Putting on a show in Paris

TOBY HAGON
Last updated 09:47 02/10/2012
Fairfax Australia

European car makers defy the economic gloom at the 2012 Paris motor show.

The Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Electric Drive model on display at the Paris Motor Show.
Reuters Zoom
The Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Electric Drive model on display at the Paris Motor Show.

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A copper-clad supercar and a limousine with no wheels? Where else but the flamboyant city of love. There are plenty of concept cars to get the heart racing at the Paris motor show.


Click photo at left for the stars of the Paris Motor Show.


European car makers did their best to put on a happy face at this year's show, despite gloomy economic conditions that have meant  job cuts, factories earmarked for closure and predictions that car sales in Europe this year will be at their lowest for 17years.

Mercedes-Benz led the charge with an electric supercar – the million-dollar SLS Electric Drive – that is as expensive as it is impractical, while local hero Peugeot countered with a hybrid rival for the Porsche 911 and Jaguar unveiled a successor to the E-Type.

But behind the typical hype and bravado were some of the most important new-model launches of recent times. Heavyweights Volkswagen and Toyota revealed their rival Golf and Corolla small cars, while luxury leader BMW signalled its intent to steal more sales from mainstream rivals with its new, predominantly front-wheel-drive small car.

There were continuing nods to the environment – and impending tough European and US laws on vehicle emissions – with Mercedes unveiling an electric version of the B-Class and Nissan pulling the covers off  a fuel-cell version of the Juke mini off-roader.

Peugeot, General Motors, Audi and Fiat all showed baby SUVs, targeting the big growth segment of the new-car market. GM's Trax baby SUV will arrive Down Under with a Holden badge next year.

Peugeot injected a bit of spice into proceedings with a new 208GTi, while sister brand Citroen unveiled a rag-top DS3.

Here are the stars of the show.

McLaren P1

A spiritual successor to the legendary McLaren F1, the flamboyant new P1 is planned to crown the British car maker's line-up when it is launched next year. McLaren, which aims to challenge Bugatti, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche as a maker of the world's most sought-after supercars – on the back of an illustrious history in formula one racing – says the P1 has but one goal: ''To be the best driver's car in the world on road andtrack.''

McLaren sources suggest it will pack up to 720kW with the help of an F1-style kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) using a pair of flywheels mated to a modified version of the twin-turbocharged 3.8-litre V8engine used in the MP4-12C. The new car is based around a modified version of the 12C's carbon-fibre monocoque, with unique front and rear sub-frames supporting an advanced chassis.

Lexus LF-CC

A new hybrid-powered coupe concept that gives a strong hint as to how the next-generation IS midsize model will look when it launches next year, the Lexus Future Coupe Concept launches the next iteration of the luxury brand's styling language, with a prominent ''spindle'' grille and quirky wheel-hugging bumper  designed to be aerodynamic, as well as send more air to the engine bay and  brakes.

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The concept confirms Lexus's intentions to take on Mercedes-Benz's C-Class and the BMW 3-Series with a two-door coupe.

At present, Lexus sells the IS250C hardtop convertible, and the new-generation IS model is expected to be offered  as a droptop and a hardtop coupe.

The LF-CC is powered by a hybrid drivetrain that combines a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine with a water-cooled electric motor. Targeted fuel use is about 3.7litres per 100kilometres, with emissions of less than 100g/km CO2.

Peugeot Onyx

Having axed its Le Mans racing project late last year in preparation for the economic crisis, the French brand needed something to do with its racing machines – the Onyx is the result.

The wide, angular concept uses the same diesel-electric hybrid powertrain originally destined for the world's most famous endurance race. It's a 447kW 3.7-litre V8 turbo diesel paired with a kinetic energy recovery system that gives a power boost under acceleration. The Onyx is also an opportunity for the company's boffins to experiment with new materials inside and out. The bodywork is made from a mixture of carbon fibre and copper – which is untreated, so its finish will evolve over time. The interior is a minimalist affair with the seats, the console and the floor made from a single piece of carbon fibre covered in felt.

