posturing and electricity

What can the Geneva Motor Show teach us about the technological automotive direction, and how this may affect the aftermarket?

Published:  30 May, 2019

The automotive aftermarket can always use a boost, and there is nothing quite like a motor show to get anyone – everyone – to talk about our industry.
    
Yes, there’s a world of difference between repairing vehicles and the spangly glitz of the super-rich posing beside the very latest in super-expensive automotive ‘art’. Yet, for every single billionaire there are quite literally tens of thousands of vehicle users.
    
We have a new automotive industry-specific word – electrification. Not the type of thing that is used to power trains but rather the addition of a tail pipe emission free’ energy source to compliment or even replace the internal combustion engine. The context? The Geneva Motor Show. Indeed, at almost every motor show if one did not have electricity/global warming/ecology associated with each new vehicle reveal, it simply wasn’t news. To see the ‘on the spot’ news coverage from the show could have left us thinking that anything with a piston engine of any sort is utterly irrelevant. However that is not the case.

Zero emission
‘Zero emissions’ has a very specific meaning when it is measuring what comes out of an exhaust pipe. If there is no exhaust pipe, or all it does is eject water, the vehicle is officially described as ‘zero emission’. Forget the fact that energy storage system raw materials are mined all over the world, processed all over the world, built into energy storage packs, fitted to vehicles which are  exported all over the world. Forget the energy used to make a single kWh. Even ‘free’ energy sources need machines to exploit it, which of course require energy to produce.     
    
The automotive sector all over the world is under attack, and is vulnerable: It is a statement of fact, not a complaint. Some – not all – vehicle manufacturers have abused emission testing, to the point the general public don’t quite know who can be trusted. Governments all over the world see a significant opportunity to not merely fend off lobbyist pressure but actively court it, in the name of ‘saving the planet’.  Empty gestures and half formed policies abound.
    
Rightly or wrongly, the automotive sector is in quite a fix. OEMs in Europe face from this year paying €95 for each gramme of CO2 for each car built over a fleet average limit (95 grammes of CO2 per km). This is not a one-off, but part of an international rolling vehicle emission reduction policy. More emission cuts will come, and well before 2030.
    
As Governments complete this social engineering, new forms of user taxation will take place in the none too distant future to recover revenue lost from reduced direct sales of fossil fuels (petrol, diesel, LPG or LNG).

Who wasn’t there?
Just in case anyone missed it, even without Brexit the global economy is on the downward slope into recession. The automotive sales slump in China has triggered cutbacks in number of vehicle manufacturers, ranging from ‘let’s keep the lights on for now’ (Ford) through to ‘let’s take action to downsize in an orderly fashion’ (almost everyone else).
    
In the case of Europe, conforming to the new WLPT emission test combined with the utterly chaotic roll-out of Real Driving Emissions (RDE) has caused vehicle supply issues and unwelcome additional costs due to the convulsion caused by
re-homologating existing vehicles to the new test methods. As a result some manufacturers chose to spend limited promotion budgets in more effective ways. This meant paying for expensive stand space at a motor show was not a priority. As a result, JLR, Ford, Volvo and Hyundai were not present.
    
So, our online friends pushed out countless stories about ‘electric’ and ‘lack of support’. In the moment. So, what really went on?

Most significant
Why is Volkswagen’s MQB Evo platform delayed? To make way for its MEB platform, as the Group spends its way out of trouble. However, this is where it gets interesting. MEB is engineered as an ‘electrified’ platform, ranging from pure EV through to hybrid drive and PHEV. The MQB Evo platform has a raft of hybrid drive technology ranging from 48V ‘mild’ to more potent hybrid powertrains. However, after the scandal of emission test rigging, along with a steady stream of further negative revelations, the upshot is ‘electricity’ has to eclipse all chat of fossil fuel burning powertrains, if only for PR.
    
The Volkswagen brand had the ID.buggy concept, a pretty pointless homage to Beetle- based dune buggies, on view alongside previously shown I.D concepts. Politely, the I.D series lack definition which is surprising given they have been rolled out for quite a few years, leaving rather too much to the imagination. The same could be said of the Skoda Vizion iV concept, another MEB platform car.
    
The star was the Seat el-Born, which had real cut lines, real doors, real trim. It mattered little that the model on display was as much a ‘model’ as the Volkswagen and Skoda versions, because this was real. Seat is used as the lead division for each of the smaller volume platforms, and
el-Born latterly made history as the birth of a volume EV from VWG. A shot in the dark? Time will tell and the odds are stacked against success, but as a premieres go there are few as significant. The fuss? From MEB, MQB Evo to MLB Evo right across VWG, hybrid drive is going to appear like a rash by 2021 – and it’s already underway.
    
Geneva is a showcase for smaller companies, many of which take expensive cars, add expensive procedures with the result looking like an aftermarket catalogue on drugs. Carbon fibre? Why yes, we’ll add that to a two tonne SUV and pretend it does anything but look pointlessly terrible. Yes, there’s still big money with no sense of taste.
    
Rolls-Royce effectively had an exquisite line-up on the opposite side of the hall to parent BMW. They offer LEDs which can be implanted to the headliner to give a starry night from the comfort of the car interior. But what’s this? The BMW 8 series, a glorious car exactly and precisely produced at the absolutely wrong time, is available with headliner LEDs configured to the favourite constellation of the purchaser. BMW really should take care not to dilute its premier brand, nor boost sales to match Bentley with a probably ruinous effect on residuals. Luxury is not all about shifting metal.
    
Meanwhile Aurus had the ‘large’ car on display as used by President Vladimir Putin (5.7 tonnes with armour) along with the ‘small’ car (2.7 tonnes without armour). So far, this project has cost more than £80 million, with a limited production of the ‘large’ car at 10 units and the ‘small’ car to be made in a limited series of around 500 units. In other words, handmade, almost every aspect uniquely engineered. An interesting discussion quickly demonstrated that Aurus have better connection to super luxury than some very old brands.
    
This year we had not one but two land mark events. Peugeot revealed the new 208, which will underpin many more PSA vehicles including the next generation Vauxhall Corsa. This has a 50 kWh pure EV powertrain as well as internal combustion engine powertrains – PSA already meet the new fleet average CO2 target, to the point they can sell carbon credits to those manufacturers who can’t meet the target. What will be the highest volume selling powertrain – EV or internal combustion engine?
    
The answer was to be found at Renault with the unveiling of Clio V, powered by petrol, diesel and a mild hybrid drive options. The pure EV role was filled by the Zoe. The immediate death of the petrol and diesel internal combustion engine has been somewhat exaggerated.
    
Amid some fanfare, the EU have managed to get another trade deal in place, with Japan. This means Japan-based vehicle manufacturers no longer have to pay steep tariffs to get non-EU built vehicles inside Europe. The deal has an impact on the UK, which has the biggest concentration of Japan-headquartered vehicle manufacturing plants, but Brexit had almost no effect on the decisions. All of the UK based car plants need stable tax regimes and clear incentives to ensure continued investment, and the EU-Japan trade deal has made those pre-requisites irrelevant. The Honda Urban EV prototype was apparently near production quality, in the sense it was not at all. Another plastic model which did little to define the concept first seen more than two years ago.

Geneva finds its feet
In 2018 the show reached a low point, the prelude to termination, In 2019 it arose gloriously as a design-led event, where the Swiss fascination for automobiles mixed perfectly with staging the best design show anywhere in the world. Shifting metal in bulk is no longer its primary task. Oh, and yes, the internal combustion engine will continue to exist, and will continue to get cleaner. That, ladies and gentlemen, means adaption – and success – for the aftermarket instead of oblivion.  


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