Feature : From the Tyne to the Seine

Steven Ward reviews the Paris Motor Show in his own irreverent and unique style.

It’s entirely possible to drive from Newcastle to visit the Paris Mondial d’Automobile and then drive home again. Reckon on 12 hours each way if you’re using the tunnel and around 1200 miles worth of fuel. Possible, but pointless.

The Parisian M25, the Boulevard Périphérique is constantly congested (despite the overhead signs claiming ‘traffic fluide’) and offers little in the way of lane discipline. Then, when you find your hotel, you’ll not be able to get parked by it. If you are exceptionally lucky, that hotel will have a tiny underground car park, maybe with a small space. If not, you’ll be stung by a back street multi-story who will keep your car keys for the duration. Better, nay much better to let the train take the strain.

Why, then, did we drive to Paris when previously we’ve had a riot taking the train? Well, initially this essay was to be called ‘Yaris to Paris’ on account of the fact I wanted to demonstrate that the Paris Motor Show is a viable alternative to the deceased British show. I also wanted to take the new Yaris back to its home country. Sadly, this appealing appellative wasn’t to be.

That’s why we decided to hire a MG6 from AVIS to take to France seeing as MG wouldn’t be attending nor lending us a MG6 to go to Paris – only it broke before we picked it up (really) so the trusty Coupe Fiat was wheeled out once again – if only everything in life was a reliable as a teenage five-pot Fiat.

There is time to get yourself out there, so I’ll give you a quick walk through of what,s on offer. Here are my highs and lows in no particular order or relevance – as motor show reports go, this one is a ramble.

This particular Parisian motor show has to be the most lacklustre automotive spectacle I’ve ever encountered. Glitz, glamour, razz-ma-tazz and freebies were notable by their austere absence but the flip-side was no clamouring crowds. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t attend, you most definitely should. There is nothing nicer than a new car and there is nowhere nicer than Paris to spend time both before and afterwards.

Concept cars.
Dreadful things, occasionally useful for predicting a style direction of the future but usually nothing more than a selfish Design Department internal party. Paris had precious few on display. Good. We did 10 solid hours of looking at cars which you are actually free to buy.

Locked Cars.
I just don’t get this and it winds me up something terrible. There were a few locked cars, Cadillac, Chevrolet and Opel for example. Why bother displaying at all? Jaguar even had a locked XJ6 on its stand, a stand which was closed off to plebs. What is that about? You had to negotiate a bouncer to get on the stand and then you find a locked car. It wasn’t even a new model. To repay their contempt, I opened a gate towards the rear of the stand to allow mere mortals in. I was thanked for this act of generosity by a Frenchman ‘so much nicer than the Germans’ he said.

Precious Manufacturers.
Clearly, if I’ve taken the time to visit a motor show and wander onto a stand, I want to look at a car properly. Why, then, do those who’s job it is to assist a prospective customer get all uptight when I start to examine a vehicles design and build integrity? I was virtually screamed off the Cadillac stand. Mind you, I was pulling the boot trim apart (in fairness, it needed very little help).

Missing Models. 
Okay, so manufacturer does the decent thing and attends a major international motor show. It takes a good sized pitch and makes the effort to decorate and furnish the full acreage of hired hall. Why, then, would you not display your full model line-up? Opel, Subaru, Honda, Renault, Ford and Fiat to name just a few didn’t display all of their wares. Seems a bit daft really, I mean who wouldn’t want to join a queue to sit in a Bravo?

Dolly Birds.
Truly what every so-called enthusiast attends a motor show for. Honours for this year’s sexy showcase go to, believe it or not ,Honda. Well, it was, at least, a distraction from the lost-direction dullness of their cars. Oh, and if you think that’s sexist the most intelligent girl lived on the Mercedes stand (previously she’d served me champagne on the Maserati stand in Geneva) and most easily amused girls were on the Chrysler stand – they loved my socks.

Toyota’s new, improved* Auris would have proved to be a let-down if it was claimed to be the replacement for the 1984 Datsun Sunny – that’s how bad it appeared. It’s as if Toyota knew that only two types of people will buy the car: those who always buy a mid-range Toyota and those who get them forced upon them via a fleet deal.

