Tomorrow never comes
Futuristic concept cars are everywhere at the Geneva Motor Show. Shame you can't drive one. Shame you'll never be able to buy one
Sunday 09 March 2008
Another international motor show, another ludicrous Land Rover. This week it is Geneva and the LRX, a supposed "diesel hybrid" which cranks the company's now- familiar Judge Dredd concept-car aesthetic to a new pitch of childish aggression.
Ooh, isn't she butch and frowny! A cross between an Audi A3 and an Orc, the LRX is the work of someone who spends far too much of his (well, it's not a "her", is it?) time hunched in front of a games console watching his avatar torture unfeasibly buxom she-goblins.
Would you go down the pub wearing a Darth Vader helmet? Almost certainly not. So why – unless you were petrified of your own shadow – would you want to drive a car that looked like an armoured people carrier?
Thank heavens they will never make it, and if they do, I'll wager it will end up with bigger side windows, smaller wheels and the cut-down chassis from a Discovery underneath, as happened with the Range Rover Sport. Out will go the wafer-thin seats and hologram dash; in will come some bits they had left over round the back of the shed from the Freelander.
Concept cars are the shooting- gallery prizes of the automotive world – punter bait. While in reality, you're lucky if you go home with the cuddly carrot.
Just look at the new VW Scirocco, which also debuted at Geneva. We saw it first at Frankfurt as the stunning Iroc concept, but if the Iroc was XTube, the Scirocco is YouTube – cute but soft core. