Geneva 2018 Reflections – Are Objects in the Mirror Closer Than They Appear?

For Robertas Parazitas it’s been a strange Salon. Great for star-spotting and social interaction, but none of the new crop of premieres and concepts lit the flame of his desire, or the warm feeling that the future of motordom is going to be all right, after all. 

Image: R Parazitas

Last year my personal favourites were the Alpine A110 and the Jaguar I-Pace, both machines I could aspire to owning in the right set of circumstances. Wim Oubouter’s Microlino, an electric Isetta hommage also appealed – it was back this year, with sales reported to start in late spring / early summer.

None of the new offerings – whether production reality, or pointers to the brave new electrified world, inspired my jaded soul. I’ve become immune to well-funded Chinese EV start-ups jostling to become the next Tesla.

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We should, I suppose, rejoice at the arrival of a really good looking big Peugeot saloon, but will the new 508 be quite as alluring after three years as a staple of the rental yard?

Inside and out, the stylists have done a more than commendable job.  Technically, the fact which interested me most is that all but the 128bhp 1.5 litre diesel will have eight speed automatic transmissions, and no manual option.

Image: R Parazitas

So much for the notion that the French were a nation wedded to the rowing of their boîtes de vitesses.

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Moving to the VAG Reich, the array of future-generation I.D. VW electric cars at the rear of the extensive Volkswagen stand has become a fixture at shows for some years. We still have two years to wait for the first production offering, but the generously sized I.D. Vizzion was premiered at Geneva, a monstrous pointer to the future.

‘Premium’ is the byword, and the erstwhile Phaeton receives multiple name-checks in the lavishly produced Vizzion press pack. The car itself is undeniably a stylish thing, with its pillarless doors in the Lancia manner, and lounge-like open-plan interior. Apparently the chosen proportions give it a “fascinatingly dominant and dynamic look”, and “an overall appearance that is both coherent and very expressive”.

Image: VW

That’s as may be, but I’m disturbed by the notion of the “HoloLens health function screening”. Why is it needed with Level 5 autonomy – which VW say will be ready to go in 2025? Are the mobility consumers of the not too distant future going to be bored hypochondriacs?

Passengers are described as “guests”, and access would be by a “sharing agreement” rather than outright ownership. I have an unappealing vision of the cars of ten years hence being robotically managed and controlled mobile hotels. I just hope the cleaning and sanitization business has been thought out.

Image: VW

I’m normally immune to the allure of modern supercars, but the Ferrari 488 Pista appealed with its rawness, and evocation of the bloodline which commenced half a century ago with the Dino 206. If progress can be expressed in mere numbers, those fifty years have given us 16% more width, 42% more weight, and 344% more power.

Image: Autocar

Perhaps I’m yearning for a final fling before the freedom of the roads becomes the freedom to indulge in sedentary activity in a “connected mobility solution”, relieved of the cerebral and physical burdens of control and navigation.

Perhaps – but for me vehicles remain foremostly objects of utililty, regardless of style or performance.

Image: R Parzitas

While some of my companions were salivating at weniger ist mehr limited edition Porsche 991s, I felt the germ of an idea that I needed a van in my life.

The commodity and adaptability of the latest PSA Partner / Berlingo twins impressed, although the executive jet pretensions of the top-spec versions’ interiors were at odds with their essentially utilitarian character. It may be that my views are tainted by British insularity; these passenger vans never found much favour with UK customers whose sterling went the way of purpose-designed MPVs and SUVs.

Image: R Parzitas

Which brings me to a couple of mildly amusing asides.

Image: R Parzitas

Peugeot have chosen to call the passenger version of the Partner the “Rifter”, even in the UK. ‘Rift’ in popular Scottish usage means to belch, to eructate, to break wind backwards. Are they trying to outdo Renault, with their Wind and Flatulence?

Image: Opel Media

Another story doing the rounds was a report of a journo asking a PSA high-up about the Opel / Vauxhall version of the new van. He was told that it was on display on the Opel stand. Would that be the Opel stand that Carlos Tavares had cancelled six weeks before?

Anyway, the new vans are a big deal for PSA. The Berlingo is Citroën’s second best selling product after the C3, and in-demand LCVs deliver profit margins manufacturers of premium passenger cars can only dream of. The new vans don’t deviate much from the style of their predecessors, but are more capacious, and adopt the EMP2 scalable platform. The Opel version was co-developed with PSA long before they were married, under an agreement made in 2012 to replace the re-badged Fiat / Tofas Doblò.

