Stars of the show

For once it was the British marques that shone brightest at glitzy Geneva

As a motor show, Geneva has long prided itself on its ability to fill the Palexpo exhibition centre with wall to wall glitz. This is a glamour show, a top hat and tails show, so manufacturers tend to leave the cars you or I might actually be in a position to buy to the more hard-nosed industry events like those in Paris or Frankfurt. But even by Geneva standards, 2018 was pure automotive haute couture, as avant-garde as Milan Fashion Week and for most of us, about as relevant.

You could argue the toss about which company provided the highlight of the show, but probably not its country of origin.

Jaguar showed the production version of its all electric I-PACE and I expect it’s not enjoyed a reception like it since it pulled the covers off the original V12 XJ220 supercar concept in Birmingham in 1988. In Geneva it was probably the E-type in 1961. The brilliance of the I-Pace is that for all the cutting-edge technology, it looks thoroughly normal. I’m sure there is a temptation to make such cars look and feel like the future they represent because it is among the tech-savvy early adopters who’d like such an approach that the easiest sales lie. But if Jaguar is ever to break out of its role as an interesting alternative to a German premium marque, it must appeal to the mainstream. I’ve not driven the I-Pace and will reserve further judgement until I do, but it looks right in the flesh and on paper. Let’s hope it feels right on the road too.

Its rival for star of the show was the battery-powered Lagonda Vision Concept, a car that not only set tongues wagging in Geneva but also raised hackles over at Rolls-Royce whose boss felt the need to point out that it showed its own electric concept car as recently as two years ago. It is possible that Torsten Muller-Otvos was perhaps more riled by Aston designer (and former Rolls-Royce man) Marek Reichman describing his former employer as ‘ancient Greece’ in a magazine interview but the strength of his response, delivered via an interview with the FT burst right through the thin veil of diplomacy that usually exists in public pronouncements from one rival about another: “They really don’t understand our segment, they really don’t understand the customers. They are in a complete different league on pricing, they have zero clue what’s going on in the upper, upper segment, zero.” Damning with faint praise be damned, it seems.

But all spats aside, the Lagonda is interesting, not least because its boss Andy Palmer has committed to building something similar by 2021, while neither Rolls nor Bentley has given any timings on when their first all-electric offerings might hit the market. The Lagonda team reckons it’s spotted a clear hole in the market into which it can slot what it describes as the first zero emissions luxury brand. The concept itself is utterly outlandish and clearly styled for maximum impact, but the motivation behind it is intriguing.

Lagonda’s belief is that people have always bought traditional, large limousines because that’s all the luxury market offered them. The Lagonda is lower and shorter than any similar car, but because its electrical architecture allows its powertrain to be laid out at floor level, this means a vast interior can be packaged within a compact car. Lagonda thinks that this, combined with its zero emissions and autonomous drive capability will help it appeal to Silicon Valley types who’d not look twice at a traditional car lined in wood and leather and powered by petrol.

For me, I think there is probably space for both the traditional and the new approaches because I can’t see someone drawn to a Rolls being attracted to a Lagonda and vice-versa. Once the handbags are holstered, perhaps cordial relations will return once more.

Other British interest at the show included the two door Range Rover SV Coupe, a car that recalls the days of the original Rangie though if you want one of the 999 that will be built, you’ll have to part with – wait for it - £240,000 to secure one, which is £100,000 more than a four door Range Rover with the same 557bhp supercharged V8 powertrain.

Bentley, on the other hand showed what is likely to be one of its most affordable cars of recent times, the Bentayga SUV hybrid which uses exactly the same powertrain as the Porsche Cayenne Hybrid. Whether British customers will take to the idea of the first six cylinder Bentley since the 1950s remains to be seen, but in markets like China where show counts for everything and go almost nothing, the tax-friendly 3-litre motor should provide a strong source of additional sales.

Away from the British stands it was Mercedes-Benz and BMW that shone, the latter with a concept version of its M8 Gran Coupe, the former with the production ready AMG GT Four Door, a direct rival for the Porsche Panamera. I am told the BMW concept is virtually identical to the car that will go on sale next year. In the meantime the Mercedes looks like it’s going to give its rival from over the road in Stuttgart an extremely hard time indeed. Topping the range at present is a version with a 639bhp 4-litre V8 under the bonnet but that’s just the start: Mercedes is promising a hybrid that will lift that figure to at least 800bhp. Even without the electrics, the car hits 62mph in a McLaren F1-matching 3.2sec. Top speed is almost 200mph.

BRAVO VOLVO

A short word of congratulations to the Volvo XC40 which was named Car Of The Year in Geneva, the first time a Volvo has won in 54 year history of the award. Even though I am one of the 60 European car journalists who make up the jury, I don’t often write about our deliberations here because, to be honest, in the past the award has tended to go to cars rather more worthy than those that tend to merit space between these covers.

But there seems to have been something of a change of heart among my colleagues who this year voted for a short list with a rather greater emphasis on fitness for purpose, whatever that purpose might be. Which is why alongside the XC40 on the list we also found the likes of the BMW 5-series, Audi A8 and Kia Stinger. I voted for the XC40 because it’s the best car of its kind I have driven, though the BMW was as close as a runner-up can be.

PORSCHE KILLS DIESEL

Porsche has suspended sales of all diesel-powered cars. And while it denies claims that diesels are gone for good from its cars, it refuses to say if they will return. The reason given is that sales are falling in the wake of dieselgate and it doesn’t need them anymore. This is plausible: Porsche has never been a ‘diesel’ brand, and never spent its own money developing diesel engines. Instead it simply took them from Audi and installed them under the bonnets of the Macan, Cayenne and Panamera. But perhaps there’s something else going on too. Using other people’s diesels is all very well, but when those diesels are found to have been subject to unorthodox emissions certification procedures, it’s still your name that gets dragged through the mud. Maybe Porsche is not just reacting to customer demand, but covering its back too.