The Suzuki toaster. Just $50 and behind a locked glass cabinet. Or £9.99 at Argos sans Suzuki badge.

Utter Relaxation.
Wandering the halls is tiring and, occasionally, you and your friends need a sit down together to take the weight off your feet and compare notes. We used a Mercedes S-Klasse for 10 minutes at one point and then the whole Renault stand later in the day. Renault must have employed some seriously good designers as their whole stand was as relaxing as taking a bath. They had the new Clio on display too, but I was too spaced to spend any time in it.

Live Entertainment.
Historically, the biggest waste of motor show money a manufacturer can waste. I remember the cringeworthy displays of Fiats and Fords past as they paid for dancers and acrobats and mime artists to enliven their stands. Honda had some weird crazy woman-in-silver-riding-a-mobile-space hopper. Isuzu had a DJ and some live vinyl wrapping. Peugeot had some dancing on the hour, Citroen had some singing and grand piano. However, and I never thought I’d say this, but I missed the torture of watching a live show with ear-bleeding accompanying noise. The recession has hit. Opel had a model Adam riding the hall roof upside down. Why?

Best Bits of BL.
Naturally, much time was spent in the halls to find any remains of our beloved Firm (excludes Defender as that’s just too easy). With Lotus falling off the face of the earth (boring McLaren took its allocated slot), finding bits of BL/ARG/etc is getting tougher. The MINI uses Rover 75 sun visor mirrors and Rover 200 rear seat releases. BMW also use the 114i moniker too and that upset me. However, Jaguar roars to the rescue with the hatchback XF. It uses Rover 800 fastback rear seat releases. Class! Oh, and in the ‘Heritage Hall’ there was a full, larger than life size poster of a Marina with a bra-less bird over the bonnet. Stunning and copies were available to buy for just $5 of your worthless Greek euros.

MINI was giving you a plastic beaker which they’d half fill with tap water. VW would give you a paper bag with a picture of the new Golf on the side. Handily, they told you on the bag it was the all-new Mark 7. Citroen would give you a perfume-like bottle to wear around your neck with drinking water in. Or was it holy water?

Dacia would give you a little sticky badge. KIA would go a little bit further and give you a badge with a pin, just like the ones you used to get on your greetings card when it was your 7th birthday. I think that was it. Oh, Toyota left the keys in their cars which you could technically call a gift if you were a bit light fingered. Really, a poor show for freebies – not even an ice lolly from Ford.

The Heritage Hall.
Cars and advertising as they used to be – i.e interesting and/or exciting. Includes 3 mini-cinemas showing adverts before the ASA was even a dream in some worthless Quango waller’s eyes.

What’s the Fuss?
The VAG Hall was, as usual, heaving. Absolutely chocka-block… It was like the few people who had paid to enter did so to view just the over-priced, over-rated, crazily-engineered VWs/SEATs/Skodas/Audis/Lamboghini/Bentleys. Thankfully, there was no 4×4 Bentley. I had an exclusive sales pitch directed towards me on a VW Phaeton, the Austin 3-litre for today. Interesting to note an old Rolls-Royce ashtray in the rear.

The Cars Themselves.
Really very interesting, especially when you compare cars with wildly disparate prices, hailing from far-flung countries and marketing concepts, yet alarmingly close in real-world reality. I could go on and on about my observations but you need to make your own mind up. Genuinely, make the effort to go and see for yourself as there is nothing as nice as a pulling a new car apart. Paris this time of the year is wonderful and the train service from the UK is great. Dear reader that is 1511 words and not a single mention of ‘alternative fuelled’ or hybrid cars.

