Report from Paris: The Mondial de l’Automobile 2012

By Jonathan Spira on 27 September 2012
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Jaguar F-Type

The Paris Motor Show, or Mondial de l’Automobile, was the world’s first auto show and remains one of the most important shows in the industry.  Many manufacturers use the Paris show to debut their wildest concept cars and latest production models. 2012 has brought no changes to this tradition, and dozens of automakers from around the world took the opportunity to show off their new cars. What has changed, however, is what is being shown.  Compared to the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year, with an emphasis on luxury as well as bread-and-butter offerings, the Paris show, taking place as the economic climate in Europe worsens, is all business. Indeed, the automobile industry, faced with declining car sales and increasing fuel costs, is emphasizing cost and efficiency, with some models presenting incredible fuel economy figures.

The show, which is billed as the world’s largest based on attendance, opens to the public on Saturday and runs through October 14.   The we-mean-business attitude manifested itself in new vehicles including the Smart Forstar E.V. concept, the Mini Paceman, the somewhat cheekily named Opel Adam (Opel’s legal name is Adam Opel AG), and the Europe-only Chevrolet Trax.

65-mpg Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion

Jaguar got an early start at the show, using the “magical, romantic and culturally rich setting” of Paris to reveal the new F-Type, a two-seater sports car, at a private event the night before the show opened. Priced and sized in between the competition, slightly more expensive than a Porsche Boxster and slightly smaller than the 911, the F-Type is the British marque’s first new sports car in a half-century, leaving the existing XK coupe and convertible to satisfy the grand-touring segments. Starting at $69,000 in the U.S., the F-Type comes with a choice of supercharged V-6 or V-8 motors and features more aggressive and athletic styling, with a driver-oriented cockpit with not a piece of wood inside. It even does away with the Jaguar Land Rover family gear selector knob, and will let drivers operate their 8-speed automatic transmission via a proper gear lever. The F-Type hits U.S. dealers in 2013 as a 2014 model.

The eHybrid Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo concept

The seventh generation of the worldwide bestseller Volkswagen Golf was unveiled in Paris, having gone on a diet.  The Golf will be available with a new BlueMotion diesel powertrain with fuel economy of 65 mpg (3.6 l/100km). The 1.6-liter turbo diesel four probably won’t make it to the U.S., but we’ll probably see the more sculpted and athletic hatch arrive with the current 2.0-liter TDI engine and an 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine.  Even without the supereconomical 1.6-liter diesel, from what VW has told us recently , diesel power will be in no short supply.

Porsche unveiled its concept Panamera Sport Turismo, a shooting-brake version of their sedan/hatchback hybrid that in comparison looks almost conventional. The rear-drive concept is powered by the plug-in “eHybrid” system, which consists of a 333-horsepower 3.0-liter supercharged V6 and 95-horsepower electric motor at the rear axle.

The 3-cylinder BMW Concept Active Tourer

The Stuttgart-based automaker says the Panamera Sport Turismo eHybrid will go from 0-62 MPH in under 7 seconds and return Prius-shredding fuel economy of 67 MPG (3.5 l/100km). Porsche showed off new production models, as well, including the performance-oriented Cayenne S Diesel and All-Wheel Drive versions of the latest 911.

While the rest of Munich is in the height of Oktoberfest, BMW brought a concept that carries an unprecedented feature behind the Roundel: front-wheel drive. The BMW Concept Active Tourer looks production-ready, sporting a short hood and tall body. Powered by a plug-in hybrid powertrain with a 1.5-liter 3-cylinder engine, the Concept Active Tourer has four doors (unlike the all-electric, two-door i3 city car) and is packed with ConnectedDrive technology. BMW is said to be preparing a front-wheel drive, plug-in hybrid as part of the next generation 1 series, due in 2017, so the Concept Active Tourer may be closer than you think to the showroom floor.

The Mondial de l’Automobile continues, as will new introductions and premieres. Stay tuned.

Dan Collins contributed to this report.

(Photos: Jonathan Spira)