The irony is thick. At 5 am, a taxi picks me up for the 5.24 to London, to be conveyed to France by Eurostar. Add the rattling cross-town Metro, and before I have even entered a show ostensibly for cars, I have already spent six hours navigating public transport.
We are not in yet. Generic Auto signs lead me beside disinterested Tuesday traffic, where I am rebuffed at a gate in a flurry of French. This turns out not to be the Mondial, but an automotive supplier convention instead. My muscle memory from previous attendance has lapsed. It is over two years since I last attempted a motor show, and watched as a tide of lockdowns rose through Italy until Geneva, too, fell victim. Weeks later, the world would witness a stranded populace waving through bedroom windows as goats grazed barren streets.
The correct entrance to Mondial is somewhat less obvious, obscurely hidden behind an un-Parisian thicket of bamboo. Again I am declined. It is not yet my time slot: another legacy of Covid and presumably crowd management. I am sent off to buy another ticket at the other end of the complex. Do show organizers not know how to organise a show, or have they forgotten? By this stage, security is pretty familiar with the meagre contents of my tote, and my feet are already displaying the classic signs of show-goer fatigue.
So why am I here and not flicking through my phone instead? It’s a good question, and once I am finally inside Hall 3 I try to find out. Beyond unloved accessory stands, Muse brings animé eyes to modular electric vans, while the central driver’s seat makes it export friendly. Past this, I am diverted by a long line of men at Thrustmaster who have come to a show to play esports on screens. Alas, the show’s four-year hiatus has done nothing to address gender imbalance: a quick count suggests no more than 10% of visitors are women.
Nearby, a small booth houses Symbiosis, a start-up billing itself at the first car showroom in the Metaverse. The concept partners Meta, NFT and Blockchain to create one-of-a-kind vehicles. It is a fun idea which is proving popular-already they have sold 8000 NFTs and provides a clue for how Mondial could reinvent itself. Clients of ours might recall one useful framework we use at Konzepthaus is a digital-analogue axis, and companies like Symbiosis exploit the channels brands need to bridge for a diverse customer base. On the analogue side, the two-seater Barbieca V12 Prototype demonstrates the emotive pull of the automobile to enthusiasts, this classical anachronism defiantly Made in France. As I watch a nine-year-old being led around the supercars, I am reminded of my own first experience of a motor show and the memory of sitting in a Ferrari. You can’t do that online.
Fortified by half a pound of steak tartare, I weigh into Hall 5 where Dacia, Renault and Alpine are hosting the show’s most compelling stands. Renault is presenting a string of concepts including the 2021 5 Concept; R5 Turbo 3E and the 4Ever Trophy concept. These and the Alpine Alpenglow Concept top-and-tail Renault’s retro-futurism, and there are thoughtful details that would fit production, too. In particular, the view of the interior from the outside is impressive, with neat headrest illumination and a tasteful reverse to the combo screen. The clever symbiosis between the lighting and material of the Renault Scénic Vision also stands out. Up close, the Dacia Manifesto concept looks like a fun product to have worked on, whose elemental nature steers the brand forwards without looking backwards. No such chances are taken by the Chinese, where every product seems geared towards scale and value. The quality, convenience and content will be a hard act to beat for mainstream home brands.
Occupying the space that might once have been the preserve of BMW or Daimler is Great Wall Motors, where their Wey and Ora brands are linked by a DJ to annul the hall’s ambient chatter. In the past five years, the PQ of Chinese cars has often gone hand-in-hand with styling convergence, so it was entertaining to see Ora’s mimicry of the Porsche Panamera – an unusual muse given the popularity of the Taycan. That was left for BYD to emulate in their Seal concept.
More persuasive were the Hopium Machina and NAMX HUV concepts, styled by Pininfarina with a distinctive X motif, which drew attention to the undercurrent of hydrogen power visible throughout the show. Anticipating this technology will be a key requirement for companies to determine Make/Buy strategies to future-proof packages and resources. Sustainability was implicit in electric cars, but with figures showing that less than 20% of E-waste is recycled, the topic of the circular economy has never been more important. One company that puts sustainable materials at the heart of its products is Mobilize, a Renault-owned brand that presented a colourful multi-modal portfolio predominantly for urban use. Yet despite this bold line-up, their Limo car succumbs to the orthodoxy of automotive dogma, promising a focus on shared services instead. It is the jolly Citroën Oli that best expresses the pent-up imagination for reinterpreting the car that still abounds. There is another side to sustainability, however: longevity. How many of the cars here will be around in twenty years? How long the show lasts is another matter.