Now, that’s a job well done…

Keith Adams


  1. I’ve enjoyed reading this review on a motor show with a different insight and some humour added to the mix.

  2. Much enjoyed and made me want to go to the show. What’s the story about the CityRover side flash in one of the pics?

  3. I take exception to one part. Hondas designs are interesting. The Civic looks great against a Focus or boring boring golf, the CRZ is a more appealing prospect than a sirocco and the Accord, well it’s no worse than anything wolfburg, munich or bavaria put out.
    It’s a well worn cliche by now, usually from german-advertising funded publications that should know better, than Japanese = reliable and boring while anything east of the Netherlands and west of Russia seems to be praised no matter how anodyne it is.

  4. I disagree. The civic is under wheeled and a pastiche of the previous incarnation, (see Accord also) the new Auris has a shocking interior plastics that would have been laughed off a Zavastava stand.

  5. Steven,

    Good write up, but if you want to drive to a European motor show my recommendation is the IAA in Frankfurt. There’s never a problem parking at the exhibition centre and if you have a car, then you’re not a hostage to inflated Frankfurt hotel prices. Pay a bit more and go on one of the “trade” days to avoid the crowds.

  6. A lot of cars are underwheeled these days, the bulbous 3 series especially. And VW have been putting out pastiches of previous generation golfs for years. Honda are no worse (nor better) than these examples, yet the media does not cite them, instead praising absolutely anything that bmw/vw do.

  7. The last Motor Show I visited was the 1980 at NEC (yes a long time ago). I really enjoyed it though and it seemed to me that shows & new car launches were more exciting back then.

    In those days you rarely saw spy photos or computerised mock up photos like we do now. These days the artists impressions often look better than the actual car!

    Entertaining review from Paris by Steven.

  8. That’s an interesting report.

    When I was at the last Motorexpo at ExCel, the stands were not as glitzy and the halls were nowehere near the size and scale of the NEC but the stands were very tidy and even the likes of Jaguar let me in their cars. I did ask nicely to sit in the XKR (Black? S? – Can’t remember – it had a cool suede headlining 🙂 !), and I chatted to the bloke about getting a career there (I think this was just before they realise how much s**t they really knew they were in).

    Same for the Nissan GT-R – just released I think – They let you spend a good 5 minutes in there and you the young lady even let me crank up the stereo!

    I was even allowed to challenge myself to get into a Lotus Exige in as quick a time as possible (seriously, if you’re over 6 foot, you’d better contort your body like a jack in the box – fast!)

    Ferrari.. had the usual muppets in baseball caps and Tesla Even let me touch their car – I even had an in depth discussion with one of their engineers.

    And this was inside the halls – Outside they combined a boat sales show with the expo, and on the parking lot they had the Caterham 7 stunt ride, and they had the Opel/Vauxhall stand with the guys giving a noisey demo of the VXR8.

    All good stuff – I don’t know why they stopped it but it just seemed like one of the cool put together jobs that seemed to work and a major evolution of the early days where they just used the Canary Wharf docklands areas and buildings and a few local dealers to show their wares (and bag a few sales). Expo in it’s later years wasn’t too small and wasn’t too big but just full of great stuff.

    Perhaps it’s the Top Gear effect.. they can have all the manufacturers that matter AND have stunt show where the Stig does doughnuts and the likes… Few people want a static experience… and in the case of Paris, a passive one.

  9. Great report and well done on driving there. But why did Avis not rustle up a replacement MG6 if the designated model was out of action?

  10. Ah.. it was an MG franchise renting not AVIS, we could have had an Astra, but I already have one…

  11. A good report. I have just returned from the show myself and concur with most of the comments, particularly with locked cars and restricted access to some stands.
    Myself and two friends flew easy jet from Newcastle on wednesday. The taxi from Charles de Gaulle airport took 2 hours in heavy traffic and pouring rain to reach our hotel in Monmartre and cost 70 euros! Hardly a great start.
    However, the hotel was excellent, we ate and drank excellent food and wine, visited the Eiffel tower and Notre Dame as well as Sacre Coeur.
    We enjoyed the Show and we will go again in 2014

  12. I’m not surprised the Paris show was so downbeat, there’s over 3 million unemployed in France, the rich are leaving in droves now Comrade Hollande has introduced the highest top tax rate in Europe and the whole city apparently has a rundown and menacing air.

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