By Shahzad Sheikh
Can the motor industry get its mojo back? Shahzad Sheikh reports from Switzerland.
It’s not an understatement to say that 2009 was one of the worst years on record for the global car industry.
If it wasn’t the spectre of fields of unsold stock, a dearth of financing even for those few punters still willing to buy a car, the doomsayers talking well-known and even historic marques into an untimely grave, or the decidedly low-key and really rather subdued international motorshows – normally such exuberant affairs – it was self evident the car industry was as down in the doldrums as it was possible for it to get.
For a while there it looked like 2010 was off to a bad start too, with Toyota’s undeserved recall woes spreading through the industry like some sort of automotive Swine flu. Although what most people (and that includes the non-motoring media) don’t realise is that recalls are a common, even regular, occurrence.
Frankly it’s not even news, it’s just a way of life – the car is a complex piece of mechanism, made up of multiple systems designed, developed and produced by a variety of partners and subcontractors. As part of an ongoing programme of research and development, manufacturers are constantly issuing bulletins for fixes to potential flaws. But the scaremongering sector of the Fourth Estate grasped on to the phenomenon of recalls and are brandishing it like some sort of Grim Reaper’s scythe over a beleaguered industry.
But the fight back has evidently begun. In the annual international motor show calendar, Geneva often stands out as the one with the most glamour, innovation, creativity and yes, extravagance even. Detriot is too cold, too depressing and too God-bless-America, Paris is too self-satisfied, implicit and contextual, whilst Tokyo is just Bladerunner meets Manga and Frankfurt is just too big and to much of an exercise in who has the biggest bratwurst.
The Swiss don’t really have a car industry to speak of and remain virtuously neutral without agenda. And after the damp affair of last year, this month’s edition seems to have got its mojo back.
It’s not just that there were anywhere between 85-100 debuts, not only that green baton had finally been firmly grasped by the carmakers at large and they were all running with it leaving hybrids and electric vehicles in their wake, or that the horsepower wars were continuing to wage amongst the tuners and hypercar purveyors with 800bhp seemingly a minimum entrance requirement to this exulted club, nor that the wacky concepts and personal transport solutions continued to push boundaries as they did belief, because all of this is just a result of natural product cycles and long-running development programmes. Most of what was seen this month at Geneva was probably envisaged, planned and action three to five years ago.
Actually it was all the above plus the brighter lights, the prettier girls and mostly, the confidence assurance of manufacturer top brass as they strode through the glitzy launches and beamed at the press. It’s not that everyone’s completely out of the woods just yet – as I type General Motors has already confirmed the death of Hummer unless some last minute suitor steps forward, and claimed sales blips are more a result of intense marketing programmes, government incentives and some healthy massaging of data – but the sense is that the worst is over.
Virtually nobody shied away from the show, and all were boastful about the future. The enthusiasm is back, so is the innovation and most of all the excitement. The car industry itself had somehow forgotten that cars are not white goods, they are a ton and half to two tons of pure passion – that’s the real fuel that drives them. Of course this is something we in the Middle East never forgot, so we’d just like to welcome the rest of the world back to the game. Let play commence
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