There’s further bad news for Turkey in the demise of the Bipper and Nemo – the Peugeot and Citroën badged Fiorinos/Qubos are no more. If you want a small Tavares van – and lots of people do – buy a Partner or Berlingo.

There’s good news for the Portuguese industry, where the former Citroën 2CV plant in Mangualde becomes the second Berlingo / Partner / Burper / Combo production base, backing up Vigo in Galicia.

Image: R Parzitas

My van search then took me to the honest Dacia Dokker ‘Combispace’, recently facelifted. This one is in Stepway trim. Probably half the price of the eructating Partlingo, it’s just as useful, and has a decent variety of Renault engine options, and even an automatic option.

The show van had a leather-clad steering wheel heavily inlaid with ‘media’ controls, the obligatory ‘infotainment’ screen, and a modicum of pl-alloy.  Are Dacia on the path to Škodafication, where the quality and specification offered challenges the parent group’s core brands.

This hypothesis wasn’t interesting enough to set me on a 360 degree quality analysis on the Renault and Nissan stands, but I can humbly report that the Dokker’s interior hard plastics are no nastier than those in the VAG Troc I’d been sitting in a few minutes before.

Image: R Parzitas

Anyway, the Dokker remains a faraway bird with fine feathers for the UK and Ireland as RHD is not on the menu.

Image: R Parzitas

The hipster hang-out above celebrates the the arrival of SEAT’s Cupra stand-alone sub-brand, hopefully more Abarth or Gordini than (don’t call it Citroën) DS.

How does a sub-brand define itself when the parent business struggles to find its own purpose? Beyond the worthy and stylish Ibizas and Leons, VAG’s Protean Spanish outpost’s ambitions have wavered from being the Spanish Alfa Romeo, to majoring on MPVs, because Renault and Citroën did very well from these things.

It’s no surprise that SEAT are now offering a comprehensive portfolio of competent but uninspiring SUVs, nor that Cupra’s debut offering is a 296bhp version of the Ateca, originating from a production facility in Kvasiny, one of Barcelona’s more easterly suburbs.

Image: R Parzitas

So was the 2018 Salon devoid of magic? Absolutely not. As Herr Kubrick and I toured the last minute preparations on Monday evening, we spotted a 51 year old piece of Gandini gold, recognisable even when shrouded in subfusc.

Image: R Parzitas

I first encountered the Lamborghini Marzal in an old copy of Motor, discarded by a neighbour, which covered the 1967 Geneva Motor Show. I was probably ten years old at the time, and the Geneva Salon seemed as unattainable and exotic as the Lamborghini concept itself.

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Half a lifetime would pass before I experienced the Salon, and it has been a fixture of my life for the last ten years. I never expected to see the Marzal in real life, and its clarity of concept and ‘otherness’ are as strong as they were in the over-inked monochrome pages of that dog-eared magazine some time in the late 1960s.

Car magazines were discouraged in my household – they were considered a worthless distraction from my studies.

Some of my more indulged schoolfellows had access to Autocar and Motor, possibly even CAR, long before it was Boring Boring. They often talked of something called a Bizzarrini Manta, shown at Geneva a year after the Marzal.

Without the universal access to images and information we take for granted now, it existed only in imagination. When I finally saw one on the printed page it didn’t disappoint but – sorry Giorgetto – it was no match for the Marzal.

Image: R Parzitas

Having the opportunity to make the comparison in three dimensions, was an experience I never even dreamed of, but – suitably awed and humbled – I think they’re both great.

Image: classicdriver.com

However, the Manta is a dramatically-clothed racing car, whereas the Marzal is a precognition of a future nobody quite expected. Contemplate that interior and ask yourself if it is not the avatar of the autonomous, hyperfast, electric lounges on wheels which are set to be the future of personal terrestrial mobility.

Image: R Parzitas

As for these spoiled kids – they’re probably driving Audi Q5s or Volvo XC60s now…

15 thoughts on “Geneva 2018 Reflections – Are Objects in the Mirror Closer Than They Appear?”

