Real ReViewer Sam visits Geneva Motor Show
Sam Rollings, motors.co.uk's Real Reviewer of the Year, reports from SwitzerlandDespite the economic environment, the motor industry managed to put on a spectacular show of confidence at Geneva over the last week. As the show opened, the Mini factory had already gone onto short-time working, Honda had closed their Swindon plant for four months and GM’s European operation (Vauxhall/Opel) was on the brink of bankruptcy.
But in Geneva, the metal shone, the models (cars that is) looked superb and the suits of the salesmen were as sharp as ever. Every manufacturer was keen to show that although times were hard, they were investing in technological advances and planning for the future, so that their range would be as up to date and appealing when the good times return.
The overall impression was of optimism with a keen eye for the environment. There were many green cars on display (environmentally green that is), and every vehicle had to have standard CO2 and fuel consumption information prominent. It was somewhat confusing that consumption was in litres/100km, so the lower the figure the better the consumption! I gave up asking stands what 7.9l/100k meant in miles per gallon, but it was a good opening line with many of the beautiful ‘assistants’ on the stands!
So, what about the cars? Winner of the green awards must go to Ford with their Fiesta ECOnetic diesel doing 3.8l/100k (that’s about 80mpg). Another striking green car was the lurid lime green Focus RS proving the expectation that cars will still be fun and not tools for going places as cheaply (in £ and CO2) as possible. Blatant consumption was apparent in many other guises, with Knigsegg, Bugatti, Pagani and others unashamedly displaying their stunning supercars, together with the traditional ‘old-money’ marques of Aston Martin, Bentley and Rolls. Quirky concept cars were not very much in evidence, but mention must be made of Ford’s Iosis (pictured right: the Focus in 2012?). Experimentation with new lighter materials to make seats thin but comfortable, replacing air-dragging door mirrors with micro-cameras and using sliding doors to make entry and exit in tight spaces shows every aspect of car ownership is being addressed to keep ahead of the competition.
Another weird contraption was the AIRPod (left), half the width of a ‘Smart’, with one forward and one backward facing seat, the doors were in the ends of the car making getting out difficult if you’d just parked up against a brick wall! (Anyone remember the 1950s Isetta bubblecar?).
Although alternative fuels (hydrogen), more efficient batteries, etc. were very much in evidence, the environmental cost of generating the electricity seemed to be ignored, and not least how eventually to scrap cars each with half a ton of batteries with various heavy metals. Notwithstanding the supercars, the focus seemed to be on getting the most from every litre of traditional fuel.
Most manufacturers showed their range of cars, accessibility to the general public being in inverse proportion to the prices, but Fiat were notable in devoting their whole stand to the 500. It was almost as if they were ashamed of the rest of their range! Mini had many models on display including a convertible if front of a wind machine. This was about the only ‘theatre’ in the show. And to show their roots, and celebrate 50 years of the Mini, an original 1959 850cc Mini-Minor was on show. Another quirky display was the ‘starting grid’ of a dozen or so Formula 1 cars from the 1980s onwards, which reminded us that many of the technological innovations taken for granted today (ABS, traction control, paddle gearshifts) came from F1.
So what were the best cars in the show? For general family cars, it’s impossible to choose. VW Group, GM, Renault, Ford, the Japanese stalwarts (Toyota, Nissan) and the recent entrants (Kia, Chrysler) all make extremely competent cars. Competition is fierce and it would be personal choice and allegiances which would probably swing the final decision. Off-roaders seemed to get more luxurious and well-appointed, and I would feel uncomfortable in muddy boots in anything but the Land-Rover Defender (which along with the Merc G wagon still have flat windscreens! – cheap to make but aerodynamic barndoors).
Sports and upmarket saloons (BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Alfa unsurprisingly had very impressive stands) are as good as ever, and it would be almost impossible to buy a bad car in this sector.
And as for the exotica, then my favourite would have to be the totally crazy Knigsegg!
Space precludes me from reviewing the huge hall full of garage equipment, but let’s say that when you’ve seen one car-wash, you’ve seen them all.
So, despite the gloom, I came away amazed and enthused by the innovative technologies, the confidence of the industry and the exceptionally high spec of just about every model on display. In a buyer’s market with huge incentives and discounts, there’s probably never been a more exciting and thrilling time to get a new motor.
Words and pictures by Sam Rollings, Real ReView winner 2009