Now the dust has settled... Paris motor show 2008 analysis

Published: 03 October 2008

My Paris motor show in one word? Scary. Almost all the tens of thousands of us packed into Paris Expo’s eight halls on press day depend on the car industry for our living. So it’s pretty bloody unsettling to sit in a room with Carlos Ghosn, the boss of Renault and Nissan and arguably the industry’s most clear-sighted and successful leader, and be told that we’re in the middle of the most complete financial meltdown since 1929.

Ghosn admits he’s having a hard time predicting what the market will look like next month, let alone next year, and that the focus for car makers now isn’t on the technologies with which they’ll compete ten years down the line, but how they survive the next few months.

Why the doom and gloom?

Bloody American bankers. Without them, the 2008 Paris motor show would have been great. There was a raft of important new concept and production cars, some of which were genuine surprises and many of which were exactly the kind of smart, small cars we need right now.

None is a response to the current crisis of course, or even the economic slowdown that began months before, but they are a response to concerns about the environment, the EU’s likely emissions limits, and fuel prices and supplies.

Nor does the fact that so many arrived at once at Paris mean the car industry has undergone some wholesale green conversion; it’s partly coincidence, and partly the fact that this is the home show for French car makers who specialise in small, frugal cars. The LA, Detroit, Geneva and Frankfurt shows are better places to launch something big and flash and thirsty. 

The industry rumours at Paris

But the question everyone is asking at the 2008 Paris show is whether buyers will still be able to afford big new cars, and whether the car makers will be able to raise the funds to develop them.

The big rumour at the show was that GM, Renault-Nissan and perhaps even Chrysler would announce some sort of alliance to help the US car makers get the small cars they so desperately need to market quickly. Nonsense, said Ghosn; he’s been talking to GM since 2006 but now all bets are off, and even healthy companies are scared to make any big moves until they have some idea of how all this will shake out.

So you start to see every stand and car in a cold new light. You wonder if there’s any future for Renault’s bold but big Ondelios concept. Bentley and Aston, with their massive recent growth, look dangerously exposed. The Lamborghini Estoque looks ideal only for those making money from overpriced oil.

At one end of the GM stand, the Camaro and Hummers look like exactly the kind of profligate, poor quality cars that got the US car makers into such strife in the first place, while at the other the production version of the Volt looked even more like the sort of smart thinking they’ll need to get out of it.

And everyone, Carlos Ghosn included, leaves with absolutely no idea what the next Paris show in 2010 will look like...

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Paris motor show 2008


By Ben Oliver

Contributing editor, watch connoisseur, purveyor of fine features