The Geneva International Motor Show, which gets under way in Switzerland this week, is one of the biggest events on the global auto industry calendar.
Unlike the other major European events, in Frankfurt and Paris, it isn’t dominated by one nation’s manufacturers. Held on neutral ground, it also attracts many smaller businesses, such as tuning houses and niche sports car makers.
There’s a much greater emphasis on speed and style than you might see elsewhere, and as befits a show that once welcomed concepts for nuclear-powered vehicles, there’s a strong focus on innovation.
Let’s see what we can expect from this year’s top class event.
With many manufacturers struggling to keep their profits up and being a bit uneasy about what the future holds, electrification is likely to be the dominant theme at Geneva this year, and for good reason.
New European emissions regulations, which are being phased in from next year, will force manufacturers to reduce drastically the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by their cars, or face steep fines.
Those targets will apply to average emissions across each carmaker’s model range. Having low or zero-emissions cars, such as fully electric and plug-in hybrids, in their fleets will help to bring down the average.
“Not only do they have to make electric cars, the way the rules work they actually have to sell them as well,” explains James Attwood, deputy editor of Autocar magazine.
What we’ll see at Geneva is a large number of plug-in hybrids – and an array of fully electric concepts. These are prototypes designed to show what manufacturers are thinking and gauge the response of consumers, rather than road-ready vehicles.
The idea is that people develop a better understanding about what they can do with an electric car.
Mercedes and Audi, which are in the process of developing whole new electric ranges, will both have new ideas on show. For Audi, it will be a new compact SUV, while Mercedes is bringing an electric people-carrier.
Aston Martin’s new electric sub-brand Lagonda will be showing off what it calls an “all-terrain concept”, an upmarket SUV designed to rival the luxury Rolls-Royce Cullinan.
Meanwhile, Korean manufacturer Kia, which has been making waves recently with its more sensibly priced electric e-Niro SUV, will also have a concept. “Designed to not only get your pulse racing, but to also signpost our holistic and emotional approach to electrification,” the company says.
Different takes on the practicality of vehicles
Not all of them are entirely practical however.
Automobili Pininfarina, an Italian brand backed by the Indian giant Mahindra, will be bringing along three versions of its new Battista.
Named after the founder of the Pininfarina design house, the car is expected to have a top speed of 250mph, and a range of 300 miles, all on battery power. The car itself has yet to be unveiled, but it’s fair to say it is unlikely to have much room for your shopping.
Another major issue affecting the industry – and one which goes far beyond simply how cars are powered – is what the future holds for transport in cities. European governments and authorities are desperately trying to reduce congestions and somehow improve air quality.
Although, private vehicles in general, are likely only to increase, on the upside is the fact that technology is developing at a rapid pace and it’s raising the prospect that one day self-driving taxis may become commonplace in town centres. Ride hailing and car sharing are also becoming more popular.
All of this clearly threatens the traditional business models of established carmakers. As a result, deals like those announced recently between BMW and Daimler, on shared-use models and developing self-driving technology, may become more mainstream.
Vehicles of the future
Meanwhile, manufacturers are also trying to work out what kinds of vehicles we’ll actually be using in cities for the next few years.
So at Geneva, we’ll see the latest version of Honda’s Urban EV, a small electric car designed specifically for use in the city, which is nearly ready to go into production.
Citroen is celebrating its centenary this year and, to mark the occasion, it’s unveiling two new concepts, one of which is coming to Geneva. This dinky prototype, called the AMI ONE, is an all-electric two-seat city car inspired by the classic 2CV, with a maximum speed of 28mph, a 425kg kerb weight and a minimalist interior.
And going down the same creativity path is the Spanish brand Seat that came up with its own super-small city concept, first unveiled at the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Named the Minimo, it is half the size of a traditional city car. In fact, it is more of an enclosed scooter. It has a strong resemblance to Renault’s existing super-small car, the Twizy.
Like the Ami-One, it is aimed at the car-sharing market. And one day, the manufacturer says, it will be able to drive itself.
In conclusion, car makers are starting to think more about the usual driver and although, supercars may have the futuristic looks, super-compacts could be what the future actually holds.