London Motor Show – August 2008

Much has been written about the British International Motor Show, both before and during the event. From the heady days of a packed NEC, and large numbers of new car launches, it all seems to have gone wrong, with ever lower number of attendees, and precious little new metal to see. The relocation of the event to the ExCel Centre in Docklands has not exactly met with unqualified enthusiasm, either, being roundly criticised as difficult and costly to access except for those who live in East London or Essex.

I decided to investigate for myself. So, on Tuesday, I made my way to ExCel. Having started the day in our South Bank offices, it was actually very easy to get there. Jubilee Line from Waterloo to Canning Town and then a quick trip up to the DLR platform above, and 2 stops to Custom House. And I was there. OK, I had to get to London to start with, but coming this route was not that hard. I left the office at 9:30, and arrived just after the doors opened at 10am, just minutes after David M and his father, with whom I had the pleasure of spending the day. And good Forum-style congenial company they proved to be, too. Clearly, it is a major disappointment that several manufacturers chose not attend. No BMW, no VW, Audi, Skoda (but Seat was there), and no Fiat among the major marques. Daihatsu were missing, and we noted that Perodua had a sort of shanty-town space out beyond the Van area outside. Sadly, none of the “comedy makes” were there, either….. nothing Chinese, or Lada to laugh at, like we could at Geneva and Frankfurt. Not only that, but the stands were, on the whole, much smaller than at the other major “international” shows, with a representative display, but not exactly a complete one. This did lend a feeling of space to the event, which was reinforced by the relative lack of people. In no way could the show be described as “busy”. Some of the stand staff told me it had been quite hectic at the weekend, but during the day I was there (Tuesday) – especially remembering it is school holidays – it was surprisingly quiet. Only a few cars had anything ressembling a queue to get into them. They were the predictable ones, and I will come to that in this report. ZURICH Connect, major sponsor of the event, had a counter, which showed only 18,000 people had been through the turnstile by mid-afternoon. That should, and doubtless does, trouble the organisers more than somewhat. So, on to the cars.

This was the first stand I came to, and had one of two genuine world premiers: the Insignia. I was keen to see this car, of course. First impression is that is truly is big. Make that BIG………….. and then I discovered that although it is large it has a major space flaw: the totally unacceptable lack of headroom in the back. I was surprised just how bad this was, and I have to hope that I never had to ride in the back of one, as I my head was way higher than the roof line unless I bent it to an unacceptable angle. Other than that, the static impressions of the car were good. The interior quality is a huge improvement, and lacks the fussiness that afflicts the new Accord, and too much in the way of horrid plastic metal effect trim that afflicts all sorts of cars these days. The crunch will come with the driving experience. I did relent and let the girl on the stand take my details (she told me she had a quota of “leads” to capture, and I decided to be helpful!) so perhaps I will get the chance later in the year.

We did look at the rest of the range.
There were a couple of concept cars: the Flextreme
The Meriva Concept
The current Corsa came in for scrutiny, and not that much positive comment. The back of the 3 door is a very gloomy place, with just those little triangular windows and a slit of a rear window. I don’t think the stand staff appreciated our negative comments, but there was no-one else around to hear them!
Some longer-standing models were on show, too
Vauxhall also had a large stand outside, and we made for this, hoping to get a supply of the rather nice VXR-shaped Haribo’s that they have handed out at previous events, but these were not to be seen. The VXR8 was, though
And so were the Corsa VXR and Astra VXR models.

Not much to cause us to want to linger long, here, apart from this Concept attempt at a slightly less intimidatingly large vehicle
Surprisingly, the new CTS was not in pride of place. With its looks being so similar to the previous model, I suspect that few people realised it was actually making its UK debut.
The Coupe version – now slated for production in 2010 – was attracting more admiring glances, and we quite liked it too.
Also on show was the Provoq, which it is alleged is a thinly disguised version of the next generation SRX, and a close relative to the Saab 9.4X.
We chose to ignore the vulgarities of the Escalade, lurking at the back of the stand!

