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Paris Motor Show 2012 – Trends and Overview

Wed, 31 Oct 2012

The 2012 Paris Mondial de l'Automobile will not be remembered as a classic. When the Big Book of the Paris Motor Show is published, 2012 may be consigned to no more than a side note as the show that marked what a dire situation the European car industry was once in.

The most worrying aspect of the Paris show was the general lack of progression. The number of old concept cars clearly drafted in to fill the spaces left by abandoned plans that fell foul of their finance departments' red pens added to the effect. But even many of the new cars on show had a sense of déjà-vu.

This was a show of gentle evolution, refinement and a fair amount of plagiarism. Take a look at the new Ford Mondeo. It's by no means a bad car but neither does it move its market segment (or indeed its brand) on one iota. Get over the decoy Aston Martin-esque grille and you're left with an Audi A6 clone, right down to the lamp graphics and the insert in that double-height grille.

Ford is not alone in its shameless copying of successful models. The Opel/Vauxhall Adam is perhaps more blatant with its mashup of A-/B-segment premium elements: Fiat 500 proportions, Citroën DS3 colorways, Mini customization and price point. Yet somehow, despite dissecting each of its competitors, the Adam's creators may have entirely missed the formula for success in this segment – offering something that feels expensive yet costs mainstream money to build.

Even BMW has been peeking over its neighbour's fence, its Active Tourer concept (the first ever front-wheel drive BMW) within millimetres of the Mercedes B-Class, which is proving something of a sales success.

Elsewhere familiarity was born of evolution. The seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf is the perfect example of how to manage the continuous improvement of a product in order to stay ahead. It's better in every area while consolidating the reasons for its success in a package that feels completely contemporary. Its platform sibling, the Seat Leon attempts the same trick, yet when your brand is supposedly youthful, sporty and dynamic this makes little sense, especially when a revolution is needed to turn around the dead wood of the VW Group.

Over on the Jaguar/Land Rover stand yet more Darwinian theory was in evidence. The Jaguar F-Type may well represent entry into a new market segment for the brand but in essence it's little more than a shrunken XK in concept. It's a very pretty and no doubt desirable sports car but if the intention is to lure young men away from their Porsche Boxsters surely something a little more innovative would have been a better bet? Simply imagine the impact of the E-Type in 1962 to understand the disappointment.

Next door on the Land Rover stand the Range Rover continued its progression with what is a significant step. See our Range Rover Design Review for the full low-down.

There were, however, two notable exceptions to the rule. The first, the McLaren P1, was unveiled directly opposite the JLR booth at the exact time and space as Lotus' infamous press conference two years earlier. Whatever you think of the P1 there's no denying it's very much itself; there's certainly no mistaking it for any other supercar. It's hugely complex, uniquely proportioned and unusually lacking in aggression. At a time when supercars had turned a little dull and predictable, the McLaren could be accused of possessing neither trait.

Lexus continued to impress, this time with the engagingly idiosyncratic LF-CC concept. It's far from beautiful, but its surfacing and detailing are genuinely unique. It also hinted at the start of a Steampunk revival in its headlamp detailing, something echoed by the Peugeot Onyx's copper and carbon fiber body.

As we reported earlier in the year, copper is an on-trend finsh that started in the home interiors sector and is now spreading through the car industry. The Onyx's bodywork, the Opel Adam's wheels, the Jaguar F-Type's gearshift paddles and the Porsche Panamera Sport Tourismo's carbon lacquer all proudly displayed the warm orange tone.

Inside, touchscreens are growing ever-more tablet-like as cabins move into the digital realm. The Renault Clio, VW Golf and Range Rover all assign more functions to ever-bigger screens. The Renault goes the furthest by removing all physical hard keys, whereas the Range Rover and Golf blur the boundaries between the physical and digital with shortcut keys at the edges of their screens.

The Clio is also representative of the continuing trend towards complex, sculptural exterior surface treatment. The surfacing along the side of the car is deeply impressive in its complexity and apparently caused a few late nights during the car's development. For all its subtlety the Jaguar F-Type's rear end surfacing is also rather dramatic with the sharp peaks to its fender creases, something that simply would not have been possible to mass-produce only a few years ago. The Kia Pro_cee'd's (apologies for the punctuation overload) form language follows a similar path.

Paris also marked the true return of the front quarterlight as the Golf, Mondeo, Clio and BMW Active Tourer amongst others added a small window at the base of the A-pillar. It's the result of the reunion of the scuttle height and side window line, the movement of wing mirrors to door surfaces for better aero as well as the manipulation of the A-pillar/front wheel relationship for better proportions.

Overall the Paris motor show was a disappointment and a graphic illustration of how much the European – particularly French – car industry is suffering, and how even those usually confident in going their own way have been forced to watch closely and follow those who are succeeding, in order to increase chances of sales success.

We're still waiting for a company to have the bravery to innovate their way out of trouble. Hopefully that will be in the chapter dedicated to 2014.

Related articles:
Design Review: Land Rover Range Rover
Driven: Volkswagen Golf Mk7
Geneva Motor Show 2012 – Trends and Overview

By Owen Ready