Geneva 2018 Reflections – Minor Distractions

As always, there’s more than just cars to the Geneva International Motor Show. 

The glamour of Geneva, photo (c) DrivenToWrite

Geneva: Hotbed of glamorous wealth, elegant refuge of the well-off elite amidst the mountains and Lac Léman. London Mayfair with a Franco-Swiss twist and more of a Continental sense of style.

In truth, the impression the average visitor, let alone motoring correspondent on a budget, gets of Genève is a decidedly different one. First of all, Geneva is far more French in feel. The streets and public transport are far dirtier, the average encounters with locals far less courteous than in German-speaking Switzerland. In large parts, Geneva also feels rather stuck in the 1980s, if it wasn’t for the plethora of oh-so-2018 Bentley Bentaygas and Mercedes-Maybach in the streets.

Prices for everything aren’t 1980s at all though. Geneva makes the likes of London’s Mayfair appear almost modest, certainly when it comes to the cost of food, which is simply laughably expensive, as even a humble two course dinner is certain to set you back fifty Euros at the least. These ambitious prices do not necessarily entail food of superior quality, as they do in Zurich, however.

Empty stomach or not, the morning trek to Palexpo, where the Geneva Motor Show is traditionally held, invariably includes a journey back to a time when it was unseemly for a grown man to lust after Sophie Marceau. What with the fairgrounds being located by Geneva Cointrin airport, one usually arrives at the airport’s train station first, when travelling by public transport.

From there, a shopping mall that should really play Richard Sanderson’s Dreams Are My Reality on endless loop to complete the 1980s throwback experience needs to be crossed. Then one gets to walk alongside the entirety of Palexpo, in order to reach the main entrance.

Given Palexpo’s outdated and slightly tatty appearance, not to mention signage ranging from the confusing to the bizarre, one is once again reminded that this ain’t Zurich, and that Switzerland is a diverse country indeed.

The French version may be correct, photo (c) DrivenToWrite

At some point during this involuntary tour of Palexpo’s premises, even the staunchest of O M Ungers detractors will spare a thought for Messe Frankfurt, which may be overwhelming in terms of sheer size, but features considerably more consistent signage, as well as entrances directly by more than one public transport stations at either. After having had to take that tour of Palexpo’s exterior during a downpour, such infrastructure concerns certainly come to the fore.

In fairness, not all of Palexpo is quite so drastically stuck in the decade of neon lights and Cinéma du look. The press centre even features the relatively modern appearance of a semi-expressionist, geometrical design, executed in wood, of course (we’re in the 2010s, after all, so we totally dig ‘warm’, natural materials). It also features a rather bizarre set of handrails, which should shame Messe Frankfurt’s blocky postmodern flagship edifices in terms sheer (and pointless) expressiveness.

Bonjour à aujourd’hui, photo (c) DrivenToWrite

Just as infrastructure is of importance when getting to a car show, food and drink are of utmost importance during the show. When lacking proper press credentials (circumstances for which this reporter would like to extend his thanks to Palexpo’s press office once more), gaining entry to the manufacturer’s well-stocked press lounges becomes quite difficult indeed, so any open-handed offerings are highly welcome.

Rather consistently, Volvo was kind enough to not just provide a large stall with plenty of seating and pleasant lighting (both of which are rare commodities around a car show), but also a coffee bar run by Da Matteo, Third Wave coffee roasters from Gothenburg, Sweden.

Nirvana, photo (c) DrivenToWrite

Offering warm Kanelbullar alongside truly high quality espresso that’s expertly prepared and served with proper whole milk, Volvo/Da Matteo didn’t merely provide a courtesy, but a bonafide luxury in the context of the Nespresso coffee and jelly babies that the hoi polloi usually has to make do with during press days. How the Swedes managed to keep such a high standard not just for an afternoon, but two entire days (as tested through the consumption of numerous cappuccini) beggars belief. Tusen tack! 

Apart from Volvo’s almost cosy (by car show standards) stall, there were rather few environments inviting extended stays. Mercedes-Benz in particular repelled not just with many of their products, but the kind of lighting that may make regular visitors to Berlin’s Berghain club feel right at home, to the detriment of anyone with less of a penchant for ‘industrial’ flair.

Thankfully, Mercedes’ coffee wasn’t much to shout about either (too hot, with the milk being too bubbly and likely of the UHT kind), so there was no reason to spend too much time there anyway. Despite the presence of a DJ serving ‘hot & cool’ tunes to accompany that A-class with the ironed-out creases. Or the middle-aged gentleman with that walrus moustache, wearing jacket and sneakers, roaming about.

Let’s take a Schaumbad, ja? photo (c) DrivenToWrite

More in keeping with its supposed brand values was Rolls-Royce’s stall. The Anglo-German marque skipped the Frankfurt show in the autumn, but with Geneva still being a fair for well-heeled customers willing to sign contracts on the spot, the trip from West Sussex to Lac Léman was a given.