Only items of interest here were the concept cars, as the rest of the range is simply so elderly that everyone has seen them a lot. The 9.4X Concept is almost production-ready.
The other concept car is supposed to be a strong clue to the forthcoming 9.1, a rival to the A3 and the 1 Series.

Quite a comprehensive gathering of the cars formerly known as Daewoo. The Beat Concept was there, and will probably next be seen wearing Matiz badges, as it is said that of the 3 similar-sized concept vehicles of this type that Cheverolet have paraded around the motor show circuit, this one had the most positive reaction. Many of the more interesting details are bound to disappear from the production car, but even if they do, this car looks like it could make the same big leap as the Agila/Splash, which will be prime (GM) competitors.
Much more likeable was the Camaro Convertible Concept. I’ve seen this car several times now, and of course the production version of the Coupe has now been unveiled. Nevertheless, it still remains rather desirable looking. A successful mix of modern and retro styling, and what looks like a rather better quality interior than the Mustang mean that this car could do really well. Just as long as it is not saddle with a 2.2.TDi engine for Europe, where it will go on sale in 2010.

A car you can buy now is the Aveo. This really does just look like the old Kalos with a new nose stuck on it. I had the misfortune to drive one of the predecessor models in the US, and was thoroughly unimpressed, so I do wonder to what extent this one is truly going to be much of an improvement.

Three models on show, including the phenomenally rapid ZR1
h, this is where I can hear the cries of “grey” emerging. A large stand, with many representatives of the current range, augmented by this, the Ex_Cee’d Convertible, which looks rather better than many of the other small rag tops.

The Kee Concept was also on display, tucked up at the back of the stand.
The three Soul Concepts were making another appearance.

There was a huge area given over to various electric cars, and environmental stuff. We spotted the latest version of the Think.
And we also saw the execrable Gee-Whiz.
More interesting was the Tesla, but the £76,500 price is worse than steep, so you have to want to be particularly green to splash out for one of these. No clue on the range you could expect, or the recharge time was to be found anywhere on the stand.
Among various production cars converted to run as electric vehicles was a Fiat Doblo, and this, a Smart Ed
Elsewhere, a series of vehicles branded “Nice” were shown. This acronym stands for “No Internal Combustion Engine”. The various models shown ranged from comic to vaguely normal looking. Here is one:

We were expecting this stand to be busy, and could not believe our luck when we spotted the GTR neatly tucked away and no-one near it. However, as we approached, we were told that this one was only accessible to those who had bought one, and that there were in fact 2 others on the stand for non-purchasers to examine.
Before we got there, we found the new Murano and the Qashqai +2. From the back and the side, these 2 vehicles look ever so similar.
Then you see the front, and realise they are different, and that one is OK, and the other is just appalling. The grille on the new Murano is definitely one of the styling crimes of 2008, which could perhaps only be atoned for by the improvement in interior quality. The GTR did indeed have a decent crowd of admirers surrounding it, but there was another one literally bouncing up and down in front of the video of a road
Elsewhere on the stand was a concept version of the Cube, in electric form.
On one corner of this stand we found the Lagnua Coupe Concept. As the real car was launched in April, I found it a little stange that the Concept vehicle is the one that is still being displayed. Doubtless the real car – which is not as interesting to look at as the Concept – is being held in reserve for Paris.
The Megane Concept that was at Geneva also reappeared here.
New production cars included the new Kangoo. In overall appearance, similar to the outgoing model, but actually quite different in every detail, and notably bigger than its forebear.
The Koleos was also on show, and seemed to be attracting no interest whatever.
The Megane R26R was, of course, attracting more of the interest on the stand.
Other cars included the Laguna GT, in what still seems to the signature colour of a rather distinctive blue
Pride of place, I guess, was going to the 3 door Mazda 2, with a white car suspended over the stand, and a cerise coloured one on the ground.
A complete range of the rest of the lineup was also on show. Amazing what a transformation has occurred here over the past few years.
Mindful of the controversy of the merits of the Mazda 3 MPS a while back, I am not sure whether I can admit that I quite like the Q-car style of this one!
The Furai was attracting lots of interest, with a crowd lining the barriers protecting it.

