For the first time in the CT office memory, a string of wildly exotic supercars were not the main attractions at the Geneva International Motor Show.
Europe’s blue riband motor expo is normally a battleground between every major – and minor – car maker who sells its wares on this continent. Naturally, it’s always the hugely expensive, ultra-exclusive metal that catches the most attention. But not this year.
One of the things that became more obvious as our day at Geneva wore on was the unusual distribution of the camera-swinging crowds. Anything that’s new there will always garner a decent audience for the first 15 or 30 minutes after its reveal. The more popular stuff will be all-but invisible behind a wall of sweaty flesh for a few hours.
A new hypercar will often be less accessible than Scarlett Johansson’s dressing room no matter what time you swing by the relevant stand. At Geneva 2019, though, even the ballistic new Koenigsegg Jesko wasn’t grabbing that much attention by mid afternoon. So where was everyone?
Mostly they were trading elbow jabs at the Honda stand. The E Prototype electric supermini was mobbed from every direction, from the moment the pulsating hordes were allowed onto the huge platform it occupied on its own, right up until the evening cleaners started their rounds. It was bedlam, to the extent that Honda eventually cordoned it off part-way through the day.
Another star of the show, and one that raised eyebrows to the roof when it was confirmed that Peugeot is actually building it, was the plug-in hybrid performance 508 that will launch to 62mph faster than most early 2000s supercars. Admittedly we’re stretching the boundaries of what’s ‘mainstream,’ but at the end of the day this is the first time a French saloon has caused such an indecent amount of motor show fuss for about 30 years.
Then there was the e-208, just across the French Lion’s stand. It looks great, has a usable boot and doesn’t immediately mark you out as a cardigan-clad vegetarian, like some other EVs. It justifiably held a big audience for much of the day. As did the Polestar 2 – getting a clear photograph was almost impossible without turning violent.
These are exciting cars that feel – rightly or not – like they’re within touching distance for ordinary people. Most come from everyman brands and wear badges as common, familiar and accessible as Android or iOS. We identify with brands like these. More importantly, we feel like we could actually buy into them.
Whether we can or not remains to be seen, but we returned from Geneva with the sinking feeling that the E Prototype will be at least £30,000 – insane money for a small car. The hot 508 could weigh in at over £50,000. Only the e-208 gives us hope for a £20,000ish electric car we’d actually be seen in.
Still, the crowd concentration told its own story. These were the cars that were really getting people excited. We can see why: compare them to, say, the ultimate expression of self-satisfaction and vanity: the Bugatti ‘La Voiture Noire.’ This one-off converted Chiron, inspired by a classic pre-WW2 Bugatti, is the most expensive new car ever sold, at £9.5 million plus taxes. The craftsmanship involved in its bespoke body panels was no doubt mind-boggling, but the inescapable reflection from La Voiture Noire’s deep gloss black paint was that of vulgarity.
The more mainstream cars at the show feel so much more real than a Bugatti that will sit in a heated garage and never turn a wheel until it’s eventually sold again. They feel newer, fresher, more relevant. For that, they’ve won the love of the media. Winning the public’s hearts and wallets is the hardest task of all, though, and it’ll be fascinating to see whether Geneva stardom translates to showroom success.