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Paris Motor Show: the roundup
There’s a fun game to be played at any big motor show. You try and work out if there’s a theme. Sometimes it’s really nothing more than a series of coincidences, devoid of meaning. But if you look at many of the launches at Paris, you can see a vivid reflection of a long-term trend.
The old idea of fixed types of car, or market segments, has pretty much died a death.
Look at any of the old-fashioned places on the map: hatchback, saloon, off-roader, coupe, people-carrier. At Paris you could find a new car that sat anywhere between those points. The former citadels of market segmentation have now coalesced into one sprawling suburb.
The Renault Espace was once an MPV. Now it’s got a dose of crossover about it, even though it’ll never go off-road. (And remember, crossovers themselves are a half-way house. They’re old-fashioned estates with optional 4WD, inseminated with a few genes from utility off-roaders.) Renault design director Laurens van den Acker told me “It’s got the versatility that an Espace always had, but you don’t look ridiculous driving it alone.”
Basically as a big, versatile seven-seater, the Espace does what the new Volvo XC90 does. But the Volvo came at it more from the crossover direction. It’s just that the two have pretty much met in the middle. And if you want something a bit closer to the true off-roader, well just step over to the Land Rover stand for a look at the Discovery Sport.
A new version of Ford’s straightforward big MPV, the Galaxy, doesn’t arrive until spring, but the related S-Max was at the show. What’s that? A MPV-cum-estate-with-a-smidge-of-coupe? More or less. And I’d be willing to bet that somewhere in Ford’s design studios they’re working on a version with quasi-off-road cladding to help it smear its way across another market segment.
As usual for a modern motor show, Paris had several crossover-coupes: a new BMW X6, as well as news from Audi that the TT Allroad is likely to go into production. And concepts of smaller versions of the same idea in the form of the Toyota C-HR and Peugeot Quartz.
Audi crossed a sports coupe with a five-door hatch, and ended up with the TT Sportback. I liked it. But it’ll be beaten to the market by a Shooting Brake version of the rather podgier Mercedes CLA. On a vaster scale, that same territory was also targeted by Infiniti with the Q80 Inspiration.
All of this before we even get to the promiscuous cross-pollination in powertrains. We had electric vehicles and hybrids and plug-in hybrids too many to mention (although high costs are killing diesel hybrid). Plus hybrids from Peugeot-Citroen where compressed air rather than a battery stores the energy. And Toyota brought its production-ready hydrogen fuel-cell hybrid.
Alternative powertrains have got to a tipping point, not just in number of cars but in acceptance. A year ago the great chorus of chatter was predicting that Porsche, McLaren and Ferrari would likely stumble in their efforts to make the hybrid a sexy performance booster rather than a dreary eco-necessity. But the chatter was wrong. Even so, the hybrid Lamborghini, unveiled at Paris, has come to pass quicker than most of us expected. “Without it we will be a dinosaur,” Lambo’s development chief Maurizio Reggiani told me. That represents a pretty brisk journey for what once called itself ‘The most politically incorrect car company in the world’.
But one of the best cars at the show had had its diesel hybrid guts ripped out and petrol power (non-turbo an’all). It certainly fitted the anti-segment trend, mind. It began life as a VW XL1, but then got an energising shock of an organ transplant, the 1200cc engine of a Ducati Panigale superbike. The XL1 always had the characteristics of a great driver’s machine: light weight, a two-seat mid-engined carbonfibre body, lowness and honed aerodynamics. Now it has turned out into a gorgeous crossbreed, part-hypermiler part-supercar. Build the thing, please VW.