The 2012 Paris Motor Show seemed all about 'intent'; intent to build, intent to sell, and the world's principal manufacturers' intention to return to profitability (or indeed to simply survive). Concept cars were a far more finite commodity than in years gone by and a good deal of the concepts that did appear to wow the Parisian crowds were earmarked for production from the start - cars such as Infiniti's pure electric LE concept, BMW's plug-in hybrid Active Tourer concept and a luminous Peugeot 2008, which, based on the 208, is touted as being 98% production ready. Pure design was a rare sight and it was telling that Pininfarina and Bertone, two of the greatest carrozzerias, were conspicuous by their absence, particularly so considering the lavish pieces each exhibited earlier this year at the Geneva Motor Show.
BMW's first FWD car - the Concept Active Tourer
Expected in 2014.
Paris is all about the country's indigenous makers, however, and Peugeot, who debuted the copper-clad V8 hybrid Onyx Concept, and Citroën, who gave the arresting DS9 concept its European premiere, certainly didn't disappoint. The surprise was Renault who, after a succession of exciting and evocative concept 'circle of life' cars in recent years, denied us that pleasure and instead focused entirely on the car they believe will help power the company out of the doldrums - the new Clio.
The debut that is likely to make the greatest impact on the automotive landscape is the latest VW Golf. The headline figures are that it's 100kg lighter and 23% more efficient across the range than it's predecessor. It' also so sharp in the metal that you could almost cut yourself, with a hard crease dominating the side profile. This acute new aesthetic is becoming evident across the VAG brands - Audi's new A3 is harder than before and, perhaps most palpably, the 2013 Seat Leon exhibits a plethora of razor-like design themes.
The Golf VII - 100kg lighter and 23% more efficient.
Paris also delivered a dose of reality this year – pure electric vehicles are still something of a flight of fancy for the paying public, and mass uptake of hydrogen vehicles is years away, depending on how quickly and comprehensively manufacturers like Nissan could build the skeletal TeRRA FCEV Concept. Instead, makers have focused on offering sensibly priced vehicles that use conventional technology but are cleaner than ever before.
Nissan's hydrogen-powered TeRRA. Hard on the outside, soft on the inside.
The choice of cars that emit less than 100g/km CO2 is now substantial, and that you can buy a car like the Golf Bluemotion, which is just about all the car most people will ever need but only emits 85g/km CO2, will make it harder for the public to adopt pure EVs that are still compromised by range and infrastructure. This was reflected at the show, where only a handful of makers exhibited feasible electric vehicles, notably the aforementioned Infiniti and Mercedes, who revealed a production electric SLS and B-Class (developed in partnership with Tesla). So far Renault's Zoe looks the most promising electric car, matching good looks with affordability. The problem, again, is the range which although better than most is still a compromising factor.
Renault Zoe fully electric and ready to roll.
Fuel-electric hybrids, on the other hand, have an immediate future. There are already plenty on the road and, alongside BMW's Active Tourer, Paris saw two more exciting concepts. Porsche unveiled the Panamera Sport Turismo concept, which was widely predicted to be a thoroughbred shooting brake but turned out to be just about the best looking hatchback anyone could ever imagine. The design cues for the next generation of Panamera are there for all to see, but the 'e-hybrid' powertrain is just as significant. Porsche have executed hybrid setups with aplomb in the Cayenne and Panamera hybrid models, but the difference with this concept is that it's a plug-in hybrid with a 3-litre V6 mated to a 94bhp electric motor. The upshot is that the concept car can cover 20 miles at 75mph in electric mode rather than just a few at city speeds, as is the current situation. Porsche expect to put this technology into production in 2014. The other hybrid concept of note was McLaren's P1, which divided opinion like no other. The P1 is ostensibly a hybrid, but the 'hybrid' part is an F1-derived Kinetic Energy Recovery System that will contribute only a small proportion of the car's overall power output.
Porsche Sport Turismo was well received and ready for production.
McLaren P1, limited hybrid technology...is it really green?
Ultimately, Paris 2012 was a “let's get serious” show for the automotive industry. Sure, we saw some experiential supercars, a few handy little EVs and generous helping of SUVs utilising a range of power sources, but this year was about selling cars. Stop-start technology, sub-100g/km CO2 emissions and weight saving measures are no longer unusual – in fact, they're essential if you're selling to the mass market. The problem is that electric cars are certainly not yet a reality for the majority, so where does that leave 'green car design'? A surprising answer is found in the Onyx supercar concept, which we explored with Peugeot Design Director Gilles Vidal.
Peugeot Onyx Concept
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