Paris motor show: Show report
Wandering around the Paris motor show on Thursday's bustling press day it was hard to believe that the world is still only slowly emerging from one of the darkest economic periods of modern times.
There was new metal everywhere, and most importantly it was surrounded by palpable sense of optimism that the industry's immediate outlook is remarkably healthy.
Nowhere was this infectious new demeanour on display with greater vigour than Lotus's star-studded stand. Paris had saved its main attraction for very late in the afternoon, but the brand's emergence as a luxury sports car maker still attracted the biggest crowd of the day.
No matter what you thought of the cars beneath the covers, the audacity of the manufacturer's five-model unveiling was breathtaking. Lotus's new management may have paid tribute to Colin Chapman in the glossy introduction to the company's rebirth, but in truth the new vision is a world away from that man's instinctive genius.
For those who continue to relish his idea of what a performance road car should be (and there are many) the largely conventional range of hefty premium super sports models revealed in Paris may have seemed underwhelming, but the sad fact is that Lotus in its original state does not turn a profit, and it must do if it is to survive.
Whether the latest incarnation of the brand has the stomach, energy and, critically, the patience to mount a genuine challenge to Porsche, Aston Martin and Maserati remains to be seen, but the sheer ambition of Thursday's presentation was an unequivocally bold first step.
Of course the British and Malaysian firm was not the only niche manufacturer to introduce new metal as symbol of future change. One of the show's extraordinary contrasts was the juxtaposition of Lotus's new direction with the unapologetic manifesto that accompanied the launch of Lamborghini's Sesto Elemento.
Aesthetically, the concept is no masterpiece – the evolution of the Gallardo shape appeared a little too overwrought to register as elegant – but the revolutionary material used to form the car certainly resonated with the peculiar brand of functional beauty that is common to all state-of-the-art objects.
Lamborghini claimed many technological firsts with its dramatic carbon fibre monocoque, and even if McLaren are likely to challenge them on the engineering front, the Sesto Elemento had the cutting edge feel that companies like Lotus can only dream of. If the spirit of Colin Chapman was to be found anywhere at Paris, it seemed incredible that it was most likely sheltering under the shadow of Volkswagen's raging bull.
Beyond the revelatory unveilings at Lotus and Lamborghini, the two other cars to make a huge visual impact at the show were Jaguar's C-X75 and the Audi quattro concept.
Both were vying for star of the show before the unprecedented extravaganza began at Lotus, albeit from slightly different angles of attack.
The C-X75 is an achingly beautiful car from the old school of concept design. Everything about the supercar is a flamboyant testimony to automotive elegance, and it even has a futuristic turbine powertrain to go with its stunning looks.
The Quattro concept is a tribute to the past in the best traditions of a celebratory model. The car's butch design has all the presence of the original, and even motionless it looked quick. Audi is already considering the viability of a limited production run, and if the Quattro generates as much interest amongst the public crowds as it did among the press, don't be surprised to see an eventual production version in the dealerships.
Elsewhere, predictably, it was electricity that dominated. France's three super-sized manufacturers used their home turf advantage to introduce their latest zero-emission mobility solutions. Once upon a time these vibrant small cars would have been purely conceptual, but the push towards the car's electrification has gathered so much pace that models like the Citroen Lacoste and Renault Twizy are being edged towards production.
The French were by no means alone, either. A stroll round almost every mainstream manufacturer's stand revealed some kind of electric powertrain concept, from the Skoda Octavia Green E Line to the Kia Pop to Seat's exceptionally good looking IBE.
Nevertheless, there was plenty left to confirm that the internal combustion engine isn't going away just yet. Paris played host to a number of high-profile production car debuts, including the much-anticipated Ford Focus ST – a hot hatch destined to become a global sales force in the manufacturer's ambitious plans for the next-gen bestseller.
Had this been the Frankfurt show, the thinly-veiled BMW 6 Series concept would have been one of the major stars. In one fell design swoop the German giant has turned its ugly duckling into a rather svelte swan.
But the real show-stopper in terms of something we can't wait to try was Range Rover's fantastic new Evoque. Land Rover expects the car to kickstart a market segment when it goes on sale next year, and we wouldn't be surprised if that turns out to be true. The production model looks just as good in the flesh as it does in the show pictures. Expect to see it in well-heeled town centres by the summer.
There's even more of course – the new Volkswagen Passat, Renault Zoe, Peugeot 508 and Vauxhall Astra GTC are all worthy of closer inspection – but there will be plenty of time for reflection as the motor show now opens its doors to visitors for the next two weeks.
If you get a chance to jump on the Eurostar before October 17 we thoroughly recommend a trip to the Paris Expo – you will not be disappointed.