Paris motor show tour
Hilton Holloway’s show diary
Monday 1 October, 7.01am
It’s an early train from St Pancras station (itself 150 years old this morning) to Paris for a preview of Skoda’s new Kodiaq RS and Vision RS concept. Although the latter is dressed as an RS and previews the sporty sub-brand’s design language, a production version will appear in December as a direct rival for the Ford Focus. Skoda is currently blowing the doors off its factories, which are running at maximum capacity. Sales in the first half of 2018 were up 11% globally.
Tuesday 2 October, 9.30am
No question that the Paris show is a shadow of its former self, but there is still plenty of eye candy. Porsche’s stand is dominated by classics, including a 959. The young chap on the stand who has an extraordinary knowledge of the old cars is Maxime. He’s a student at the nearby ESTACA technical university (France has academic, engineering and business universities) and is studying automotive engineering. On Saturdays, he works at a Porsche dealer, dealing with potential buyers.
Such focused degreelevel engineering and wider engagement with the car companies is possibly why France’s auto industry is so robust and the UK’S is so desperately short of engineers.
Notice at the Porsche shop that the company is selling a Porsche Design ‘virtual surround system’ music sound bar converted from the ‘original rear silencer and twin exhausts from a 911 GT3’. It costs €2900 and this black version is offered, naturally, in a limited edition of 911 units.
Over on the Audi stand, all the attention (including no end of industry benchmarkers) is on the new E-tron electric crossover. While there’s no doubt that the Audi is a festival of nano-tight shutlines and a lesson in premium finish, the E-tron’s (adapted) EV platform is another matter. The nose is jam-packed with electrical control equipment and the boot is pretty shallow because
of the sizeable motor driving the rear wheels.
Also on display (and under heavy scrutiny from Asian car engineers) was a cutaway of the E-tron’s battery, which served to demonstrate just how fantastically complex these things are. You can say one thing for the Model 3 saloon on the nearby Tesla stand: despite it being a smaller car, the packaging of its twinmotor battery drivetrain is far superior to the Audi, offering both a huge boot space and substantial room in the nose.
Despite having a whole stage to itself, the new Toyota Camry hybrid was probably ignored by most visitors to Paris. The nameplate is back in Europe after 14 years and Toyota says that, at 700,000 sales a year, it’s the biggest-selling D/E segment saloon in the world. More impressive is the 2.5-litre petrol engine, which has a world-leading thermal efficiency of 41% – a fantastic engineering achievement.
A big hybrid petrol engine in a big car that emits 98g/km of CO2 is worth noting. Best of all, the Camry has an ‘EV’ button to engage electric-only mode for effortless progress in the great British traffic jam. Minicab drivers should upgrade from a Prius.
Component supplier Plastic Omnium has one of the most interesting displays at Paris, pushing the idea of hydrogen as a future fuel. The company had two of its carbonfibre ‘filament-wound’ hydrogen fuel tanks – capable of storing the gas at 350bar of pressure – on show and was making much of the fact that three minutes of hydrogen refuelling offers as much as 497 miles of driving range with a fuel-cell car. As the company points out, hydrogen can be cracked from sea water using wind power. To me, it’s a reminder that, like with diesel, the rush to heavy, expensive and slow-charging batterypowered cars may turn out to be a strategic mistake.
Top marks to Alpine for displaying the bare aluminium shell of the A110. In a show that was a festival of all things electrified and digital, being able to see the raw clarity of the new Alpine’s engineering was a welcome relief.
I recently trekked to Vietnam to see the birth of Vinfast, a startup local manufacturer. Paris was the first opportunity to see the finished cars.
Based on the outgoing BMW 5 Series and X5 respectively, the LUX A2.0 saloon and LUX SA2.0 SUV are interesting because these designs were developed in just over a year, without using clay models. They went from drawings to full-size foam models to production surfaces executed digitally. Interior development was executed by a leading European supplier. The saloon was particularly convincing, as is the amazing determination of Asian start-up companies.
The raw clarity of the Alpine A110’s engineering was a welcome relief
It’s 50 years since the Jaguar XJ was launched at the Paris motor show in 1968. It was a genuine revelation in its day because up to that point, no big car had ever been so refined and so wieldy. Jaguar had a fine example in a period sludge colour on the stand. But in August this year, however, a total of just 222 examples of the current XJ were sold by Jaguar. As fine as it is, was this its last tango in Paris?
7.01am Skoda’s Focus rival revealed
10.00am Delicate sound of thunder
9.30am Classic Porsches caught the eye
10.30am Audi E-tron’s battery under scrutiny
11.10am Camry’s traffic-friendly EV mode
1.40pm Alpine A110’s shell laid bare
4.00pm Au revoir to the Jaguar XJ?
2.05pm Vinfast’s first offerings look credible
12.20pm Hydrogen tank shows promise