Even though the new generation of Rolls-Royce’s Phantom limousine may have lost some of its edge compared with its predecessor, the brand’s stall couldn’t be faulted. The furniture and materials used are truly high-end, but not obtrusively so. No attempt is made for the stall’s design to mimic that of the automobile, so any equivalent of Bentley’s rather naff chromed diamond pattern cladding was thankfully absent.

Despite being generally about uncluttered sophistication, the Rolls-Royce stall also featured a few select displays.

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Meanwhile, Mazda ensured that the lighting at the Japanese’s stall was such that the beauty of the sublime Vision Coupé and Kai prototypes was appropriately highlighted. Unfortunately, this also resulted in such dim conditions that it was impossible to take photographs that could do these exceptional designs justice. Fortunately there was also proper Italian ice cream (served with a spatula, rather than a scoop) that helped overcome this slight frustration.

Unlike queuing for this delicious gelato, taking photos with just one hand, in dim light, isn’t a good idea, photo (c) DrivenToWrite

Far more grand, in the ‘smoke and mirrors’ stakes, was Audi’s stall. Featuring some kind of cinema, showing some kind of movie (whose exact topic didn’t become clear even when studying the old school cinema tickets lying around), the marketing folks of Ingolstadt had pulled out quite a few stops. There was even pop corn, and a coffee bar, which deserved a fair test, simply on the basis that it wasn’t serving Nespresso.

Unfortunately, the cinema-themed cappuccino turned out to be so diabolical, even the most humdrum of capsule-extracted coffees would’ve been preferable. Either staff of Audi’s caterer were utterly incompetent, or the Chicco d’Oro beans used were of gobsmackingly poor quality. In any case, Audi’s cappuccino ended up half-finished, which is a shame, given the kind of resources that go into the preparation of this product.

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Far more charming than the Germans’ pseudo-Hill Valley cinema experience was Alfa Romeo’s stall, where not just the token Alfa ragazze were in attendance, but two real car designers – one of which turned out to be none other than Alexandros Liokis of Instagram fame. Presenting both their pen-on-paper and digital illustration skills, these two gentlemen at work did far more to instil some ‘soul’ into the usual corporate posturing than a dozen fake cinemas or DJs.

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Another stall that employed this theme of recognising and honouring Italy’s legacy of stylistic excellence was that of GFG Style, Giorgetto and Fabrizio Giugiaro’s post-Italdesign outfit.

Rather than putting some of the usual graphics, ‘corporate art’ or, worse still, self-aggrandising quotes on the walls of their stand, the Giugiaros have chosen to put up quite of a few of the actual sketches and illustrations that were drafted during the creation of the Sibylla concept car unveiled this year.

No matter what one might make of the maestro’s most recent effort: The craftsmanship and classical approach apparent in the sketches, and the opportunity to experience them firsthand, were something to be relished.

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Disregarding automobiles and people for a moment, Swedish coffee and Italian drawings turned out to be among the most lasting impressions of the 2018 Autosalon. However, this would be a rather inadequate subsumption of this year’s Geneva experience. Far more appropriate would be the last coffee that was to be had within the halls of Palexpo, courtesy of Toyota. It was made of Illy beans and UHT milk. And quite bland.

Some white noise, photo (c) DrivenToWrite

The author of this piece runs an obscure motoring site of his own, which you may or may not choose to visit at

Author: Christopher Butt

car design critic // runs // contributes to The Road Rat magazine // writes a column for Octane France //

8 thoughts on “Geneva 2018 Reflections – Minor Distractions”

  1. Thanks for this, almost ‘Bishop’ like review of the side-shows and frothy coffees of the Geneva show; amusing and enlightening in equal measure.

    1. Thank you!

      To be honest, I’m more of a very picky espresso than frothy coffee drinker. But my kind of espresso is rather hard to come by, so I instead of complaining that I don’t get what I want, I adapt and try my lack with the odd cappuccino.

  2. Great write-up. I attended IAA Frankfurt last year, and from the coverage I’ve seen, the Geneva show looks a far more civilised affair. We flew into Geneva and then hopped straight onto a train for Lausanne, so I’ve never really seen the place, but Switzerland in general is just delightful. It was almost disappointing coming back home to New Zealand after that.

  3. So tell me, the initial shot is in the airport after baggage claim, correct?

    Geneva is a strange place where on weekdays the city is empty by 11pm (in bed), Saudi sheiks can walk right past you on the street, and you can see quite an ecletic group of automobiles plying the streets. I have many shots of the vehicles there, I was particularly impressed to see a new(er) RR Phantom parked behind a late model Peugeot near the university (close to the chess grounds). If you ever find yourself there or are near the train station and have time to kill between trains, check out the Britannia Pub. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

    1. Thanks for your comment 28-cars. I will check with the author and hopefully get back to you.

    2. To me, this picture looks like the underground train station of Geneva airport which is directly adjacent to the airport entrance and check-in counters. Quite practical, actually, but I don’t remember it as a place one would want to stay.

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