  1. I also found myself wondering if I’m being unfair to cars like the 508. In isolation, it’s a thoroughly decent car, and an applaudable one compared with its predecessors – a proper ‘return to form’. And yet there’s the feeling that this ‘form’ is past its due, despite thoroughly worthy new entrants, such as Volvo’s excellent V60.

    As far as the concept cars are concerned though, there’s little ambivalence. No manufacturer has yet managed to truly explore the changes that may or may not come with autonomous driving – and that definitely includes Renault, whose EZ-GO concoction was the brand’s worst concept ‘car’ in a while.

    Unlike Robertas, I had failed to give the show’s organisers proper credit for the creative use of unused space. The sight of some of Giugiaro’s and Gandini’s finest (which would exclude the Sibilo also on show) was truly a moment to be relished.

    1. I’m really pleased to see the 508 and V60, if only because I still like the form of a decent sized saloon or estate, they are both attractive and I feared complete extinction of these forms. Three door hatches and coupes have been discussed in another thread over the last few days and they appear to be pretty much completely extinct. Hats off to the Cactus facelift too for offering some real choice. Let’s hope that sufficient numbers of people agree!

    2. There hasn´t been a decent Peugeot saloon since the 406 stopped production which is a really long time ago. Will Peugeot´s engineers have even test-driven the 406 before deciding on the 508´s characteristics? The 407 lost a lot of the 406´s appeal for no gain I can identify: it wasn´t made better, didn´t look better and didn´t perform better (maybe the fuel economy was improved?). The same went for the 508 which, as far as I could see, was a large and heavy car without very much dynamism or road appeal. The RAC disagrees with me: “The new Peugeot 508 has replaced the 407 and with it comes a better quality interior and a more mature look.” The interior of the 508 was oppressive and I disagree about the looks. I´ll have to try to drive one to see if there is any fun involved in comparison to the almost transparent 406 (as in you don´t feel there is anything getting in the way of your driving intentions).
      In contrast, Volvo have been plugging away at the medium-sized saloon without interruption and none of the interim cars have been big disappointments and some have been very pleasing. Volvo have continuity and something to build on whereas Peugeot will need to be aware of rebuilding loss talent.

    3. I found this item at Car magazine (an otherwise awful read, let me say**): “PSA has been striving to improve vehicle standards for nine years, painstakingly comparing cars with rivals from VW, Audi, Honda, Kia and Mercedes-Benz. Patois’ team assesses his company’s cars against their direct rivals, at brand new, 15,000km, 30,000km and 45,000km.” That´s a critical mistake: PSA need to make sure their cars are holding up at 120,000 km. If a car is perceived to be flakey or frail at 60,0000 km this will feed into prices all the way back to the first sale price. 45,0000 is less than four years of driving. Setting a high bar for this parameter means that by the time the model is running out, first time buyers will have realised they got their money´s worth which eventually means the next model has some credibility to build on as well: if the price of the outgoing model holds firm then the price of the new model will stay higher as well as it will not be competing so much with a lower-priced nearly new previous model. I say all this in the light of the fact the 406 I run is still functioning incredibly well. Only neglect kills these cars. I simply don´t believe that to be true of the 407 or 508.

      ** I haven´t read it in ages and looked at three articles by three different authors and all of them appalled me.

    4. There’s a “508 First Edition” based on the regular GT model. Its dynamic form and aggressive front give it an athletic and confident elegance.
      Its unique i-cockpit ® and compact steering wheel with chrome elements create an extremely sporting atmosphere.

      That’s all you ever wanted.

      For me, three factors count against the 508: the lack of a stick shift, the stupid non-circular steering wheel and the high set game console instrument panel.
      At least there seem to be some decent engines and not only mini auxiliary motors.

  2. Bless Vauxhall / Opel. They just can’t get anything right can they?

    One look at their version of the Berlingo van-with-windows and it’s instantly apparent that it is the least appealing of the trio. Why would you buy it over the others unless incentivised by a healthy discount?

    1. The sad part is that they used to have a decent vehicle in this class, the Combo. I don´t think the Opel version is any worse than its cousins though. I think you are being a trifle harsh.

    2. Sorry Richard. I know that Opel is your trigger word.

      I stand by my comment though. Their version is awful.

