At the Paris Motor Show, Look to Germany for All the Fun
(Bloomberg) -- Next week the 2018 Paris Motor Show will begin at the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles.
Along with the auto shows in Geneva and Frankfurt, it’s among the largest car events in Europe. And yet, the splashiest thing about it may be that there won’t be much automotive energy behind it.
“It seems that there are more brands that are skipping than that are attending,” says Rebecca Lindland, the executive analyst at Kelley Blue Book. “No VW? No FCA? No Nissan? No Mini? The list goes on! Really, it seems that the Paris Motor Show is suffering from the effects of trend shifting as much as the traditional auto sector is.” Brands that want to show off en vogue electric vehicles and self-driving technology are often now looking outside the traditional car show circuit to hawk their wares.
Even resurrected and freshly minted luxury brands such as Lagonda, Aston Martin’s new electric marque, and Polestar, Volvo’s just-launched luxury subsidiary, are going to pass. It has to do with the value proposition of spending a million dollars on a show booth: Will you get tangible results from that spend if you are a luxury automaker? Instead, Polestar, for instance, held private debut events in Pebble Beach, Calif., and will use more social marketing rather than show in Paris. Last week, Polestar opted to promote its new cars and selling platform via small events in New York.
“There’s reason for more mass brands to attend trade shows—it still makes sense from a value perspective,” said John Paolo Canton, Polestar’s head of communications. Mass consumers still visit trade shows and dealerships to evaluate and purchase cars. But high-net-worth individuals buying expensive cars want to feel more special than that. With ultra-lux brands, Canton said, it’s clear: For the same amount of money spent, they’ll sell more cars at private and exclusive events where their target audience feels comfortable and special.
It’s a continuation of the theme set by Monterey Car Week earlier this year: When traditional car shows in convention centers are on offer, mass and some luxury brands are showing electric and autonomous cars. But the most elite car brands in the world are opting out altogether.
With Lamborghini, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin, Maserati, and McLaren all skipping, Germany will be the source of the most attention-grabbing cars in Paris this year. The French city might as well be the home court for them.
“Hands down BMW will win the show simply because there are so few offering from other OEMs [original equipment manufacturers], unless there are some surprises,” Lindland said.
BMW has announced debuts that, on the heels of debuting its Vision iNEXT SUV, demonstrate its commitment to electric and autonomous driving and to crossovers and SUVs on the whole.
Perhaps its most important debut will be the all-new BMW M340i M. That’s a high-performance version of a sport sedan from its best-selling 3 Series line. It’s expected to be the first in the family to use enhanced autonomous driving systems that will control the car for longer periods of time than before, along with a newly developed 360-horsepower, 3-liter turbocharged I6 engine. Automatic laser-enhanced headlights are a new optional configuration, too.
The Bavarian brand will also show the world premiere of its 8 Series Coupe, including a V8 530-hp M8 Coupe version of that athletic sports car. And it’ll unveil the fourth-generation X5 SUV along with a new range of engines for the BMW X family’s founding member. The SUV is expected to look almost identical to its predecessor, one of many in the jam-packed premium SUV segment, so it likely won’t cause much surprise or hype when it debuts.
More Mass Luxury
Archrival to BMW, Mercedes-Benz will announce seven new vehicles. Most notable among them will be the B-Class four-door wagon-style car and AMG A35 hatchback—or “hot hatch,” as car fans call it. They will both be world premieres, and both represent the kind of small, urban-oriented people movers that company executives have said they expect will continue to fuel the business. Neither will be sold in the U.S.
The hatchback A35 4Matic (Mercedes-speak for all-wheel drive) in particular is notable as it’s an all-new entry-level model for the brand. Based on the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class, it’s powered by a newly developed 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo engine with 306-hp and all-wheel drive.
The next-generation Mercedes GLE will also make a world premiere with updates crucial for the brand’s continued success, since the GLE is the best-selling SUV of all time for the Stuttgart, Germany-based manufacturer. Look for it to have more room in the interior, Mercedes’s completely new user interface on the console controls, refined driving assistance systems, and an all-new range of engines to augment the GLE lineup.
Hailing from the other side of Germany in Ingolstadt, Audi has produced several offerings for Paris that will compete directly against those brought by BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Audi will show the much-anticipated electric E-Tron SUV, which is significant because it beats both BMW and Mercedes on bringing a fully electric SUV to market. (Tesla with its Model X and Jaguar with its excellent I-Pace will be the main competitors here.) Plus, Audi will show an A1, which is a smaller four-door hatchback, and a Q3, the compact SUV that has helped butter Audi’s bread, so to speak, since it debuted in 2011.
The one prominent German marque practically missing in the mix is Porsche. During the year of its 70th anniversary, where brand heads have flogged the legacy of the 911 and 356 models at dozens of corporate events worldwide, Porsche will show relatively little: An update of its best-selling vehicle of all time, the Macan, is all company spokespeople will divulge.
Word is it’s saving the all-electric Taycan to show at Geneva’s auto show in 2019 and may even show the next-generation 911, the 992, at the Los Angeles show.
Elsewhere, look for Jaguar’s XJ50, a celebration edition of its best-selling sedan, and Infiniti’s Project Black S, a road-legal version of a supersports car inspired by Formula One. Among a handful of obscure brands from Asia, they’ll appear as the non-German standouts at the show this year—nods that you don’t necessarily have to learn German to get by in Paris.
But it’ll certainly help.
The Paris Motor Show is open to the public from Thursday, Oct. 4, to Sunday, Oct. 14.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.