To the casual onlooker, the 2012 Paris Mondial de l'Automobile seemed what most motor shows are meant to be: a happy celebration of the launch of an impressive collection of new cars. Certainly the mix of new machinery was rich and varied, and even this year's crop of concepts seemed pleasantly realistic and on the pace. For your first few minutes, you might even have missed the fact that Europe's mainstream car industry is in deep trouble.
The cracks were soon visible, however, first in the relative simplicity (read cheapness) of stand designs - Ford, for instance, was much smaller, and struggled to look like more than a car park - and then in the voices and expressions of the many top managers who made presentations. These people are taught to behave like poker players, but things are so bad and manufacturing capacity is currently racing so far ahead of demand, that the size of the problem could not be disguised or glossed over. Even before lunch, car bosses had become heartily sick of the which-plant-will-close question.
Yet all the new product was terrific. The mainstreamers are being attacked from the cheaper end of the market by aggressive and well-financed Koreans, and from above by highly successful premium manufacturers like BMW and Audi. They have no alternative but to make convincing new products - and they did.
Renault had the new Clio, supported by a racy 200hp Renaultsport vision and the showroom-ready Zoe electric car, the model they believe will "humanise" electric car sales. Ford had a whole plethora of machinery: revised Fiestas, the new Mondeo, a roomier Kuga, the baby SUV EcoSport and even a Berlingo-style civilised van called Tourneo Connect. Peugeot made a further fuss of its recently-launched 208 by showing both the new GTi and a "premium luxury" version called XY. Having delayed its new contender in the 208-Clio-Fiesta arena, the Punto, Fiat looked rather bereft, though its cute and ultra-versatile Panda 4x4 provided a minor hit.