Not that the Defender’s debut lacked passion and enthusiasm: there was plenty of both. People cheered and whooped as different models were successively unveiled. The voice of JLR boss Ralf Speth – correctly but unusually labelled ‘Sir Ralf Speth’ for this special occasion – cracked a little as he described how he’d been the one who killed the old Defender four years ago, and what a pleasure it was “to give the new Defender back”.
After all the controversy over various Defender concepts on the journey to production, there seemed an almost uniform appreciation among Frankfurt attendees for the aptness of the new Defender’s concept and styling, surely a relief to all JLR insiders. It was perfectly clear how much trouble the design and engineering teams had taken over this vital new entry.
Much the same enthusiasm greeted the pretty electric hatch that begins the third age of Volkswagen, the ID 3. After all the publicity, and taking into account that we’ve become used over the years to VW’s calm, classical approach to styling, the car’s actual look was hardly a surprise. But it was still awe-inspiring actually to see our mainstream motoring future in three dimensions. Suddenly VW’s much-ballyhooed electrification gamble doesn’t look like a gamble at all.
The quality of the exhibits continued. BMW showed its future thinking with the Concept 4 Series, which will be the basis of both the conventional new 4 Series coupé and the new all-electric i4. The latter will thus be entirely different in concept from the i3, which was so separate, special (and eye-wateringly expensive to make).
Flexible platforms like the future i4’s may not promote optimised electric car packaging but they’re clearly proving to be the way to go in this transition-to-electrification age. Opel-Vauxhall, the only PSA marque to make it to Geneva, also made this point powerfully with its pretty new B-segment Corsa and e-Corsa, whose proportions and styling are identical.
PSA group boss Carlos Tavares spelled out what is many car makers’ new attitude to motor shows: in future, his brands won’t go unless they have a specific model or purpose. He also pointed out (in a very crowded press room) that this year’s show stand cost around one-third of what the group paid for its displays two years ago…
Happily, Brexit discussions hardly played a part at Frankfurt – and to the extent that it did, there was optimism. Vauxhall boss Stephen Norman, who has begun to revive his company’s fortunes and promises to position it as “a strong second in Britain, not a third or a fourth”, even reckoned Vauxhall might pick up half a percent of market share after a hard Brexit, on the strength of its position as a ‘British brand since 1903’.
Tavares declared that his UK focus remained on successful preservation of car and van manufacturing at Luton and Ellesmere Port, and that he was optimistic because internal progress was encouraging. But he also declared forthrightly that as a hard Brexit moved into view, citizens of every country likely to be affected should rise up and tell legislators that a no-deal solution simply wasn’t acceptable.
“Setting two express trains running towards one another at full speed – so each side can prove its strength – makes no sense at all,” was how he put it. If there were a serious union dispute in one of his factories, he reminded the audience, politicians would be the first to urge him to find a solution. Following the sad demise of FCA’s Sergio Marchionne, Tavares is now the predominant car industry voice in Europe, and he proved it again here.