From Paris, with love

JLR shines at the 2012 Paris Motor Show, Jeep firms up India plans, and BMW impresses with the Active Tourer

The Paris Motor Show comes around once every two years, and is always highly anticipated. This is the show where Europe flexes its muscle—the French in particular, as it alternates with the Frankfurt Show, which is also biennial.

The fortnight-long 2012 edition, which started on Saturday, has proved somewhat unexciting for those of us who have travelled to Paris from India. The reason, quite simply—European car markets are in crisis mode, so the entire industry’s attention is focused on how to stay afloat in Europe. But while there are no real India-specific models, there is enough that is still worth talking about—though not really in the mass segments.

The Tata Motors-owned Jaguar Land Rover seems to be making it a habit of late to be the standout brand at any global motor show. The all-new fourth generation Range Rover is the cynosure of all eyes at the Land Rover end of the stand, while the show-stopper—the F-Type sports car at the Jaguar end—has everyone lining up for a glimpse. The F-Type is a big breakthrough model for Jaguar as it harks back to its performance car roots, while also pointing to the company’s renewed strength—especially in areas like technology and design. Both these cars are perhaps the two new launches that have gone straight to the top of my list.

What list, you ask? The “I-can’t-wait-to-drive-that" list! Across the aisle from the F-Type is another car that is on that list—the P1 from McLaren. Unfair to call it a car as yet since what we are seeing in Paris is simply a design concept. But the production car is expected to debut at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show in March, and will likely look identical to this. The P1 is named so in tribute to all the “Position One" finishes that McLaren has enjoyed in Formula One (F1). The car is the successor to McLaren’s F1 sports car from the 1990s.

McLaren’s 2011 MP4-12C sports car was criticized for being a bit boring in styling terms, so the P1 is extremely aggressive—perhaps overdone in its design. The car’s headlights are shaped like the McLaren logo. Performance-wise it promises to be a treat, with sources at the company indicating that the car will use Kers (Kinetic Energy Recover System) from F1 to take output into the 940 bhp range! More on the P1 when its production version debuts in 2013, though with the company planning to make only 500 of these, most are expected to be sold well before the official launch.

Moving a bit further down the stratosphere, I would like to share some good news for SUV fans in India. The original SUV, Jeep, is coming soon. I had the chance to speak to the chairman of Fiat, Sergio Marchionne, who also heads the Chrysler group business under its alliance with Fiat. While the Chrysler and Dodge brands are not under consideration for India, Jeep certainly is, and the company is close to finalizing which models it will bring in first.

The plan is to start with a high-end, fully built import model, and then gradually scale up to possible local assembling at Fiat’s Ranjangaon plant outside Pune. Marchionne also told me he is happy that Fiat now has a firm plan for its business in India, post the distribution split with Tata Motors. While the two car makers will continue to partner at the back end in areas like engines and manufacturing, they will compete as rivals in the market. And to this end Fiat is also planning to launch a small entry-level hatchback by the second half of 2013 to take on the volumes segment.

While Ford is showing off its B-Max range for Europe, it has also quietly snuck in the EcoSport production model from Brazil on to its stand. The company says that after its introduction in Brazil last month, the EcoSport will head to India only by March, and China around the same time. It plans a 2014 debut for the EcoSport in Europe, and supply to right-hand drive markets is likely from the Ford India plant. The EcoSport remains one of the most highly anticipated launches in India, and the three- to four-month delay will disappoint many.

Two cars that will compete with the EcoSport in India by 2014 will be the Chevrolet Trax, and Suzuki’s Ertiga-based compact SUV. After showing the XA-Alpha concept SUV at the Delhi Expo in January, Suzuki upped the ante on style with the S-Cross concept. Designed to be a compact SUV, the S-Cross is a likely European debut, while based on the same lines as the model that India will get. The Chevrolet Trax, meanwhile, is already making its European debut here at Paris, and is likely to head our way in the second half of 2013. The Trax is smart, compact and offers two petrol and one diesel variants in Europe.

In India, the 1.7-litre diesel will be impractical as GM would like to qualify for the excise duty benefit for sub-4m cars—which also must have diesel engines below 1.5-litre displacement. Expect the car to sport the same 1.3-litre diesel as the soon-to-be-launched Sail family. The interior plastics on the Trax, though, look a bit tawdry, and will need some work if the car has to impress Indian buyers.

And now let’s talk about the BMW Active Tourer Concept. Based on the new generation 3-Series, this was expected to be a 3-Series GT (Gran Turismo)—like you have in the 5-series range. Instead, BMW has surprised a few by going the Mercedes-Benz B-Class way—a large hatchback with MPV ambitions. The Active Tourer is good-looking, well-appointed and roomy. It is being presented as a plug-in hybrid but will likely have a choice of efficient engines. This could turn into a volumes model for the Bavarian car maker, and it is already under consideration for markets like ours. I expect the full production version to debut next year. The car’s future rival—the Mercedes-Benz B-Class—is on show with an electric-drive concept, while Audi is showing its Crosslane Coupe concept which signals the new design direction for its future SUVs.

So, as it turns out, a fair amount we can look forward to after all. I’d like to quickly mention some cars that are not meant for us, but which stood out of the crowd for me nonetheless. The new generation Renault Clio hatchback is smart, sexy, and promises to be a fun car to drive. Its performance version—the Clio Renault Sport or Clio RS—is also debuting alongside it here in Paris, and having driven the previous generation Clio RS, I am salivating at the prospect of being able to drive this one too.

A concept that got my attention was from rival PSA Peugeot-Citroën. Despite struggling with falling sales and failing global expansion plans, it is nice to see a strong showing from PSA. The Onyx concept is a cluster of vehicles aimed at future mobility. So there is a sports car, a motor scooter and a bicycle. It is the car that is getting all the attention though. Power comes from a 3.7-litre hybrid with 600 bhp (the concept also uses Kers). Incidentally, the sleek exterior design which also uses copper panels has been executed by an Indian designer, Sandeep Bhambra, who works in Peugeot’s styling department. The company also showed the new Peugeot 2008 and the Citroen DS-3 Cabriolet.

Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is the Editor, Auto, NDTV.

Write to Siddharth at