French show­case re­flects in­dus­try’s tri­als

PARIS MO­TOR SHOW/ New BMW 3-se­ries and Mercedes GLE head­line the Paris mo­tor show while Peu­geot e-Le­gend looks to the fu­ture

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

Three new ve­hi­cles de­but­ing at the Paris mo­tor show this week will show in­vestors and con­sumers the chal­lenges fac­ing the global car in­dus­try as it grap­ples with the big­gest tech­no­log­i­cal changes in a cen­tury.

A new BMW 3-se­ries sedan, the lat­est in a line of cars that de­fined the con­cept of a pre­mium sports sedan, will aim to rein­vig­o­rate a range that has ceded ground to SUVs and elec­tric drives, while the Mercedes GLE marks an at­tempt to take an SUV to a new level, with some au­ton­o­mous driv­ing fea­tures.

And the Peu­geot e-Le­gend con­cept stands for what car mak­ers need to do next, and fast: de­sign elec­tri­fied ve­hi­cles that are ap­peal­ing and prof­itable.

The new gen­er­a­tion BMW 3se­ries sedan will im­me­di­ately fight for at­ten­tion with a dif­fer­ent car bear­ing the “3” des­ig­na­tion — Tesla Inc’s elec­tric Model 3.

BIG SELLER

Tesla's Model 3 is now out-sell­ing the BMW 3 in the US, al­though BMW 3 by far re­mains the big­ger seller world­wide.

Tesla’s all-elec­tric car chal­lenges BMW and other tra­di­tional pre­mium brands for tech­no­log­i­cal lead­er­ship with soft­ware that can be con­stantly up­graded to im­prove the car’s per­for­mance and driver ex­pe­ri­ence, and to add fea­tures.

The new BMW 3-se­ries will also fight for at­ten­tion in Paris — as in the mar­ket­place — with the world­wide shift to SUVs. That phe­nom­e­non will be rep­re­sented by the new gen­er­a­tion of the Mercedes GLE sport util­ity ve­hi­cle, among other mod­els.

The new GLE, which goes on sale next year, will come with a new 48V elec­tronic sus­pen­sion sys­tem that can vary the shock ab­sorb­ing func­tion at each wheel, in­di­vid­u­ally. Inside the cabin, driv­ers and pas­sen­gers can view in­for­ma­tion on two 12.3-inch screens.

The GLE also takes an­other step to­ward au­tomat­ing the process of driv­ing, with a sys­tem that can steer and vary the speed of the car within a marked lane up to 60km/h. The GLE can ef­fec­tively pi­lot it­self in rush hour traf­fic jams.

Mercedes will of­fer in the GLE a 48V elec­tri­cal sys­tem that gives the ve­hi­cle an elec­tric boost away from stops. That of­fers a mod­est re­duc­tion in fuel con­sump­tion at a time when reg­u­la­tors world­wide want car mak­ers to elim­i­nate their oil­burn­ing, in­ter­nal com­bus­tion tech­nol­ogy and go all-elec­tric.

The GLE highlights the auto in­dus­try’s con­flicted re­sponse to the reg­u­la­tory and con­sumer pres­sure to dump diesel tech­nol­ogy and ac­cel­er­ate the shift to all-elec­tric ve­hi­cles.

Petroleum-fu­elled SUVs such as the Mercedes GLE gen­er­ate the bulk of prof­its for global car mak­ers. The all-elec­tric Tesla gets praise for its in­no­va­tion, but is scram­bling to show a profit in the third quar­ter af­ter a tu­mul­tuous year.

The chal­lenge for es­tab­lished man­u­fac­tur­ers is to de­sign elec­tric cars com­pelling enough for con­sumers to pay a prof­itable pre­mium to own them.

Legacy car mak­ers have tended to pro­duce elec­tric cars that are drab, small or strange.

PSA Group’s Peu­geot e-Le­gend con­cept aims to break that pat­tern with a bat­tery-pow­ered homage to the 1968 Peu­geot 504 that looks like it could have starred in a late 1960s French New Wave movie.

While not des­tined for pro­duc­tion, the e-Le­gend does re­flect a dilemma fac­ing car mak­ers like PSA — and its track­rac­ing boss Car­los Tavares — over how to rec­on­cile con­nected, au­ton­o­mous cars with more tra­di­tional prod­uct traits such as driv­ing plea­sure, where their ex­per­tise re­ally lies.

While the Peu­geot fan­tasy car is self-driv­ing, it can also be driven man­u­ally, or flipped into a “sharp” au­ton­o­mous mode that ac­cel­er­ates and steers more ag­gres­sively - be­cause, as the com­pany said in pro­mot­ing the con­cept, “bore­dom is not part of our DNA”.

Mean­while, as Mark Smyth re­ports, mo­tor shows have changed in re­cent years, as one re­alises while wan­der­ing the halls of the Paris one this week.

The glitz is still there, but you re­ally have to look for it. The glam­our is mostly gone, al­though some new en­trants still try their best.

This week’s show was more a chance for the in­dus­try to net­work, to dis­cuss the chal­lenges it is cur­rently fac­ing and for jour­nal­ists to in­ter­view mul­ti­ple ex­ec­u­tives in one space. Yes there were new mod­els, but even some of these lacked the big trum­pet­ing of years gone by. BMW re­vealed its new 8 Se­ries, the Z4 and the X5.

Mercedes also had some big re­veals in the form of the new AClass sedan, B-Class and the A35 AMG and the stun­ning EQ Sil­ver Ar­row race con­cept.

Kia showed its new e-Niro and Pro­ceed and Hyundai showed its cool i30 N Fast­back.

Many of the stars were not on the big stands though. It was a home show for Peu­geot and it went big, cer­tainly as far as the giant metal­lic model lion was con­cerned, but the fo­cus was more on the su­perb E-Le­gend con­cept, a car that fol­lows the retro theme we have al­ready seen in the Nis­san IDX and Honda Ur­ban EV.

Toy­ota has its new Rav4 and the de­but of the new Corolla but with­out the song and dance of years gone by for the world’s big­gest sell­ing model. Porsche had its facelifted Ma­can and we got our first glance at the new Monza SP1 and SP2 mod­els from Fer­rari.

But in what could be seen as a sad re­flec­tion on the cur­rent state of the mo­tor show game, some of the stars were not of the big re­veal va­ri­ety. Jaguar Land Rover had an im­mac­u­late Se­ries 1 and clas­sic XJ ,which at­tracted a great deal of in­ter­est. Maybe the in­dus­try needs to find more “dif­fer­ent” if mo­tor shows are to re­main rel­e­vant.

Two 12.3-inch screens con­vey in­for­ma­tion to the driver and pas­sen­gers in the new Mercedes GLE, which goes on sale next year. BMW chair­man Har­ald Krüger stands next to the new­lyun­veiled 3 Se­ries. Be­low left: The new Mercedes GLE takes an­other step to­wards au­to­mated driv­ing. Be­low: The Peu­geot e-Le­gend Con­cept is an elec­tric sports car with ad­vanced au­ton­o­mous fea­tures.

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