Geneva motor show 2010 summary by Car4mh

Published: 09 March 2010

Geneva 2009 was the first motor show I had the opportunity to cover for CAR Online. One year later I returned to the Palexpo Arena and after two days roaming the exhibition these were the impressions that endured.

New toys galore

Geneva 2010 was full of new vehicles, incremental updates, special editions and concept cars – you could almost think that the industry wasn’t suffering a major sales slump as part of a wider economic crisis. At least until you saw the PT Cruiser à la Delta paint job on the Lancia-Chrysler puzzle piece stand. 

Move over Kermit, it’s easy being green

The obscure Green Pavillion was largely unnecessary at Geneva this year because all the major manufacturers upstairs were trumpeting their eco credentials. If I could have patented the term ‘sustainable’, I would have been able to retire a wealthy man on the royalties at the end of the first press day. In a year with petrol-electric Porsches, Lotuses and Ferraris, pure electric cars, clean and frugal diesels and tiny turbo petrol engines, it seemed that the conventional internal combustion engine was becoming the alternative powerplant for modern motoring.

Joy is not the ultimate driving machine any more

It seems a bit 2009 for me to point at BMW’s eco reinvention. But the change in the brand’s fundamental positioning feels profound to me, and not entirely welcome. Presenting a united front of refrigerator-white, ubiquitous yet supposedly ‘premium’ vehicles with their economy statistics writ large along the flanks, signs in capital letters yelling ‘JOY’ at protecting the planet, you would have trouble believing that BMW made its name building sporting sedans. Indeed, the M tricolor logo could only be found in a dark corner of the BMW booth, an M3 coupé hidden away like a stain that they couldn’t wash out.

PSA unleashes its stylists

With France a short walk from the Palexpo Arena, perhaps it was inevitable we’d see a strong showing from the French brands at Geneva. But between Peugeot seeking a renewed sense of elegance in its 200th year, and Citroen showering its stand with visually-overloaded concept vehicles, it was clear that PSA is opening the creative floodgates this year. The Paris motor show in October is going to be quite a spectacle if Geneva was any indication, with Peugeot’s crisply-styled SR1 concept and Citroen’s brash DS3 Racing being personal favourites.

We know you’re gorgeous but can you dance?

Last year I had a terrible time reconciling the looks of the Alfa Romeo Mito with my enthusiasm for the brand. I’d been hoping for a mini-Brera and got a mini-8C instead, that apparently wasn’t as enjoyable to drive as a humble Ford Fiesta. This year the larger Giulietta did justice to Alfa’s shift to retro-curvaceous styling cues and I consider it my production car of the show. Yet along with Bertone’s intricately detailed Pandion and Pininfarina’s beguiling 2uettottanta concepts, the Giulietta reinforces Alfa Romeo’s reputation for beauty we take for granted, while leaving the doubts about reliability and driving pleasure unanswered. I nervously await the first road tests later this year.

Small is big, youth is wasted on the young

There were many compact vehicles launched at Geneva seeking to win sales in a hotly contested sector. While Nissan took two steps forward with its Juke and Cube, they then took a big step back with the bland new Micra. Opel brought unexpected flair to their workaday Meriva compact MPV, and stablemates Chevrolet sought respectability with their petrolhead-friendly Aveo RS. Citroen and Renault offered premium performance with their DS3 Racing and Renaultsport Gordini hatchbacks. Audi stormed in with the squat, aggressive A1 and Mini overstuffed its styling envelope with the Countryman. So many of these cars were portrayed as being ideal for the stylish young urbanite, but it will be interesting to see how many sell instead to middle-aged empty-nesters seeking a distinctive smaller vehicle. Or indeed whether anyone decides the rich aroma of an opulent leather interior is enough to make the investment in an Aston Martin Cygnet worthwhile.

The new players are stepping up

As GM recovers from bankruptcy and Toyota suffered hitherto-unimaginable damage to its reputation for quality, the door opened for emerging manufacturers to grab a share of the Geneva limelight. Hyundai and Kia have made the most of the recession to grab market share with increasingly compelling cars and a value-for-money purchase proposition. Tata Motors showed electric prototypes and with new leadership and acquisitions has ambitions far beyond the burgeoning Indian market. BYD represented China, and raised intriguing possibilities with its expertise in battery technology seeming ideal for the shift to hybrid and pure-electric vehicles. Did Geneva mark the beginning of greater things for these firms, and a greater role in the industry for these nations?

The 2010 Geneva motor show in conclusion…

Geneva 2010 cemented the show’s position as the pre-eminent international motor show, offering the best possible selection of industry exhibits without the overwhelming scale and parochialism of other exhibitions. It remains a must-see event for any car enthusiast. As is traditional at European motor shows, I’d like to humbly thank Prof Dr Piech and Mrs Piech, and my sincere condolences to the late Mr Ben Oliver’s family for his superb but fatal ‘Sauron’ comment.

Thanks also to the members of the VW supervisory board, the CEO of Suzuki and his son for stopping by, the girls of the Fiat Group Compound who didn’t need to bring sexy back because it never left, Dr Ulrich Bez for his invaluable advice on entering and exiting sports cars for thirty-somethings, Signor Valentino Balboni for his winning grin and genial demeanour at the Lamborghini booth, the towering presence of staff writer Ben Pulman, the web production stylings of Miss SJ Harrison, and the sympathetic editorial work of associate editor Tim Pollard for making it all possible. Thank you all, you’ve been a wonderful audience!

My Geneva Show Stars

Concept cars of the show: Pininfarina 2uettottanta, Peugeot SR1
Production cars of the show: Alfa Giulietta, Citroen DS3 Racing
Surprise of the show: Porsche 918 Spyder
Disappointments of the show: BMW’s lack of old-school joy; Italdesign showing a Proton, not an Alfa concept.
Bad taste award: Mansory’s blue ‘n gold RR Ghost
Tech highlight: Fiat’s tiny MultiAir Twin engine.
Eco Award: Zagato recycling the Perana Z-One sports car from 2009
Hidden gem: The 40-series Toyota Landcruiser sitting opposite the main Toyota stand
‘What-the-#*§{ !?’ moment: Aussie-Malaysian minnows Bufori launching their ’distinctive’ Geneva sedan
Stand randomness prize: Volvo’s manicure station, offering nail polish in S60 colours
Spokesmodel award: Valentino Balboni on the Lamborghini stand