Paris Motor Show Opens

At the biannual Paris Motor Show, the emphasis is on cars that combine fuel economy with flair

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Every two years, the eyes of the automotive world turn to the Paris Motor Show. This year is no different, with companies from Ford (F) to Fiat (FIA), Maserati to Mitsubishi set to unveil brand new cars and concept designs to an eager public.

From Sept. 30 to Oct. 15, an estimated 1.5 million visitors will flock to the French capital to see what companies have new to offer. Fuel-efficient hybrids and other alternative-fuel cars look set to be this show's main attractions. These cars will have particular resonance in Europe, where filling up a tank costs almost three times as much as in the States. So, while the U.S. has only recently rediscovered the virtues of smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, the Europeans—and automakers that manufacture for these markets—have an even greater need for them.

As expected, the French carmakers have major launches planned for their home event. Citroën is hoping its C4 Picasso, a midsize, multi-use passenger vehicle (MPV), will be a big hit when launched in Europe early next year. The company, a division of Peugeot, will also unveil the futuristic C-Métisse concept car. Despite its sporty exterior, this car isn't what it seems—it runs on a diesel-electric hybrid engine that could hit the streets in less than four years (see, 9/7/06, "Citroen Gets Sexy").

Peugeot's 908 RC concept should also get a lot of attention. The passenger sedan boasts a 700-horsepower, 5.5-liter V12 diesel engine, and will be the automaker's 2007 Le Mans racer. The company will also unveil the Epure concept car, a convertible powered by a hybrid hydrogen engine that will the basis for Peugeot's new 207CC (see, 9/12/06, "Peugeot to Sell Fuel Cell Car?").


  Not to be outdone, Renault is also debuting the Nepta, a gull-winged concept that has a 3.5-liter V6 engine powering a seven-speed automatic gearbox via a Formula-1-style, steering flick-shift. The 420-horsepower direct-injection gasoline engine combines outstanding performance with low fuel consumption and CO2 emissions (see, 9/8/06, "Renault Showstopper").

Other European carmakers will also launch new models in Paris. Volkswagen's new Audi R8 combines the sports-car pedigree of the German company's Lamborghini subsidiary with its own knowledge of lightweight design to compete with the Porsche 911. In response, Porsche will unveil three sports cars at the show: a redesigned Boxster, as well as Targa 4 and GT3RS versions of the 911. BMW's X3 also gets a facelift and a new 3.0-liter engine first seen in the 3 Series.

The German company's most awaited unveiling, however, is the redesigned Mini. Despite selling 800,000 of the cars worldwide, BMW is banking on the second-generation model to reinvigorate the Mini, which faces tough competition in the increasingly crowded small-car market. While it may look similar to previous models, the new Mini sports a larger interior and a more powerful 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine. Italian automaker Fiat is also looking to turn heads. Its Multipla Multi-Eco concept gives new meaning to the word hybrid—it can be powered by either gasoline, methane, or bioethanol.


  It isn't just European carmakers that will be launching new models at the show. Toyota's (TM) Lexus LS600H—the world's first V8 hybrid—will make its European debut, as will the redesigned LS460, now available with a longer wheel base. Honda (HMC) will try to woo the critics with its upgraded CR-V, while Kia's funky pro_cee'd concept looks set to become a three-door hatchback to be launched in 2007 (see, 9/20/06, "Kia pro_cee'd").

As at every Paris motor show, the American carmakers are out in full force. Targeted at the European market, Ford's 2007 Mondeo and DaimlerChrysler's (DCX) Dodge Avenger are tipped to be major crowd pleasers. Borrowing from its popular European S-Max model, Ford has given the new Mondeo sedan sleeker lines and a larger interior in hopes of reversing the car's sluggish sales. Dodge, on the other hand, must be feeling bullish. With its Caliber model already selling well in Europe, the Detroit-based company will unveil the Avenger, a sporty sedan to compete with the Alfa Romeo 159 and Mazda6.

With gas prices set to remain high for the foreseeable future, carmakers are looking to fuel-efficient technology to boost sales. This trend looks set to continue in Paris, with hybrid cars jostling for position alongside the regular dose of model launches typical of any international motor show.

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