Welcome to the British International Motorshow 2008. Hosted at the ExCel centre in London, England, and sponsored by Zurich Connect. It's a beautiful summer's day, the hottest, in fact, that 2008 has presented us Brits with so far. So what are the highlights of this year's show? And who was conspicuous only by the absences?
Vauxhall would be a good place to start, as the first stand that most people will end up at. The big news is the global launch of the Vauxhall/Opel Insignia, the brand new saloon in the range, coming in to replace the unloved Vectra. The first thing to note is that it is absolutely stunning. Not just "Oh, it isn't too bad for an executive saloon," stunning, genuinely, stop in the street and gawp stunning. OK, that won't last for long, because novelty of course wears off once they are everywhere. But gut feeling reckons this will still look fresh in 4 or 5 years' time. There were various models present, both 3 and 5 door, and various engines and spec levels, and pick of the colors was difficult to really gauge under the lights- but dark red seemed to be the star. Look out for soft touch plastics, a fresh interior and a sense of being a little bit more upmarket than before from Vauxhall's top model. The Insignia will be a real contender then, for Ford's "best looking mid-size saloon" tag.
So what about Ford, then? By now, if you've not been living under a rock, you have almost certainly met with the eye assaulting lime green of the new Focus RS. Needless to say, it's a very noticeable car, with real presence- how much of that is down to color remains to be seen, once we start seeing the car in other colors. It certainly makes all the right signals though, with deep front air dam and fantastic bonnet vents. Personally though, I reckon that the tacked on underbody venturi tunnel is a bit too "form over function," and spoils an otherwise very purposeful rear end. But the biggest news from that end of the show was the brand new Ford Fiesta. Its launch has been hotly anticipated, and Ford desperately needs this car to sell well.
They know as well as everyone else that money is not exactly easy to come by in the current economic climate, and Ford is in big trouble all over the world. But all the signs are very, very positive for the new Fiesta.
For a start, it looks great. Fresh, different and most of all, not like a "mini Focus," like the face-lifted outgoing car. The feeling is funky, trendy and "for the kids." There are 3 models that Ford is really pushing the top of the range Titanium spec, the slightly hot Zetec S, and the ground breaking EcoNetic. Coming at the end of the year, it doesn't just have a clever name; it's a clever car - less than 100g/km of CO² is very impressive and hugely important, especially in this "green" age.
It's a key part of the regeneration Ford is so keyed up about. By the end of 2010, they say they'll have refreshed the whole range. And with Kuga, the new Mondeo, and the upcoming Ford Ka, perhaps there is light at the end of Ford's tunnel.
And so, to Lotus; "True character in a faceless world," says the tagline for their new supercar- revealed as the Evora. Evora is actually a place in Portugal, but it's unclear what that has to do with a new mid engined 2 plus 2 from Norfolk's finest. Aside from the name, the car is something of a looker. Not ground breaking or particularly exciting, but good enough to turn heads. The appearance of some curious, and rather disturbing, "faceless" people preceded the launch. Talk again centered on the economic situation, and how Lotus sees this car as a car to get them through any upcoming possible crisis. They have the full backing of Proton, their Malaysian owners, and the future looks bright. The main question mark rides on whether a 2 plus 2 with the engine in the middle works, and whether the famous handling can be transferred to the concept. But with their massive history of handling ability, don't bet against it being another cracker.
So from clinical and scientific, to passionate and romantic- welcome to Alfa Romeo. Beautiful cars and beautiful girls; the new Mito made its global official debut at the show, with a press conference held at the venue. It's a "make your own mind up on the looks" kind of car, with some unsure about the use of 8C styling cues on a small hatch. It's heading into a new sector for Alfa, and will be their smallest car. It is part of their new "global relaunch," with 10 new models on their way, including replacements for the range, plus a new 4x4. The company is confident of its future, and can look forward to these new models with real excitement and vigor. Meanwhile, the 8C really is as beautiful in the flesh as it is in pictures. It's a beautiful, curvaceous beauty, right out of the 1950s, but with modern touches that make it so appealing. A real flagship model for a new and improved brand.
But there were other stars. Lexus, and their LF-A for one, which is really a hugely attractive car in the chrome finish used for the show. But it's getting old now, for a concept and was a little swallowed up. Not getting old at all is Mazda's jaw dropping Furai. You've no doubt already heard much about it, but no amount of pictures can prepare you for the visual drama of the most amazing vehicle I've ever seen. Daring, exciting… undoubtedly Japanese too. One word- wow. Honda literally went over-the-top by hanging their Accord upside down and introduced the new OSM, short for Open Study Model, a shapely two-seat convertible design study possibly a future S2000 replacement.
One car that really stood out was Hyundai's Genesis coupe concept. Lined up as a replacement for the aging Coupe, it's planned with rear drive and a big V6- a mouth watering prospect, and it looks as good as it sounds. Sharp edges but curves too- tasty. If Kia's future looks like the Kee Concept, then it is very, very good. Interesting lines, beautiful curved headlights, clean shapes. Kia is definitely coming.
And so to the absentees, step forward Audi, VW, BMW, Ferrari and Porsche to name but a few. Clearly, the BIM has lost some of its charm and appeal to larger, bejeweled manufacturers. Mercedes was there, but they had a very minimal presence- just a couple of cars and barely any people, or glitz. Quite why they were absent will remain with them, their secret, but one can guess at the economic crisis, and the relative unimportance of Britain's show to those in Geneva, or Detroit.