Electric cars will point the way in Paris

Neil Winton
Special to The Detroit News

The upcoming Paris Motor Show will mark the beginning of the mass market electric car and the demise of the diesel, not to mention further evidence that car shows are losing their allure for auto manufacturers.

Among major car makers sitting out the Paris “Mondial de l‘Automobile“ are Ford, Volvo and Mazda. None of these companies has major new cars to show, and they are signalling that the huge expense of these exhibitions means they will seek other ways to keep the public aware of their position in the market.

IHS Markit analyst Ian Fletcher attributes this to social media’s ability to reach potential new customers.

“Certainly with the rise of the internet and particularly social media, automakers are starting to use these channels more heavily when introducing new models. With the deluge of news and information that comes with motor shows, key product activities and announcements can get lost, hence a number are now making reveals in the weeks and even months before the public event,” Fletcher said.

Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Lamborghini and Aston Martin are sitting out the Paris show as well. BMW also said it will slim down the attendance of its big-cheese executives, who are also said to be elsewhere plotting improvements in the company’s electric vehicle plans.

Electric vehicles will be the standout at the show, led by the European version of the Chevrolet Bolt, the Opel-Vauxhall Ampera E.

It is the claimed 240-odd mile range of the Bolt/Ampera which is impressing analysts, and which means it may well be the first electric car to offer acceptable and dependable range. Price in Europe, yet to be announced, is the key. The Bolt will sell for around $30,000 in the U.S. after the $7,500 government subsidy.

Professor Stefan Bratzel from the Center of Automotive Management in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany, points out that General Motors has built an impressive lead with the electric car, and this will put pressure on Nissan to improve its Leaf battery-powered sedan.

Organizers say more than 24 new electric models will be announced, including a Mercedes that the company claims will have a range of 310 miles, but won’t be on sale until close to 2020.

“A Mercedes-Benz show car embodying a concrete vision of a totally new generation of vehicles with battery-electric drive will also have its world premiere,” the company announced. Mercedes also plans to launch its latest generation 2- and 4-seat battery-powered Smart city cars by the end of the year.

Volkswagen’s new electric concept car to be unveiled at the show will have a claimed range of 300 miles from a single 15-minute charge. Volkswagen, still reeling from the impact of dieselgate one year ago, is desperate to change the subject and hopes its focus on electrification will help.

More new SUVs will be unveiled at the show from SEAT, Skoda, Suzuki, Peugeot and Land Rover, while other introductions include a new Honda Civic hatchback, on sale in the U.S. any day now, a little Kia Rio, and a Volkswagen Golf/Ford Focus fighter from Hyundai — the new i30.

The fallout from Volkswagen’s dieselgate scam has tarnished the image of diesel, while pressure in Europe is growing to regulate them more tightly on health grounds. Over the last 20 years, diesel market share in Europe has soared to close to 50 percent, but is now sliding back down as governments remove tax incentives and curb their use in cities. Some experts say this could mean a market share of closer to 25 percent by 2020.

Meanwhile, according to IHS Markit’s Fletcher, plug-in hybrids are likely to make a bigger contribution than battery-only vehicles as manufacturers struggle to meet harsh 2021 CO2 emissions standards.

The Paris Motor Show opens Saturday and runs through Oct. 16 at Paris Expo, Porte de Versailles. Media days are Thursday and Friday.