Blog: Dave LeggettParis Show impressions

Dave Leggett | 24 September 2004

I spent yesterday at the Paris Motor Show on the opening press day. It was hot in the show halls and I did a fair bit of walking. Travelling to Paris was fine though, if slightly bizarre on the journey out. Eurostar train from London to Paris return cost just £69 and ran as smooth as clockwork (the journey takes about two and a half hours each way). On the outward leg I was lucky enough to be seated next to a fellow who smelled like an over-ripe soft cheese. Not at all pleasant. Really. I mean it. I was getting looks of sympathy from those in the adjoining rows. And he kept having to raise his arms (he also wore a vest, exposing his armpits for maximum aromatic effect – surely no coincidence) to retrieve things stowed in the overhead shelf.
I eventually escaped to the buffet carriage for coffee and as we entered the suburbs of Paris I was joined by a purposeful individual with a notebook jotting down the train numbers or something or other, after we passed rolling stock, engines. Yes, a train spotter! He was late middle aged, a little podgy, wore ill-fitting cheap looking clothes and had greasy hair. Spectacles by Everest (a well-known UK double glazing firm). But no anorak. Or camera for those once-in-a-lifetime moments when you catch sight of a real live D465, or whatever. Otherwise, he fitted the profile.

As we got closer to the Gare du Nord, the rail traffic passing by – stationary and moving - got heavier and his jottings became quite feverish. It was just me and him standing in the carriage now, with me sipping coffee and observing. I was beginning to find this guy with his unusual pursuit quite fascinating. What is the attraction? Collecting all the numbers? But what do you do when you have them all, or is that just an unattainable dream? In the excitement, as we neared our destination and he could hardly write fast enough to get all the numbers, he apparently lost control of his sphincters and farted very, very loudly. I kid you not. And just like the smelly cheese in human form I’d encountered earlier, he didn’t seem to care. Just what sort of day was this going to be…

Some highlights from the show? The Citroën C4 looked pretty good and its conventional appearance might be a hit with people who generally find Citroën designs a little esoteric (but isn’t that what Citroën should be about?). I unexpectedly found myself finding the little Peugeot 1007 with its sliding doors to be a pleasing little package. Nice interior too. It could be a real hit in Europe’s traffic-clogged cities. The vast Renault stand seemed positively downbeat by comparison, Renault making much of the Modus, which isn’t exactly something to write home about. For once, Renault seemed to be all mouth and no trousers. Lancia’s stand was a visual feast – Ypsilon B-Kini was nice, as was the small MPV, Musa. Ah, those tasteful Italians.

I met up with quite a few people, colleagues in the industry and people who write for just-auto. Neil Winton and myself lamented the animalistic behaviour of colleagues at the Mazda stand around lunchtime. The free food and drink was out and it was a scramble, six deep. Every man or woman for themselves. You’d think some of these people hadn’t eaten for days. And I noticed that manufacturers seem to be generally cutting back on hospitality on show press days. That’s fair enough in these cost-cutting times, but it does mean that some of the unfortunates without VIP invitations to the fenced off sit-down affairs, such as I, end up missing lunch altogether. A sandwich and a cool beer wouldn’t have gone amiss. And, as usual, it was hot in the show halls. By late afternoon my feet were aching big time. And there’s another thing. With space in the halls at a premium for exhibiting purposes, there’s nowhere to sit down. I had to take the weight off on some steps more than once.

I bumped into GM Europe’s head of sales and marketing, Jonathan Browning. I’ve interviewed him before and he said he’d happily be interviewed again for just-auto. We did small talk and he had a busy schedule yesterday. It was only afterwards that I thought maybe I could have asked him about GM’s European capacity review and some of the stuff that has been in the press lately. But I’m not sure Jonathan could have told me anything new - he’s pretty careful when talking to the press.

And that was the funny thing about Paris this year – industry news seemed unusually thin on the ground. It seemed to me that there were none of the big set-piece speeches by industry big wigs that normally occur at a major show or around it. And there was no real buzz in Paris. No single thing that everyone was talking about. The GM Europe capacity thing is one industry story that has people talking, but that was a definite pre-Paris staged operation and is hardly stop-the-presses until we’re closer to finding out where the plan to ‘deal with’ excess capacity is actually heading. And Toyota raising its European sales targets doesn't really count either.

My train journey to Paris – human cheese and train spotter excepted – was pretty uneventful and smooth. For my colleague Oliver Wilkinson, choosing to fly, it was anything but. He had a hairy journey to London’s Heathrow airport that was marred by a bad post-accident traffic jam on the M40 with the real danger that he would miss his flight. He pulled out all the stops to get to the airport just in time (even using a premium valet parking service to save precious minutes), only to find that the plane was delayed due to a BMI computer failure that threw the check-in process into chaos. He didn’t get to the show until late afternoon and was a bit frazzled.

In the evening, myself and Oliver managed to find a bar for a couple of post-Show beers before it was my time to get on a train back to London. And my travelling companion this time? A charming young lady who designs underwear for a living. After the displeasing start on the train going out, it was an agreeable end to the day.


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