    3. It’s certainly a good car, at least not worse than its siblings. But I agree with Jacomo, it’s the least attractive one. I don’t know if they do that deliberatly. Probably it’s just weird, because the side view says French, but it has a German nose. Without knowing the interior, I guess that also there it will be the most boring variant of the Trio.

    4. I think Opel triggers a lot of reactions but they are polarised. Apart from a Mk1 Zafira I drove, all the Opels I have been in were really very pleasant cars. The last Astra, the Adam and Zafira all pleased me greatly. They aren´t what you´d call characterful cars and they don´t set the pulse racing. They do however do seem to do their job well and for a reasonable price.

    5. When looking at the pictures closely I get the impression that they managed to use the same front wings and bonnet on the Citroen and Opel, with differences limited to the soft parts of bumper and nose cone and to the light units.
      But of course the Citroen has an A post that’s painted black and therefore gives it a personality all of its own.

      The most interesting aspect of that car will be that it gives an indication of Opel’s planned position in the PSA hierarchy. I still expect it to be PSA’s Dacia.

    6. Many are saying that Citroën will become PSA’s Dacia. Currently we see the upper part of its line-up disappear, and many of its models are deprived of the higher engine specs (or up-to-date emission ratings) one can have at Peugeot or DS, so there seems to be some evidence of a lower positioning.

      So, will we now have to Dacias in the corporation? Or are they trying to sell Citroën as kind of ‘Dacia-with-a-splash-of-colour’?

    7. Perhaps Dacia with a dash of comfort and design? Doesn’t that sum up what the Visa was, post facelift?

  3. Excellent Geneva review, better than any other I’ve read.

    EVs and autonomy are being crammed down everyone’s throats. Apparently millions of people who live in flats are somehow going to have to work out how to charge up their batteries at “home”. Not feasible round here in many cases, and outdoor parking in winter means you have to somehow scrape off ice, so power is needed or windows will just refreeze. Oh, so the less well-off can summon a robot car to get to work in industrial estates where buses don’t run to every nook and cranny? Revelation, this brave new world is unlikely to happen for years at a price people can generally afford, or find actually useful.

    As for level 5 autonomy by 2025, well VW can dream. None of these joking car companies have something that works in our winters. Lane markings disappear, signs obliterated by wet sticky snow. We cope as humans, but sensors seem stuck. What if there’s a hurricane alert evacuation? EVs and autonomy to the rescue? Electric transmission lines down, wheres’s the juice?

    Several days ago a Uber Volvo XC 90 autonomous vehicle mowed down a woman crossing a lightly-travelled road in Tempe Arizona. Neither the camera, the radar nor the lidar stamped on the brakes. The dash cam video shows it just blew her away. The police say the dead woman should have crossed at the marked crosswalk. Based on the complete lack of autonomous reaction as revealed by the dash cam, perhaps that would have changed things by 100 metres. Something went dreadfully wrong. And the car was speeding too! Fail. There is an uproar and rightly so

    Right now, you have Mark One autonomous systems, amateur hour versions, prowling the streets with millions of lines of code that may or may not work as intended. I’ll be avoiding this stuff like the plague, and I’m not alone.

    Quite what’s driving this headlong rush into “mobility” solutions is beyond me. The lack of a measured approach strikes me as the Wild West but the corporate world senses profit, and to hell with what general society thinks since government is basically in their hip pocket. What’s a few “volunteer” martyrs in the great scheme of things? There are fortunes to be made!

    In other words, this stuff is going to take ages to get working properly, thank goodness for those who like to drive. I just hope nobody else gets needlessly killed in that time period, but that’s all it is – hope. Reality will dictate otherwise.

  4. Bill,

    Your thoughts on autonomous vehicles concur largely with my own.

    Even the accepted nomenclature is dubious – they would be better described as robotised for remote control by third parties.

    As we face the apparently irresistible emergence of autonomy, there’s an astonishing lack of debate about the matter, or scrutiny of why it has come to be.

    Who’s behind it? Governments? Vehicle makers? “Big Data”?

    Who will benefit? The “mobility solution” users? The logistics industry? Society at large?

    Rather than enhancing our travel options, autonomous vehicles look to be an erosion – and eventual extinction – of an extraordinary freedom which has been available to a sizeable and increasing minority of humanity over the last 120 years.

    Am I being needlessly diffident about the motivations of our lords and masters, and people far cleverer than myself?

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