speedster prototype which it first showed in June. The 991 series 911 will therefore remain in production for a while yet it seems. In November, the current shape will have been built for seven years. That was the point at which the previous 997 was replaced but prior to that, the 996 was manufactured for nine years.
A couple of other Volkswagen Group divisions had important models or previews at the Mondial, the SEAT Tarraco being one such. Production starts very soon and this is the first time the brand has had an SUV in the same size class as the Ford Edge and Hyundai Santa Fe. At the time of the market launch in January, there will be 1.5- and 2.0-litre petrol engines as well as two versions of a 2.0 TDI. Later next year, SEAT will add a 210PS and 400Nm petrol-electric plug-in hybrid powertrain.
Škoda is playing its part in supporting the Volkswagen Group's insistence that diesel engines have a future. The new Kodiaq RS won't initially at least be offered with petrol power instead relying on the Group's 239PS 2.0-litre TDI. The most powerful diesel Skoda yet, the RS, certainly looks the part and expands the sub-brand. Does another RS model mean we might also see these letters reapplied to the Fabia and newly added to the Karoq? Incidentally, SKODA will soon be appearing in large letters across the back of the brand's models, replacing the existing circular badge. Expect that to commence with the B segment SUV which we'll see for the first time at the next Geneva show.
Geneva is also when the production version of the C-hatchback might be shown in production form. A concept, the Vision RS, was exhibited at Paris, and from that we saw the overall shape and size. What is especially interesting is that Volkswagen is allowing this Golf-sized car to hit the market at almost exactly the same time as the next Golf. It might even beat the VW to market by a few months.
Hyundai didn't have any major news to announce at Paris although its N division launched its third car, the i30 Fastback N. There was no mention of what the brand intends to do about the aged i40 which really stands out as the rest of the European market line-up is young. There have been rumours that the car will be dropped but some say instead we'll see a new model in 2019. The name might remain but the car will probably be otherwise identical to the next Sonata. That model, project DN8, should be revealed to the South Korean media in March 2019 ahead of a motor show debut in New York city. Production should again take place in South Korea (Asan), the USA (Montgommery, and China (Shunyi). Will there be a wagon for Europe though?
KIA, which now outsells Hyundai in multiple European countries (and in the UK, was ahead of Volkswagen in September) also lacked a stand-out new model at the Mondial but that's due to already having a line-up which is as fresh as Hyundai's. Will the new Proceed sell better than the car it replaces, the good but not too popular pro_cee'd? And if it does, expect rival brands to copy Hyundai and Kia's strategy of adding a low-roof hatchback strong on style and with higher pricing that the equivalent mainstream C segment hatchback. Such an idea could work for SEAT (Leon) and Renault (Megane) at relatively low cost and help with lifting those brands' margins.
There were a couple of new-to-Europe brands at the Paris show, GAC being one of these. The Chinese make displayed multiple models, including the world debut of the second generation GS5, minus the Trumpchi prefix of the original. Will GAC models be available to European buyers anytime soon? Not until perhaps 2020 the media were told. How about the launch of the brand in the USA? That has now been delayed until the second half of next year.
VinFast was the other new make, its Lux A2.0 and Lux SA2.0 being presented at the show for the first time. The series production models will be available with a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine tweaked by AVL linked to a ZF-supplied eight-speed automatic transmission. The engine is based on BMW Group's N20. Furthermore, the Lux A2.0 is derived from the F10 BMW 5 Series sedan, while the Lux SA2.0 is closely linked to the F15 series BMW X5. Production is due to commence in the third quarters of 2019 and 2020 respectively at a new plant in Vietnam.
For anyone who wonders why the VinFast name seems familiar but thought it was linked to General Motors, that's also the case. In June, GM announced the sale of its Hanoi vehicle assembly plant to Vingroup. The firm is taking over the distribution of Chevrolet models, some of which have been assembled at this factory from kits supplied by GM Korea. Now, VinFast models will take their place at the plant and Chevrolets will become imports. One of the models assembled at the plant will be a small car made from parts licensed by GM, the company stated back in June. The plant has an existing annual capacity of just 30,000 units. Now, the word is that the little Chevy in question is the Spark.
It seems strange to mention Toyota after a small start-up but then, a wagon version of the Corolla was the giant firm's only real news at the Mondial. A new Yaris is still a way off even if a fresh model is due for the Japanese market within the next 12 months, possibly even soon.
TMC is getting hammered at home by the Nissan Note and its e-Power series hybrid derivative so project 865A, the next generation Vitz (domestic market name for Europe's Yaris) is now needed urgently. Toyota rarely makes a mistake as bad as this one – the Vitz will soon be an eight-year old car in a market full of newer rivals. And Nissan is working on a next generation Note too. That should be out in 2019 (in Japan) but it won't come to Europe due to the existing car's failure here – production, which started in September 2013, was stopped in 2017.
At a time of turbulence for the global industry – NAFTA becoming USMCA, Chinese SUV sales slowing, WLTP, Euro 6d Temp, Brexit – the sense that the 2018 edition of the Paris Mondial was more subdued than previous editions of the show was understandable. Looked at another way though, the fact that makes which represent more than a quarter of the European market's volume chose not to have displays (VW, Ford, Opel, Nissan, Fiat and Volvo) didn't stop the event retaining its global importance. As ever, it's all about the cars. Make them beautiful, make them efficient but keep their performance strong too and keep adding ever more usefully clever tech and people will keep visiting such shows to compare what's what.
A list of concepts, prototypes and production model world premieres from the 2018 Paris motor show can be found here.
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