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John LeBlanc’s Top 10 Turkeys from the 2010 Paris auto show

Published October 5, 2010


PARIS – While there were many delightful surprises and forward thinking concept and production car debuts at this year’s Paris auto show, you can’t have two days of presentations without a few duds showing up.

So with the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend nearly upon us, and in the spirit of gratefulness, here are my Top 10 turkeys from this year’s show:

10. Peugeot

At this spring’s Geneva show, France’s Peugeot stunned observers with its original and well-received SR1 roadster concept. Finally, we critics all assumed, the brand seemed to be moving away from its previous bland-as-Michael Bublé persona, a kind of Saturn of French cars – cheap, cheerful, but dull as dishwater.

Yet the first trickle-down affects of the SR1 seem to have missed the mark.

Peugeot’s new 508 looks like a Nissan Maxima rip-off. While its HR1 concept is a dog’s breakfast of design cues from a city car, a two-door coupe and an SUV – zut alors!

9. Land Rover’s incredibly shrinking SUVs

You have to hand it to Land Rover. It’s been selling incredibly off-road-capable vehicles to customers who are rich enough to have people get their Wellies wet for them.

But now, the Indian-owned British brand wants to see if its premium pricing model will work on a mini scale, with its compact Range Rover Evoque, a luxury cute ute that’s more likely to jump a curb in a Holt Renfrew parking lot than forge the jungles of Belize.

Hey, despite its diminutive size, don’t expect the Evoque to come cheap. It looks like Land Rover is going to take the same less-is-more approach BMW’s applied to its X6 SUV coupé.

Despite being smaller and less capable than the current LR2, the Evoque will carry a hefty premium.

8. Renault Fluence EV

According to the gospel of Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn, one-in-10 drivers will soon be driving electric vehicles. Which, for some critics of the traditional internal combustion engine, seems like the future. That is, if you can find a plug to recharge your EV…

But if our cars will drive like appliances in the future, do they have to look like a side-by-side Fridgidaire?

Maybe Renault blew the budget on the Fluence EV’s battery pack, and forgot to leave any money for the design department. Because the forgettable EV sedan is one of the most anodyne designs to come out of the usually-creative minds of Renault’s design office in some time.

7. Politically correct Ferraris

There’s a reason why most Ferraris are red. It’s called passion. And it’s the emotion every car that’s come out of the gates of the Italian automaker’s Maranello factory wearing the prancing black horse has had – in spades.

But at this year’s Paris show, Ferrari felt compelled to get all soft on us, giving in to the treehuggers by offering what it’s calling a new High Emotion Low Emissions package on its California. It includes “adaptive” gear shifts (i.e. you’re NOT shifting) and a stop/start system that apparently cuts emissions by 23 per cent.

Too bad my desire for a Ferrari is being reduced by about four times that amount.

6. The New Lotus

I can live with Lotus using Toyota engines. Let’s just file that under Whatever Gets You Through the Night.

But the Malaysian-owned, British brand’s business plan, to move upmarket and start swimming with the sharks at Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini and Aston Martin, as highlighted by the six new concepts seen in Paris, is questionable at the least and possibly borderline insane.

Lotus had a nice little business with its puritanical Elise and its various permutations. But to think that clothing Toyota mills in totally nondescript styling is the way to get high-end sports car buyers out of their DBSs or 458 Italias is unfettered optimism.

And please, tell me that the Toyota/Scion iQ-like Lotus City Car concept is a hoax. Because it is, right?

5. Scooters are the new “black”

Remember when McDonalds restaurants was forced to start selling salads? The fast food chain may just as well have replaced its golden arch logo with a fluttering white flag.

That’s how I feel about carmakers selling two-wheelers, as both Smart and Mini are proposing with simultaneous debuts of scooters in Paris, and in Smart’s case, an electric bike.

Both should have had large banners on their show stand reading, WE’VE RUN OUT OF IDEAS!

4. Volkswagen’s excellent American adventure, part deux

Despite a new 2012 model debuting at this year’s Paris auto show, after this year’s 2010 models, the Passat gets sent back overseas.

Instead, we’ll get VW’s “New Midsize Sedan” (or NMS), some time next year, a car built in VW’s new U.S plant. Sound familiar?

Those with long enough memories will remember the German automaker’s last foray into trying to make more money from its North American operations.

In 1978, VW started making North American "Rabbit" versions of the first-gen Golf in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, a former Chevy man was hired to run the plant, and subsequently tried to "Americanize" the Golf – what became known as "Malibuing" the car – by softening the suspension and cheapening the interior.

Is VW heading down the same path again?

3. Lancia and Chrysler

So here was another show with a Lancia on the stand wearing a Chrysler badge and a Chrysler 300C looking rather out of place.

Which got me asking: Will Europeans all of a sudden fall in love with full-size American sedans and Jeeps? Will North Americans ever really cotton to the relatively unknown (and tiny) Fiat products?

Although the Italian automaker has essentially used Canadian and U. S. taxpayer money to buy control of Chrysler’s North American operations, it also recently got U.S. dealers to pay for the establishment of separate Fiat-only sales facilities.

So Fiat looks to have gotten the long-sought-after toehold in North America it’s been denied for decades for virtually nothing. But will this experiment have a chance as the Great Recession continues unabated in the States?

Hey, just asking.

2. Not coming to Canada

The politics will never allow this. But the world-wide standardization of fuel economy and tailpipe emissions would be the best thing to happen to the auto industry and its customers. It was too easy to walk the Paris show floor this year and pick out cars that would make great offerings in Canada, only to discover they’ve been denied a Canadian passport.

Just a few examples: The new five-door version of the Chevrolet Cruze; a Honda Fit Hybrid that looks like something Honda hasn’t had in awhile – a winner; turbo diesels; even Hyundai-Kia Motors continues to keep the good stuff for its European customers.

1. The EV voodoo and the end of the great hybrid experiment.

First, despite Renault’s claims (see Fluence EV above), the Toronto Maple Leafs have a better chance of winning the Stanley Cup before one-in-10 cars sold in Canada will be an EV. With limited battery range, an underdeveloped recharging system, our cold climate, and lack of variety of vehicle choices, read my text: It. Ain’t. Going. To. Happen.

Second, this Paris show marked the end of the gasoline-electric hybrid as a spiritual saviour of the planet. After almost every automaker (other than Toyota) has discovered the compromises that lie in hybrids, most have moved on to extended-range or full-on plug-in EVs as a real alternative to the current gas-only car.


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