French Firms at the Paris Show: Styling

Motor shows are the places where the local manufacturers can strut their stuff knowing full well that it is their chance to grab the headlines. At this year’s Paris International Motor Show, though, foreigners stole the show, specifically Bentley with the Continental GT and Ferrari with the Enzo.

Motor shows are the places where the local manufacturers can strut their stuff knowing full well that it is their chance to grab the headlines. At this year’s Paris International Motor Show, though, foreigners stole the show, specifically Bentley with the Continental GT and Ferrari with the Enzo. Of course, there were a number of interesting new models on show from Citroen, Peugeot and Renault. It was just that they were somewhat in the shade. Where the French manufacturers did score, though, were in the number of new concept cars they presented that outshone those from all other manufacturers.

There was, for example, a great deal to be found on the Citroen stand. The sleek two-door coupe C-Airdream concept car was of interest for borrowing some ideas from the computer games industry where control is all fingers and thumbs. With the steering wheel being the focus of control, the driver can accelerate by pushing paddles with his thumbs and brake by pulling back with his fingers. The steering wheel is also very sensitive to steering inputs, again something else that would be familiar to computer game addicts, with minimal input needed to turn the wheel.

Another Citroen of huge interest was the C3 Pluriel. By rights this should have been a concept car except that it has now gone into production. A descendant of the concept car shown in Frankfurt in 1999, it was a so-called “multi-personality” car whose bodywork can be configured in five different ways. Taking only a minimum of effort to change guises, it can be transformed from a three-door hatchback to a small sedan with an open roof, a cabriolet, a sporty spider or even a pickup. “Pluriel is a new version of an old idea,” said Citroen managing director Claude Satinet at the launch. “We want to get back to our roots and believe we are setting a new course with this car. Our hope is that its blend of fun and usefulness will appeal to the young as well as family motorists.” Citroen has invested nearly $100-million in developing the model and plans to build 75,000 cars a year at its factory near Madrid in Spain.

Peugeot used the Paris show to let visitors have a big say in deciding whether to go-ahead with an interesting new concept model to replace its long-running favorite small car. The baby three and five-door supermini 106 launched back in 1991 has been a huge success with more than 2.6 million sales. Even though its newer stable mate, the slightly larger 206, has become Europe’s best seller, the ageing 106 continues to remain so popular that its production run has recently been expanded for another 12 months.

Now the French manufacturer is hoping the public will help it decide if the role of the 106 should be taken over by the Sésame, a monospace model with “tall” styling, a surprisingly large interior seating four adults and considerably greater versatility in bodywork of similar length. Because it has two big electric sliding doors, which are both almost a third of the length of the whole vehicle, it makes getting in and out particularly easy. It is approximately 3.7 m in length, has a wheelbase of 2.31 m, a width of 1.67 m, and is 1.63 m high. It has been designed to take a 1.6-liter engine, producing 110 bhp.

According to Peugeot advanced concept chief Christophe Reddat, “We have made the Sésame to be a miniature multi-purpose vehicle rather than just a city car. There’s no doubt it’s far more useful than the 106.” Company chief executive Frederic Saint Geours said: “We will be paying close attention to how the public responds to this vehicle. We can easily put it into production, but we want to know how people feel about it before we decide to add it to our range.”

One car that is still a very long way from series production that Peugeot showed was the H2O, a fuel cell concept car. In the style of a fire chief’s truck, it is able to operate in an oxygen-free atmosphere due to onboard oxygen tanks, reforming the oxygen from sodium borohydride (NaBH4), a by-product of borax production, mixed with water. The fuel cell is the same one as supplied by H Power to a taxicab project concept shown by Peugeot last year, while the fuel/reformer supplier is U.S. company Millennium Cell.

While Renault was proudly displaying the new Megane II and Espace on its stand, it was the Ellypse minivan concept that caught the eye. A cocktail of new materials and innovative technology, it was promoted by the French manufacturer as being an example of its green spirit and so-called Touch Design, first seen on the Talisman concept and created to address human-machine interface issues.

There are two central displays to be found on the streamlined instrument panel–one for the driver and the other for the passengers that can easily be folded away–and a multifunction central control built into the base that can also be concealed. This one allows the easy operation of most of the onboard features including air conditioning, radio, GPS navigation with real-time traffic information, personal address book, maintenance manual, log book, and personalized servicing data. Another feature of the interior are the slim seats that maximize space inside the cabin. Comfort comes from soft and springy padded upholstery that stands up to intensive use and feels pleasant to the touch and memory foam that adapts to the passengers’ body shapes. The seats also can be fully inclined to be virtually horizontal but with a curved shape that better moulds to the body contours. An ergonomic pillow supports the head in this recumbent position for complete comfort.

While the inside has been the focus of attention, the Ellypse’s exterior has not been overlooked. The left side of the vehicle has traditional doors, but the right side has an innovative two-way opening system. Despite the absence of a central pillar, the rear door opens either as a classic swing door to give direct access to the rear seats, or from front to back thereby completely freeing access to the cabin.

The Ellypse has been designed with a view to be as environmentally responsible as possible with the majority of materials used being recycled, recyclable or renewable. It has also been designed so that each section can be easily disassembled at the end of its life. The side doors are made from recycled aluminum, the structure itself is a mixture of aluminum and recycled steel, and the hood, wings and rear bodywork are in polypropylene. The floor is covered in synderme, a natural and renewable material comprised mainly of leather off-cuts, and the soundproofing materials are lightweight and efficient, made mainly from vegetable fibers–mostly cotton from recycled clothing–and polyester fibers from pre-sorted plastic bottles and packaging.

While the French manufacturers may have been a little disgruntled at having the spotlight taken away from them at their own show, their concept cars showed that they are still being innovative in their design and thinking. Once they are production ready, then they may be able to extract their revenge.