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New concepts but Paris car show losing va-va-voom

[PARIS] The Paris Motor Show opens this week with promises of groundbreaking electric concept cars from Volkswagen and Opel, but the shine appears to be wearing off what was once a must event for the industry.

Ford, Mazda, Volvo, Aston Martin, Bentley, Lamborghini and Alpine are all staying away from the October 1-16 Paris show, which alternates with Frankfurt as the industry's top annual showcase in Europe.

Many automakers now opt for social media to push their brands rather than taking an expensive stand at major shows, even though Paris attracted 1.25 million visitors last time it was held in 2014.

Volkswagen, still trying to recover from the huge scandal of cheating on emissions tests for millions of diesel cars, will be there however.

VW is to unveil a concept car it says is "as revolutionary as the Beetle was seven decades ago". The company says it will be capable of covering 480 kilometres without recharging.

Using VW's new modular electrification unit (MEB), it could be launched in 2019.

Opel will counter with the Ampera-e, which has a range of 400 kilometres and is closer to going into production.

But Ford's absence is a blow to organisers.

The US giant says it was put off by the "static" nature of the show.

Instead it is offering members of local motoring associations a chance to test-drive new models, a tactic that has been successful in the United States.

So is the Paris event less and less of a draw?

"Not for the public. But for the big players in the industry, yes," said Remi Cornubert, an automobile sector expert from AT Kearney consultants.

"I would have preferred that we had the entire galaxy of the car world," chief organiser Jean-Claude Girot told AFP. "I just hope that the orders and the benefits for the brands that are showing will make those who are not here regret it."

Luxury brands such as Lamborghini and the VW-owned Bentley say they prefer to target wealthy potential customers in a more direct manner rather than by paying for a stand in Paris.

The show comes with the European motor industry in healthier shape after suffering badly during the 2008-13 downturn.

New car registrations are up 8.1 per cent in the European Union since the start of the year.

But even that upturn, which should see sales return this year to 2007 levels, cannot mask the fact that the prolonged crisis caused the French car market to shrink by 40 per cent with the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.

AFP