Take a stroll around Place de Cornavin street, and you'd best describe it and the surrounding areas as rather run down and tattered. It must have seen better days. But once inside the glitzy Palexpo convention centre for the 82nd Geneva motor show, thoughts of the grey dullness outside are vanquished.
Perhaps not the largest in actual size (although next year, a new 6,000 square-metre hall will be ready to accommodate more exhibitors to the show) it's certainly one that carmakers don't want to miss. Other shows have been feeling the effects of the economic crisis and some key players in the industry have been missing in action. But not at Geneva. The full complement is here. Granted, you don't get the entire range of say Mercedes-Benz or Porsche, but it's still easy to spend the whole day on one stand, such as Nissan's, taking in all the new models, facelifts and future technologies that will be in cars of the not-too-distant future.
You get the cream of the crop here and this year's show is no different. In fact, there have been more than 200 world, European and Swiss premieres. That's a number not to be scoffed at. But amongst the typical hustle and bustle, hot metal and pouty catwalk models (who love you then leave you whenever a camera is pointed in their general direction), there is a far more interesting and recurring theme taking place — that of hybrid technology and fully electric vehicles.
Like it or not, these are the future of motoring and perhaps 50 per cent of the show has been split between big, brawny gas guzzlers and small displacement, lithium-ion-battery-operated green machines.
When Bugatti was busy unveiling the world's fastest cabriolet, the Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse with its quad-turbo W16 8.0-litre motor producing an obscene 1,200bhp and 1,500Nm, there was more interest in the relatively unknown Lampo 3, an all-electric sportscar from Protoscar, hidden away in Hall 5, Stand 5141. And there was rapturous applause when the curtain fell on the Infiniti Emerg-E concept, a mid-engine, two-seater, plug-in hybrid electric coupé. That it looked absolutely gorgeous helped but under the silk-like skin was a drivetrain that we're growing more accustomed to. A three-cylinder petrol motor and two electric motors which combined, produce 400bhp and propel the sleek Infiniti from 0-100kph in just 4.0 seconds. And, unlike your typical Ferraris or Lamborghinis, this one won't just save you money at the pumps, but it's much friendlier to the environment too.
It attracted perhaps the most attention from the world's press, and, looking the way it does, rightly so. This is one concept that just has to see the light of day — hopefully without a single alteration made to that seductive body. The message is crystal clear. We have not just come to terms with the fact that the traditional combustion engine is soon to meet its demise, we're, it seems, celebrating the fact. And if the alternative looks as good as the Emerg-E or is as capable as the Hyundai i-oniq (it can go for 700km thanks to its 1.3-litre three-pot and a lithium-ion electric motor, oh and it boasts gullwing doors) then it's hardly surprising.
There are countless others on the show floors like them — drop-dead gorgeous on the outside and fitted with a heart of gold that wouldn't hurt a fly. But, for as many mild-mannered sporty hybrids and EV cars, there are just as many wild beasts that are intent on gobbling up anyone who gets close enough and spitting them out of the tail pipes. Without a doubt, the best of these is the Lamborghini Aventador J. It's the only one in the world and it won't even get a limited series run. Which is why when news began circulating that someone had already snapped it up having fallen head over heels for it, it became that bit more fascinating. With 690bhp and not even a windshield let alone a roof to protect you, the already mad Aventador has reached even madder heights here.
There are many other highlights including the star of Aston Martin's stand, the V12 Zagato and a svelte offering from Jaguar with its XF Sportbrake. Geneva has it all and this includes the controversial Bentley EXP 9F, the Honda EV-Ster (which doesn't even have a steering wheel) and over-the-top beauties that you shouldn't look directly at, by Mansory. Judging by the fits of laughter the Bentley generated, it's doubtful that we'll be seeing this particular SUV any time soon while Kourosh has been holding back a little (a lot) these days. His take on the McLaren MP4-12C is really rather good. Now, that's not a word you'd use to describe the tuner's usual, heavy-handed approach. But as the show which ends on the 18th is proving, things are most definitely changing in the automotive world.