A display area between the Mazda and Ford stands had these icons on show:

Pride of place, of course, went to the Focus RS.
Surprisingly, it was probably not attracting the most interest. That honour went to the new Fiesta, and was helped by the fact that Ford were issuing free ice lollies in green and pink to match the cars. Ignoring the truly replusive pink and white interior of the pink car, the rest of the Fiesta impressed. The interior quality is a huge imporvement of the low rent current model. if the car drives like I expect it to, this could emerge as the best in class. I was a bit worried to read that the entry model has only 58 bhp,though – that will be a very slow device indeed. Oh, and the names of some of the colours was just funny: “Squeeze” was the best one. Any guesses what colour that really is?

This is the Econetic version that was launched at the show:
We noted that this would be the last show for the current Ka, with a nostalgic tear in the eye, especially now we have seen pictures of its replacement!
The revised Focus is now becoming a familiar sight on our roads. I have to say that I cannot agree that the facelift has improved the looks internally. That awful fake aluminium plastic stuff slapped on the dash is cheap looking in the extreme.

Now the XF is becoming a familiar sight on our roads, the show star was the black XKR-S, which I liked, but David seemed less certain about.

Highlight here was the LRX Concept Car. The more times I see this – and I’ve seen it a few now – the more I realise just what an impressive design this is. Land-Rover need this car to market now. PDQ!
he C-Cactus was having another outing. I am still not quite clear what this concept vehicle is trying to prove.
Far more convincing is the new C5, which is definitely a car I want to test out, to see if the driving experience matches the massively improved quality, and the far more cohesive styling.
That concluded our tour of the first hall, so we went across the Atrium area and into the other hall.
Oh dear! Just nasty! A sort of mix of Caterham, with Plymouth Prowler, with an ambitious price tag. Just “no”.
Amusing, for sure………..

A busy stand, and who can wonder. For a start, Alfa had the only other true world debut, with the Mi.To, which I was keen to see in the metal, having read so many views on this car. I still think that from some angles it is a good looking car, but there are issues. Like many Alfa’s, though, I suspect that time will be kind to it, and we will actually warm to it. Then I sat in it. My real disappointment is not the outside styling, it is the truly revolting surface pattern to the dash, which is just horrid. A shame, as the rest of it is so characteristically Alfa, even with the long wand-like gearlever.
Sharing display space with the Mi.To were the 8C Competizione models, with both Coupe and Spider to see. Whilst people might be unsure of the Mi.To, there are no doubters over the 8C cars – everyone seems to think they are stunning. Having heard one out on the road, I would add that regardless of the slating that a certain Mr Clarkson issued, it has to be on the list of cars for my dream garage.

A large stand, but one on to which anyone could go. Highlight was the facelifted Flying Spur, with the Speed version taking pole position on the front of the stand

Hmm! Not entirely convinced by this one, either. Too many lines, bulges, curves for the styling to appear all that cohesive, especially behind the front doors. How will the market take to this from an unknown manufacturer, from a country known only for making VW Beetles? Sounds like a hard sales proposition to me.

Pride of place went to the new Ibiza, although, intriguingly an example of the old Ibiza also featured on the stand. The SC, 3 door mode, was on a turntable, and there were 3 examples of the 5 door. Since none were entry level cars with particular grim plastic wheel trims, these looked good to me. Even in the poster paint finishes that have characterised Seat for years.

The Genesis Coupe Concept was the star here. Hyundai are still not sure whether this car will make it to the UK or not. Although I had seen it before, it was only this time that it dawned on me juts how big it is, and that would make me wonder if it could truly be viable in our badge-sensitive and image-conscious market.
The ice pops being handed out from a converted i10 Ice Cream van were welcome. The Grandeur was making a very tentative first public showing in the UK. Replacement for the XG350, this car is sold as the Azera in the US, where it has had good reviews, but still struggles because of the badge
A full range of the much applauded i30s were on show.
I was surprised to see this, the Matrix, as I thought it had quietly disappeared from the price lists, but it seems not. At least not yet.
The real surprise of the show, this one. I had not heard of this, and what I saw was a rather pleasing looking coupe, which turns out to have some very innovative technology underneath. There were big crowds around this stand.
The real attraction on this stand was not a car, but the supply of free glasses of water! The lightly facelifted 407 was here, with signs saying that it would be available in September. The 207 does not get any better looking
Nor does the 308, debuting here in SW form:
The only ray of hope, really is the fact that the 1007 was nowhere to be seen, and the 308 RCZ was there!
The new small van-based vehicles were on show, and this is the Partner Tepee. Like the equivalent Kangoo, notably bigger than its predecessor, and with a real slab of a dashboard in front of you, but otherwise lots of very practical features in evidence.
The 908 was tucked away at the back of the stand.
Strangely, the 908 RC was on a completely separate stand all of its own. elsewhere in the hall.
The 107 was also on show.
Not quite extinct, yet, a range of the commercial vehicles from this brand was on show

