BMW April 2022

Last year, Geneva was preoccupied with autonomy, writes Richard Aucock. Most show-goers puzzled over the relevance, and it seems this year, the automakers have agreed. Self-driving cars are for the future: there are more pressing concerns for now, such as reducing their average fleet emissions below the 2021 level at which hefty EU fines kick in for every single car sold.

So it’s back to electrification. Rather than being far-sighted visions, electric cars are getting real. Honda’s pretty E Prototype appears virtually in the guise it will go on sale later this year. Skoda has an electric concept that isn’t far off showroom-ready either. Same for Seat. And Peugeot’s gorgeous new 208 is here, including the e-208 EV that will go on sale from its imminent launch. Just a few pounds more on monthly finance and you could trade that little petrol engine for an electric jobbie!

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There’s more. A radical Kia EV concept. A surprise electric Fiat that previews how the next Panda will democratise electrification. Aston Martin’s radical Lagonda EV SUV. The Audi Q4 e-tron. And more plug-in hybrids than you can shake an expensive Geneva baguette at, including the Alfa Romeo Tonale, Mitsubishi Engelberg and Nissan IMQ (secretly the next Qashqai).

However, an electric hypercar was one of the show-stealers. Automobili Pininfarina launched with a bang at Geneva 2019, and a 1 900 horsepower work of art called the Battista. Beautifully crafted to justify its multi-million price tag, this is Pininfarina showing off its artistry, and electric drivetrain partner Rimac showing just how electricity is going to clobber explosively tuned petrol engines before we know it.

This hasn’t stopped the traditional makers rolling out gas-powered exotica. Aston Martin went all-out by showing the latest development in its McLaren Senna rival, now called the AM-RB 003. It also surprised everyone by presenting an early look at its new mid-engined supercar – confirming the Vanquish will soon become a McLaren 720S rival.

Lamborghini sprayed bright paint on a facelifted Huracan called the Evo, and took the roof off the Aventador SVJ. Mercedes-AMG also took the roof off the GT R. Ferrari refreshed its own mid-engined monster, now called the F8 Tributo. McLaren showed off its recent launches, the 720S Spider and 600LT, in bespoke MSO trim – and gave us a look at the Speedtail.

Geneva, see, is all about pleasing the mega-rich who will start pouring through the doors once the press has departed. Its boutique nature, carefully-capped show hall size and location in one of the richest regions in the world is ideal for those with seven-figure statements to sell. The umpteen specialists and tuners showcasing their wares is evidence of that.

On one stand, Yorkshire Tea was brewing for the first time, as Ginetta joined them to launch its new supercar, the Akula. On another, bottles of Grand Cru were being racked up, as Bugatti showed the Chiron 110 Ans and La Voiture Noire: a one-off, and the most expensive new car ever. A snip at £12 million.

There were a few disappointments. The new Renault Clio isn’t much different to the old one; given how lovely the new 208 looks, the Regie may be a little worried. Mercedes’ recent mild facelifts of the GLC and GLE were forgettable. In contrast, BMW’s facelift of the 7 Series remains staggeringly gratuitous. The massive X7 walks a similar tightrope of causing offence.

And, of course, some weren’t there at all. No Ford. No Vauxhall-Opel. No Volvo. And no Jaguar Land Rover – which has to be marked up as a fail, given how the Jaguar I-Pace both won European Car of the Year and was named a World Car of the Year finalist at the show. Land Rover has the lovely new Evoque to show, Jaguar has the revised XE range to showcase: if little old Morgan can be there with its all-new Plus Six, why not JLR?

Although there are omissions at Geneva this year, most makers say it’s an event they’ll never miss. Auto shows may be under threat, but some are safer than others. Geneva is one of those, because of its size, its location and its long reputation as being a barometer of the industry.

This year, the car industry is getting serious. Yes, all the supercars and hypercars are serious stuff, because that’s one of the few areas of the business that’s still growing. The rich, after all, keep on getting richer.

But the normalisation of electric and electrified technology is the bigger story. No more wasting time trying to convince us self-driving cars will be here soon. They won’t: zero-emissions motors are a far more pressing concern. And they were out in force at Geneva this year. How long before they start staking a similarly strong claim to showroom space back home?