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THE WEEK THAT WAS - Chasing the minister across the show

By Graeme Roberts | 30 September 2016

Many eyes were on Paris this week and we were there

Many eyes were on Paris this week and we were there

Occasionally there are coincidences that brighten the day.

I had just finished publishing our story on Renault's new joint venture in Iran, in which Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh, Iran's minister of industry, mine and trade gets an honourable mention, and pinged an 'FYI' over to one of Our Men in Paris still at the show, and back came the reply: "Chased him across the show, can't get a word out of him." It's the way of the modern media world of very heavily stage-managed events and participants 'on-message', the off-the-cuff remarks are often hard to come by these days. No matter - it's an interesting story as automakers lick their lips at the prospect of a 2m market by 2020 and companies like Renault pile in, planning on adding a new plant with initial production capacity of 150,000 vehicles per year to current capacity of 200,000 vehicles.

Not to be outdone, PSA announced its own plans for Iran and you might spot that both French rivals have joint ventures with the Iranian SAIPA group. Some pretty decent numbers are being talked about and it's clear things have moved on from the days of building English Hillman Hunters under licence - PSA got its 'in' to the country by taking over what was left of the old Rootes Group after a number of years of Chrysler ownership. They've certainly worked the investment.

New cars launched in Paris - we have the list (and a preview). I was intrigued at the roll-out of Europe's Chevrolet Bolt to be known as the Opel Ampera-e (no RHD Vauxhall version, boo-hoo, but apparently some left-hookers will be tried out with 'select' British 'customers'). Renault responded with a new longer-range battery pack for its cute little Zoe, much loved of city car-share clubs and it's going to be interesting to see how the various range claims pan out in real-world use once these new electrics hit European tarmac. What I've yet to figure out is how Chevrolet can announce an  EPA-estimated range of 238 miles (380km) this side of the Atlantic yet execs in Paris were talking 360 miles (500kms). Renault said "a record NEDC driving range of 250 miles (400km), twice the distance delivered by the model at the time of its original launch" and then, candidly added, in real-world driving, it estimates the new 'ZE 40' battery has a range of 186 miles (300km) in urban or suburban areas. That'll do a lot of buyers, I reckon while the more luxuriously equipped, trimmed and finished Opel is likely to be more expensive. And let's see if GM offers Renault/Nissan-style battery lease options to get the initial cost down.

Speaking of candid and Opel, I enjoyed our report on a chat with Toscan Bennett, vice president strategy and planning for Opel, who said he's finding it harder and harder to make predictions. The auto industry, he said, is in a state of unprecedented change and making predictions is harder than it has been in the past 50 years with changes in ownership models, the rise of ride and car share, connectivity, automated driving and electrification. "Globally, we are trying to lead the disruption with our moves in the US into car and ride share with Lyft and Maven while with OnStar no one is more connected than we are."

Also worth a look from Paris: more details of Tata's JLR unit's new Discovery SUV (Brits love these), hybrid king Toyota offering no diesel engine in a new model, VW talking dieselgate and future electrics, and Kia eyeing a new segment just about everyone else has now piled into. As always, we have grouped our coverage into one place.

Away from the show, there was a high level departure from Audi (this on wider VW group tactics might also interest), Opel is sending diesels to Chevrolet for its new SUV and Fiat has rolled out a new engine family, first, in Brazil.

Have a nice weekend.

Graeme Roberts, Deputy Editor, just-auto.com