To judge by the pre-event publicity, the 88th running of the Geneva motor show looked as if it should best be described as a “Let’s punish Tesla” event.
The world’s biggest and best car makers have long promised that they wouldn’t leave the glamorous, growing electric premium car space to a Californian upstart for long, and this looked like being the place they proved it.
It turned out that way too. There were more credible, near-production electric and electrified cars on hand than at any previous European motor show, and these were also the cars that took most attention, trumping just for once the ever-present crop of somewhat preposterous hypercars and tastelessly modified luxury motors “for rich individualists”.
Finding this year’s show star wasn’t hard. You needed to look no further than Jaguar Land Rover’s new, huge and expensive stand, where the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace took centre stage. The car, driven by selected hacks before the show’s opening, was the darling of the throng as few cars ever are, being honestly admired even by rivals.
It looked brilliant in the metal and the plaudits were so numerous that even JLR’s CEO, Ralf Speth, who would normally rather have his teeth pulled than boast about one of his cars, was forced to admit that the reception had been “fantastic”.
The Jaguar’s lead over rivals will be short-lived: both Audi and Mercedes have similar cars nearly ready. But everyone admitted Jaguar’s execution had been exceptional. If one design showed how electrification could free up cars’ proportions, this was it.
Other credible electric cars stood almost shoulder-to-shoulder. There was the Volkswagen ID Vizzion, a 300bhp flagship due in 2022 that’s smaller than Phaeton but just as roomy.Aston Martin showed the Lagonda Vision Concept from its new stand-alone sub-brand, a battery limo aiming to fit between Rolls-Royce and Bentley and purporting to show that modernity and luxury were not mutually exclusive.
Renault had a fully autonomous EZ-GO urban people-carrier with no steering wheel, Seat’s Cupra brand presented a 680bhp e-Racer, Hyundai’s Kona Electric small SUV showed off a 292-mile range – and even Ssangyong had an electric concept called e-SIV.
New hybrids and plug-in hybrids were thinner on the ground, the only significant one being the Bentley’s Bentayga V6 plug-in hybrid. It looked like a shortfall that might become an early trend. Some say plug-ins are already becoming less popular as 300-mile battery cars become more prevalent and viable, with even better gains in range and energy density – from solid-state batteries among other technologies – waiting in the wings.
However, those who expected conventional cars to be on the back foot were disappointed. Ford had a whole clump of sporting and family model updates with nary a hybrid to be seen.
Land Rover was prominent with the much-admired Range Rover SV Coupé, and a bumper crop of supercars was led by the businesslike McLaren Senna GTR track car, though Bugatti’s Chiron Sport also drew many an eye.
Jeep showed European versions of its Wrangler and Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, while Morgan had a run-out Aero GT (while revealing that its all-electric Three Wheeler still “hasn’t quite reached” production). And naturally there were new, nearly-the-same versions of the Ferrari 488 (Pista) and Lamborghini Huracán (Performante).
The diesel sales decline – everywhere but Italy – was the elephant in the room, until VW’s redoubtable boss Matthias Müller sternly declared that he expected customers to return to diesels, and soon, once they had digested the knowledge “that diesels are eco-friendly”.