Peugeot also took the wraps off an SUV version of its new 208 hatch.

Nissan Terra

Four-wheel drive, three motors, one fuel cell and zero emissions. They're the highlights from Nissan's electric SUV concept – dubbed TeRRA.

Although the compact body and interior styling have a futuristic bent, the drivetrain  beneath is more likely to head into production.

The front wheels are powered by the  electric motor used in the Nissan Leaf but the rear wheels have in-wheel electric motors; providing AWD traction when needed. Electricity can be generated by a hydrogen fuel cell under the bonnet.

Nissan says the TeRRA proves it is ready to mass-produce fuel-cell vehicles when hydrogen becomes a viable alternative.

Smart Forstars

Created to preview the exterior styling treatment set to grace the next generation of Smart models, the three-door ForStars hatchback also hints at what Smart describes as a new SUC (sports utility coupe). So named because of the way its glass roof structure allows occupants to peer into the sky, the ForStars features oversize, almost comic headlights aimed at adding visual aggression, a chop-top look to the windscreen and a complex glass tailgate.

Among the gimmicks  is a projector mounted within the Mini-esque bonnet air duct. It can be controlled from within the car, allowing videos to be projected on to surrounding walls. Taking the place of the traditional rear-view mirror is an Apple iPhone, which slots into a dedicated holder and projects images captured by a camera facing rearwards.

Engine power  hails from the  plug-in 60kW electric system used on the recently introduced Smart ForTwo Brabus electric drive, available overseas.

Mercedes-Benz Aesthetics S

There are no wheels and part of the Aesthetics S aren't even there – they're projected images – but the ''sculpture'' gives an inkling of the next-generation S-Class, due late next year.

While the S-Class isn't a big seller for Mercedes – and sales of limousines have been sliding in tough economic times – it's an important flagship that is often the technical showcase for the entire range. If the production S-Class remains true to the concept sculpture, expect a car with more elegant lines and bold definitions.

BMW Concept Active Tourer

While in essence a concept crossover people-mover, the Concept Active Tourer is the car that previews the brand's first-ever front-wheel-drive model. The Concept Active Tourer is a plug-in petrol-electric hybrid  with a space-saving transverse engine layout.

The car seems set to heavily influence the design, packaging, ride and handling  of the German marque's next generation of small vehicles, which, for the first time, will offer the choice of either front- or, in combination with certain engines, four-wheel-drive.

Conceived to appeal to family-car buyers who place greater emphasis on space and versatility than the traditional BMW qualities of performance and dynamics, the tall five-seat concept car also showcases BMW's new 1.5-litre three-cylinder direct-injection petrol engine, as part of a plug-in hybrid drivetrain. It's the same set-up as the ''i'' sub-brand's new i8sportscar – as previewed at last year's Frankfurt motor show.

Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo

A Porsche wagon? You better believe it. The sports-car specialist has confirmed its intent to produce a sleek wagon based on the Panamera. Key visual changes over the  hatchback that went on sale in 2009 include an extended roof line, longer glasshouse and angled tailgate that opens at bumper height. The new car also provides Porsche with a potential four-door challenger to the similarly conceived but two-door-only FerrariFF.

High-ranking Porsche sources say the new wagon will make its market debut in 2016. As well as formalising plans for a Panamera wagon, the Sport Turismo also provides solid clues to the appearance all second-generation Panamera models will take into production.

In a move that indicates Porsche is looking to adopt new video-based rear-view technology on its next generation of cars, the Sport Turismo does without conventional exterior mirrors. Their job is taken care of by two cameras mounted within the side air outlets, with images shown on a display in the cabin.

As well as previewing its plans for a new upmarket wagon, the concept also showcases a powerful new plug-in hybrid drive system that Porsche intends to offer with the second-generation Panamera and facelifted second-generation Cayenne from the middle of the decade, as part of its Intelligent Performance initiative.

-Fairfax Australia

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