[PARIS] The long-awaited arrival of the Ford Mustang in Europe and an experimental car that will put gas-guzzlers to shame - the Paris motor show kicks off this week with renewed optimism after a mammoth industry crisis.
More than a million visitors are expected to flock to the 16-day mecca for car enthusiasts from October 4 at a giant exhibition hall in the French capital where more than 70 auto manufacturers will be showcasing their latest offerings.
Jaguar, Opel, Smart, Volkswagen and others will unveil their latest models, small SUVs will be at the party, while Ford's Mustang is expected to steal the show as it goes on display ahead of its commercial launch in Europe next year.
The legendary sports-car-like coupe, which inspired the song "Mustang Sally" and was immortalised by Steve McQueen in the famous "Bullitt" chase scene, was launched 50 years ago in its first form, but has never officially been imported into Europe.
Ford plans to sell 8,000 Mustangs a year in Europe and, according to Fabrice Devanlay, spokesman for the French branch of the firm, this target got off to a good start over the summer when 500 cars were pre-ordered online in just 45 seconds.
The world auto market is forecast to grow more than four percent annually until the end of the decade, according to global consultancy PriceWaterhouseCoopers.
But while the US has staged a comeback after the crippling 2008 crisis and emerging Asian countries such as China continue to grow, people in Europe are buying 20 percent fewer vehicles than seven years ago.
Even countries once seen as the new car Eldorados - like Brazil, Thailand and Argentina - are suffering along with Russia, which has been hit by sanctions over its involvement in the Ukraine crisis.
Paradoxically, the Paris motor show - the world's biggest in terms of visitor numbers - is taking place in a country where residents are less and less passionate about cars.
"Cars are completely commonplace and remain essential for daily mobility," said Flavien Neuvy, head of Cetelem, a consumer research group.
These days "60 per cent of French people associate the car with noise and pollution".
Another issue that will hang over the show is that consumers, particularly young city dwellers, are increasingly opting for new modes of transport such as carpooling to save money at a time when France is in economic crisis.
As such, the show will see a strong focus on fuel-efficiency, appealing to buyers by making cars cheaper to run, and a reduction in CO2 emissions.
Much-hyped self-driving cars, which could revolutionise the road by drastically cutting mortality rates, are also expected to be showcased.
"Peugeot, Citroen and Renault have developed vehicles under a French government scheme to incentivise not just the development of fuel-efficient vehicles, but also make them relevant to customers," said Ian Fletcher, a London-based analyst at IHS Automotive.
"They're not just produced to only be bought by a select few. They're developed and designed with the idea of being accessible to your more typical customers, people who would buy a Peugeot 208 or a Renault Clio." As such, PSA will be showcasing an experimental fuel-efficient car powered by a combination of a traditional petrol engine and a pressurised gas system - the brand new "hybrid air".
"They're claiming 141 miles per gallon of petrol on the test cycle that the EU uses... while your typical car would get something between 40 and 60 miles per gallon," said Fletcher, adding that "whether you'd get that in practice is another thing entirely".
Renault will also put on display its very first plug-in hybrid car. - AFP