Once every two years the major manufacturers take control of the vast 'Porte de Versailles' exhibition in Paris for the 'Mondial de l'Automobile' or the Paris Motor Show. The event shares the 'fall slot' on the calendar with the IAA in Frankfurt. The automotive industry was hit particularly hard by the recent recession. Fortunately there have been clear signs of recovery and the accordingly the mood in Paris was mostly optimistic. Some of the consequences of the crisis were nevertheless very visible with Chrysler, for example, sharing a stand with Lancia, and Porsche moving from their familiar location to the 'VAG hall'. In accordance with the demands of our time, many of the new production and concept cars had efficiency as the key word. One of the most remarkable events was the relaunch of the Lotus brand, illustrated by unveiling a complete range of new cars.
Our photographers joined the nearly 10,000 other journalists on the first press preview day. The results of their labour can be found in a detailed 240-shot gallery
with all the major introductions.
WRC's Class of 2011
Once disputed by a wide variety of manufacturers, the World Rally Championship has sadly been a Ford vs Citroen battle during the last few seasons. To possibly make matters even worse, new regulations were announced for next year, making the current cars obsolete. Fortunately the new regulations are a development of the existing and popular S2000 class with the addition of a turbocharger and additional aerodynamics as the main differences. Citroen had confirmed their entry for 2011 some time ago. In Paris, they launched their new contender, the DS3 WRC. It has very big shoes to fill as it replaces the all conquering C4 WRC in which Sebastien Loeb has just won his seventh consecutive championship. Ford also made their plans very clear by revealing the Fiesta RS WRC. The car is not all new as it is based on the team's S2000 Fiesta, which won the Rallye Monte Carlo earlier in the year. The biggest news however was the introduction of the MINI Clubman WRC, which will bring the once so successful manufacturer back to the championship for the first time since 1967. Responsible for the development of the MINI Clubman are British experts Prodrive and one of the cars will be driven by 2009 iRC champion Kris Meeke.
Celebrating anniversaries was particularly popular in Paris this year. Jaguar marked the company's 75th birthday of the company with the spectacular C-X75 concept car. Following in the foot-steps of the XJ13 and XJ220, the cab-forward design featured many flowing lines. Under the beautiful body, the show car features an advanced drivetrain, consisting of four electric motors and two gas-turbine range extenders. Mounted in each of the four wheels, the motors produce a hefty 780 bhp. Audi paid tribute to the ground-breaking quattro four-wheel drive system and the car by the same name with a concept car. Many of the original quattro's ingredients were combined into a modern package. Despite sporting a 408 bhp engine, the new quattro weighs exactly the same as the one launched in Geneva back in 1980. This is possible only due to use of lightweight materials like carbon fibre and aluminium. Although there are no concrete plans to produce the car, a business model has been submitted to the board, so there is a possibility! Taking centre stage on the Ferrari stand was the 599 SA Aperta. Only 80 examples will be built in honour of longtime partner's Pininfarina, who celebrate their 80th anniversary this year. Furthermore the SA in the type name is a reference to the late Sergio and Andrea Pininfarina.
With the rising fuel prices and the increasing awareness of the effects of emissions, manufacturers are well on the way to develop alternatively powered cars. The Paris show floor was littered with new 'green' production and concept cars. Most of them used the hybrid principles pioneered by the likes of Toyota and Honda or were full electric vehicles. A third and in our view more effective category is the electric vehicle with a petrol or diesel range extender. General Motors is on the verge of launching the Opel Ampera / Chevrolet Volt using this type of drivetrain. They will be joined by a much smaller player, Fisker, who showed the very first Karma off the line. The spectacularly styled machine is now built in a factory in California and Fisker hopes to produce as many as 10,000 per year. Currently the most viable option, however, is to make the most of the existing technology. Fiat is a good example, who have introduced a twin cylinder in the 500, which despite its diminutive size produces 85 bhp. Mercedes-Benz also took the frugal approach by introducing a four cylinder engine in the S class for the first time. The diesel unit has a displacement of 2.2 litre and puts out an impressive 205 bhp. A completely different way to improve efficiency is to shed weight and that is exactly what Lamborghini has done when creating the Sesto Elemento concept car. Constructed almost completely from carbon fibre, the striking Lambo weighs just 999 kg. This makes it both considerably faster and more efficient than the current machines in the company's line-up. It is doubtful, though, that mass production of this type vehicle is viable.
Lotus gone wild
One of the very last press conferences of the first day was Lotus'. In the months ahead of the show and on the day itself, the Malaysian owned manufacturer had very actively built up anticipation. Most believed Lotus was going to introduce a new Esprit but the announcement of a new Elite a few days before the show, already showed that more was going on. How much more was not clear until the press conference where not two cars but a complete range of five new machines was announced. Starting with the Esprit in 2012, one of the new cars will enter production every year. In 2013 the Elan will follow, the production Elite is expected in 2014 and in 2015 a new Elise and the four-door Eterne are expected. A day before the show, Lotus also announced a vastly expanded racing program, which will see Lotus compete in almost every major class. The man behind this very bold and risky approach is Danny Bahar, who recently joined Lotus from Ferrari. He clearly plans to lift Lotus from its current status to a serious Porsche and Ferrari rival with bigger, more powerful and heavier cars. The big announcement left most people somewhat awestruck and skeptical. Despite Bahar's claim that 'The future starts here', this could very well mean the end of the Lotus we all like so much.
With the exception noted above, all major manufacturers clearly showed a new found appreciation for today's reality and much missed humbleness. There were nevertheless many interesting, well engineered and beautifully styled machines on display. It shows that there is a bright future ahead for all companies that survived the difficult times.