A large stand, unsurprisingly. The production iQ was in the same sort of display as it had been in at Geneva, though I don’t think it was replete with an underground chamber in which it could hibernate over night.
Also on show was the Urban Cruiser, a close relative of the Scion sold in the US.
I did see the Aygo Crazy, buy my camera did not, for not really good reason. There was another eco-friendly concept vehicle on show:
Big crowds around the IS-F, hence no pictures. Another outing for the concept LF-A. Why don’t they just decided to build this and get on with it?

Not a lot here that I enjoyed, if I am honest. The new Impreza is as gawky as ever to behold.
Some mental looking devices here. As if the ML Class (albeit a diesel) is not enough………….
There was an SL, as well
The Bullit was there. A 6.3 litre engine is shoe-horned under the bonnet of this mean looking matt-black projectile
And its CLS brother too.

In contrast, this was rather a thin display, with nothing particularly noteworthy on show, except for the C63 AMG
The concept A-Star was the highlight here. Literally, with its highlighter-pen style finish!
Also on show was the Kizashi, one of a series of concept cars that hints at the larger family-sized Suzuki now slated to arrive in 2010.

A big stand at one end of the hall. Another stand with a suspended car, and this one, a new Accord, was upside down!
Another chance to examine the latest Accord in detail reminded me that although I am sure it would prove a loyal and reliable servant for many years, the latest styling is not an improvement, and the inside is too complicated.
Of more interest was the FCX-Clarity, the hydrogen-powered car that has just been released on a controlled trial in Southern California.
The Concept CRZ looked good.
And so did this, the OSM
Reminder, should one be needed, of Honda’s successful motor sport enterprises was provided with this:

Having been tantalised by a half-clay, half production Evora in a confined display case at Silverstone, it was good to see a fully-finished car up close. I thought it looked rather better than the pictures had suggested.
Few of the manufacturers had their own stand, but there was a big display area at one end of the hall with some mouth-watering stuff to see.
Invicta S1
At this point we ventured outside, and found some additional items of interest.
A reminder of former vehicles used by the AA. Once a common sight, these are all long since disappeared.
As is often the case at shows like this, Land-Rover had created a short obstacle course to showcase just impressive their cars are, and this time they were letting the public do the driving. However, there were long queues for this, so we did not take part.

Sadly, this was not a day when CBeaks was in attendance, although we did ask the stand staff, just to be sure………. as they pointed out, with his diminutive size, he could easily hide, of course (!!). David then succumbed to the offer a drive in a 200bhp Transit and vanished for a good few minutes, as he took it up the road circuit arranged by some manaufacturers. He came back very impressed.
A fantastic display of cars here. Having enjoyed a whole load of rare Ferraris at Silverstone at the weekend, it was great to see yet another Enzo, F50 and F40!
Haymarket’s stand, branded “Autocar” and “What Car” had the promised Lamborghini on it, tucked tightly into a corner.

In among the various other stands, on the Bose stand I came across a familiar car. A very familiar car indeed, as it is one that I have driven.
Yes, this is the very same Audi S6 that I tested back in March! So, overall, a good day out. Especially considering that I got a free ticket so it did not cost me much to go along. However, given the lack of other people attending, and the fact that several important manufacturers chose not to participate, I would not be at all surprised if the event is deemed a failure by the organisers, and its future in 2010 must be somewhat uncertain.
2010-01-02 11:12:31

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