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Previewing the 2014 Paris Motor Show

Fri, 26 Sep 2014

Don't let the shiny objects detract from the serious side of the show. Sales, fuel economy and regulations are part of the conversation.

The Paris Motor Show is one of the glitziest events on the automotive calendar. Yes, it helps that it's in the City of Light, but the glamorous surroundings only enhance the spectacular wares that automakers bring to the show. This is where Europeans debut their best new cars for the coming year, both as eye-catching concepts and in production trim.

But don't let the shiny objects detract from the serious side of the show. Sales, fuel economy and regulations are always part of the conversation, as CEOs and politicians pitch their agendas for the industry. It's big business at the highest level.

The Paris show only happens every other year, alternating with another critical event, the Frankfurt Motor Show. Still, there's something special about Paris. The press days are next week, Oct. 2-3. Here's what you should watch for as the new sheetmetal rolls out.

Big-time Supercars

Europe is where Ferrari and Lamborghini show their new cars. Unfortunately for Americans, those debuts don't usually happen at our shows. If you want something at the top of the supercar food chain, you have to cross the pond, and Ferrari and Lamborghini are both bringing it big-time this year in Paris.

We know Ferrari is doing the 458 Speciale A. The A stands for Aperta, which means "open" in Italian. It has an aluminum retractable top, which can open or close in 14 seconds. Using the naturally aspirated V8 of its fixed-roof sibling, the Speciale A can sprint to 62 mph in 3.0 seconds and run a lap at Ferrari's storied Fiorano test track in 1 minute, 23.5 seconds. Just 499 will be made. The only downside, it's about 110 pounds heavier than the coupe.

This follows Ferrari's recent pattern for Paris. In 2010, the Prancing Horse showed the SA Aperta, which was a limited-run roadster that paid homage to Sergio and Andrea Pininfarina and Ferrari's long-running collaboration with Italian design house, Pininfarina. In 2012, Ferrari showed the chassis for the LaFerrari, before revealing the entire car the following year at the Geneva Motor Show. The question then becomes, will Ferrari show anything else? It's likely outgoing chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo will be fêted in someway. Stay tuned.

Lamborghini, meanwhile, has vaguely said it's doing a something, but that's about it. Some reports have indicated it could be a hybrid, possibly called the Asterion. The cryptic sketch above suggests it's a coupe, and we plan for a slew of teasers until the reveal next week. We also expect this car to expand Lamborghini's reach, either in design or technology.

This would rate somewhere in the middle of Lambo's recent showings in Paris. In 2012, Lamborghini displayed refreshes for the Gallardo LP560-4 coupe and spider and the Edizione Tecnica package (upgraded brakes, spoiler, etc.) for the LP570-4 Superleggera and spider at the Paris show.

Going farther back, Lamborghini did the Sesto Elemento in Paris in 2010, a striking concept dripping in carbon fiber. Eventually, Lambo even made a very limited run of Elementos. And in 2008, Lamborghini dropped a bombshell: the Estoque sedan concept. The four-door supercar was a lightning rod for criticism, though many argued a sedan would add sales and by extension, financial security, for Lamborghini. Regardless, it was never produced.

The French

Renault, Peugeot and Citroën are afterthoughts in the United States. They aren't sold here, and you'll never see one at an American auto show. It's a completely different story in Europe, and obviously in France. The local brands have lavish displays that showcase much of their product ranges. Additionally, the French do design extremely well, and striking concepts are the norm.

Case in point: the Peugeot Quartz crossover concept. It has a long hood, sharp angles, and two rear spoilers that sit side by side. Citroën has two concepts based on the stylish DS3, and Renault will display the hyper-efficient Eolab concept.

The Eolab is an example of the auto industry intersecting with politics, which happens in Europe as often as the United States. Renault (which has been partially owned by the French state for years) built the Eolab to show off its work to meet future fuel economy regulations in its home nation. The Eolab can run on electricity for up to 37 miles, has a futuristic shape conceived to maximize aerodynamics and makes extensive use of lightweight steel, aluminum and composite materials.

Raw Concepts

The French automakers do design well, and that rubs off on everyone else at the show. This year, Paris features several impressive-looking concepts that illustrate design language technical capabilities for several automakers.

One of the most impressive, the Infiniti Q80 Inspiration, signals the luxury brand's intent to enter the large sedan market. The swoopy Inspiration is a four-seat fastback with a hybrid electric powertrain, and its design suggests it would compete with the Audi A7 and Porsche Panamera.

The Toyota C-HR concept is also worth noting. Put simply, it has a lot going on, even though full details have not been released. It's a hybrid crossover with coupe-like styling. Think Nissan Juke fighter. Leaked photos suggest an athletic, intense appearance, with piercing headlights and flared wheel arches.

'Bahn Burners

Germany is next door, and its carmakers always have a strong showing at European events. Mercedes is leading the way this year with the AMG GT and the just-announced AMG C63, which packs up to 503 horsepower. We also know Audi is bringing the TT roadster, and we expect it to show a TT sportback concept. The Volkswagen Golf Alltrak also debuts, and it's slotted as a Subaru Outback competitor. The Alltrak gets 4Motion Haldex all-wheel drive and an elevated ride height. Small cars can often get overlooked by US buyers, but the Opel Adam S and its 150-hp turbo four-cylinder, OPC brakes and upgraded body kit are worth paying attention to – and drooling over.

In the SUV sector, enthusiasts will want to take note of the refreshed Porsche Cayenne lineup, which is led by a plug-in hybrid. Called the Cayenne S E-Hybrid, this ute starts at $76,400 and uses the same powertrain as the Panamera S E-Hybrid. Believe it or not, this will be Porsche's third plug-in model.

By Greg Migliore

See also: Renault's pioneering Espace minivan gets all jacked up for Paris, Ferrari 458 Speciale A is most powerful Prancing Horse convertible ever, Ferrari recalls 458 Italia because its trunk is a dangerous place to stow kids.