Paris, France — There’s one car show on the circuit that is currently both the most visited in the world and the oldest in existence. That show, now dubbed Mondial de l’Automobile, first took place in 1898; the last year it was held, in 2014, over 1.2 million visitors passed through the gates to see the latest, most magnificent machines in existence.
Who didn’t show up for 2016: Aston Martin, Bentley, Lamborghini, McLaren, Rolls-Royce.
Now, don’t get me wrong—I’m no Amazing Kreskin, but I don’t think this year’s show will pull the same kind of numbers. Sure, there were some interesting production cars and some quirky concepts. But just consider the big-ticket manufacturers that decided to give the Paris Motor Show a pass in 2016. Aston Martin. Bentley. Lamborghini. McLaren. Rolls-Royce. None of them were in the City of Lights; all of them, save McLaren, were in attendance in 2014.
Also on the no-show list were Volvo (which had previously decided to attend only two international auto shows in any given calendar year) and Ford. (Yes, that Ford.) As a result, there were areas in the different exhibition buildings that were empty and low-profile manufacturers such as Suzuki (!) had huge square footage at their disposal. With more room to breathe, some production car debuts managed to steal even more of the spotlight than might otherwise be expected.
The major reveals from the Paris show
At first glance, the LaFerrari Aperta, with its jet-black paint scheme and delicate pin-striping, seemed like just another modern-day take on the Batmobile. But the sheer number of camera operators crowding the drop-top hybrid supercar revealed that this was something even more special. And the fact that the entire production run of the LaFerrari Aperta is already sold out speaks volumes about this car’s exclusivity.
There were other slightly more mainstream vehicles to consider as well.
2018 Mercedes-AMG GT R
The 2018 Mercedes-AMG GT R was at the Goodwood Festival of Speed this past summer, but the mean green machine needed to be seen in person to be believed—it’s absolutely menacing. With its fixed rear wing, “gates of hell”-style front grille and a mammoth 577 horsepower on tap, this thing looks the very definition of a track monster.
Audi S5 Sportback and Land Rover Discovery
On a slightly more relaxed note, the Paris Motor Show also saw the debuts of two vehicles that should prove immensely popular with Canadian drivers: the Audi S5 Sportback and Land Rover Discovery. The former is a new addition to a line of ultra-desirable sedans, hatches and wagons from the German manufacturer. The latter is a full-size SUV that replaces the outgoing LR4 and delivers more aerodynamic styling, a more spacious interior, less weight and increased capability, on-road and off.
Renault Trezor, Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6, BMW X2 Concept, VW I.D. Concept
In the concept car department, it was also a lighter offering than usual, but there were some standout performers. Chief among these were the Renault Trezor and the Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6, which debuted at this year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. In terms of sheer star power, both the Renault and the Maybach rivaled the LaFerrari Aperta.
Back down to Earth, BMW revealed an extremely compelling design exercise, the X2 Concept, which managed to take the brand’s style guidelines and give them a fresh perspective. The carmaker from Munich rarely produces concepts that don’t eventually go into production, so hopes are high that this compact crossover will be in dealers eventually.
But if there was one overarching theme for the 2016 Paris Motor Show, it was electrification.
The car is fast becoming an outmoded form of transportation in the City of Light, which has been making more room for bicycles and pedestrians for years now. Vehicles built before 1997 are banned from city limits during weekdays and all diesel vehicles will be sidelined permanently by 2020. So it makes sense that manufacturers would use the Paris Motor Show as an opportunity to show their support for next-generation technologies.
Volkswagen pulled the wraps off the I.D. Concept, an all-electric car that will reportedly be in production by 2020. Still reeling from its diesel drama, which is over a year old now, VW is referring to the I.D. as a clean slate for the company.
One of the more popular models for pollution- and parking-challenged Parisians will likely be the all-new smart fortwo electric drive (ED), which was on display at the show in a variety of hues, including hot pink. Parent company Mercedes-Benz also used the auto show stage to reveal the Generation EQ all-electric SUV and to announce that its brands would be releasing “more than 10” production EVs by the year 2025.
If there was any doubt that electric cars would play a big role in this year’s show, you needed only look at the displays devoted to motorsport, a longtime obsession with the French. Yes, there were some fossil-fuelled vehicles on display, including touring car machines and Dakar challengers. But the racecars given the most prominent positions were the Formula E cars, which were proudly displayed in the Jaguar, Citroen, Renault and Michelin booths.
Yes, the mood at the 2016 Paris Motor Show was electric—but not for the usual reasons. The current state of the car world is undergoing radical change and the City of Light brought this into sharp focus.