For years, motor shows were a straight race between the OEMs. Those with the fastest, biggest, most outlandish car on their stand were deemed the winners, even if the most futuristic cars on show barely made it onto the reality of the road.

 

But times have changed. The motoring public still like to dream, but have become more demanding and sophisticated in their expectations of the cars they’ll actually own and drive. And manufacturers are responding with ideas that have more relevance in the evolving world.

So Paris 2016 isn’t only a race of style over substance. It is much subtler than that, but all the more interesting for it. Instead, it is about closing gaps and narrowing distances between car design, technology and today’s connected world.

Car connectivity

The gap between driver and passenger lifestyle and the car’s role in enhancing it has been narrowing steadily over the past few years. In Paris we can see some further examples of the two almost becoming one. BMW’s ‘ConnectedDrive’ is highlighted on their stand and draws a clear line that links the technology with the brand promise of ‘freedom’. The range of connected services they offer promises a more fluid journey and an enhanced driving experience. Avoiding traffic congestion, sharing arrival times with friends and unlocking your car remotely all via smartphone apps put the driving experience into the heart of the customer’s world. (Smartphones really are that important!)

Virtual reality experience

The gap between the show experience and actual driving experience is drawn closer too with a profusion of immersive, virtual reality (VR) stands and stunts. Peugeot’s is perhaps the best of the bunch, allowing 20 visitors at a time to experience the driving experience via a specially constructed VR room.

Multi-modal mobility

Peugeot is also one of the best brands to bring the reality of total journey, multi-modal mobility and car capability closer with the inclusion of foldable electric bikes or scooters in the boot of their crossover. Designed to complete the final mile or so of the driver’s journey, it’s a clever, environmentally friendly way to make the car a more realistic proposition for urban commuters.

New Energy Vehicles

Not that this is the only idea on show that promises to lessen the car’s impact on our natural world. Opel’s Ampera-E displays it’s fully fledged electric capability and incredible 500km range, but also confidently presents the car as an emotive as well as rational choice – two aspects that have thus far been poles apart in the E-car sector.

 

The Ampera-E is presented as something to have fun with and in – demonstrated in the cheeky racing challenge set up on the Opel stand where visitors can ‘race’  against rivals from other manufacturers. Responsible motoring has never been so much fun. VW is also placing a stake in the NEV ground by unveiling its ID concept car at the Paris show. It’s an all-electric vehicle on an all-new platform and features wireless recharging, a striking ‘blanked out’ front end and has been engineered for full autonomous driving capability, promised by 2025.

Vehicle personalisation

But it isn’t all about fuel choices. Personal preference in colour, texture, features and even smell is also catered for in Paris. Opel’s Astra further enhances the multi senses experience by allowing owners to personalise the car interior aroma with a range of perfume capsules, while Smart offers personalisation options for virtually every panel and accessory in their new ForTwo and ForFour models. The Smart urban brand pushes the personalisation even further by offering a one-off ‘street art’ inspired model. But perhaps the most impressive closing of the gap between the car designer’s pen stroke and the owner’s taste is demonstrated by Jaguar Land Rover’s SVO (special vehicle operations) service, a staggering list of configuration options that result in unique driving and looking vehicles, determined entirely by owner preference.

Cars as a lifestyle vehicle

Preference and taste also play a fundamental role in the way PSA presents their high-end brand line up. Perhaps ‘collection’ would be a more appropriate word to describe the DS offering as they borrow heavily from the world of haute couture fashion and luxury accessories. The DS Performance concept car attracts visitors like a model on a cat walk magnified by spotlights, pumping music and perfume, while the DS3, 4 and 5 are presented in a ‘designer’ retail environment. For more generalist models Citroen’s stand was quirkily designed as a complete lifestyle experience, supporting the idea of an authentic, contemporary and responsible brand that feels close to drivers’ daily lives. All-in-all it’s an inspiring and very clear way to bring their brand values to life. Cars have always been a statement of a driver’s status, but increasingly manufacturers such as PSA are offering new, relevant and inspiring ways to display every quirk of their customers’ individuality.

Iconic vehicles

Of course it wouldn’t be a motor show without a smattering of glitz and a large helping of imagination. Paris 2016 doesn’t disappoint. It starts with some automotive vehicle stars from film and television, sparking happy memories from our youth. Columbo’s dishevelled 1961 Peugeot 403 shares a hall with some rather more iconic models, including the Aston Martin DB10 designed and produced exclusively for the 2015 Bond film Spectre, Steve McQueen’s 1969 Porsche 908/2 Spyder from ‘Le Mans’ and the DeLorean DMC-12 time travelling car from the 80’s film Back to the future 2. These cars are an apt inclusion as we are seeing a continuing trend to reinterpret iconic vehicles. After Mini and Fiat 500, Abarth, Mehari and Alpine are all set for much-anticipated re-imaginings. 
Mercedes showcases the much-talked about Vision Maybach 6, a six-metre long mind-blowing concept coupe that’s destined for production next year, and while the Renault range has been largely revamped, based on inspiration from the DeZir concept presented six years ago, the brand unveiled an irresistible peek into the future with treZor. The concept is outlandish, yet sets firm foundations for Renault models to come with full electric powertrain, a refined cockpit designed for dual usage – either driving or relaxing when the car is in autonomous driving mode - and sets the tone for future exterior design.

Auto brands are showing in Paris that they are surfing the wave of a personalised, connected and eco responsible industry. We can’t wait to see those initiatives hitting the streets to improve our automotive transportation standards, and our enjoyment of the experience.

Author

Guillaume Saint is Global Development Director for Automotive at Kantar TNS.

He is responsible for automotive business development and leads a number of global automotive initiatives.

Pierre Gomy is Managing Director of Kantar Millward Brown in France. 

He is passionate and a leading expert on branding and communication.