It’s March, so it’s time for the annual trip to the Geneva motor show. These days I just do a day trip which means a long day, first plane out and last plane back. This year I had a 2-hour delay at Heathrow on the way out, an hour’s delay in Geneva and then got caught in horrendous traffic on the way home. I’d been up for over 20 hours by the time I was in bed again.
And to be honest, I was somewhat underwhelmed by this year’s show. Perhaps it was some companies’ not being there (no Opel for example), or others moving from their traditional locations, or in many cases, a notable lack of interesting and genuinely new models. Many of the new models left me unimpressed, especially the Audi A6, BMW X4 and Mercedes CLS; I honestly found it tough to differentiate them from their predecessors, although of course that may be because the previous models themselves didn’t do it for me. The Lexus UX, the brand’s smallest SUV, was worthy of a second look and should give the likes of the Evoque and Mercedes’ GLA a run for their money. I do wonder if a lack of European production for Lexus hampers its market development here.
Speaking of new models for European production we had the first look at the new Citroen C5 Aircross (a key model in Citroen’s switch to SUVs), the Jaguar I-PACE (the brand’s first all-electric model and its first to be made entirely outside the UK) and, crucially for the UK, the new Toyota Auris. Last year, Toyota confirmed investment in its UK plant of £240m to make models on the new TNGA platform; finally, just before the Geneva motor show, it confirmed this was for the new Auris, which will start production at the end of the year. While this is clearly very welcome news for the UK’s automotive manufacturing sector in the build-up to Brexit, how successful a new hatch back will be in a market which is shifting to SUVs and crossovers especially in the segment in which the Auris will be positioned is an open and important question. Toyota’s fastest-selling model in recent times has been the CHR, a crossover also made on the TNGA platform, but made in Turkey.
As the month comes to its end, it appears the UK and the EU have agreed – subject to ratification – a transition deal through December 2020; until the auto industry will, along with almost all areas of the economy – operate as now, as if the UK retained EU membership. Quite what will happen after then, and what the regulatory, trading, customs and tariff regimes will be by then is anyone’s guess. A free trade deal is widely assumed to be the inevitable outcome but what will be the strings attached to it?
And finally, the diesel scandal or controversy shows no sign of being resolved. No sooner had VW announced a set of broadly positive financial results for 2017 came the news that it – and BMW – had been raised (again) by investigators in Germany. Whether allegedly fitting defeat devices (BMW) or allegedly misstating emissions levels in official documents (VW), the industry, particularly in Germany, seems to generate bad news constantly, seemingly unaided. Corporate governance may be on the way to being improved, but it seems likely that more skeletons will be found in corporate cupboards; and expensive ones at that.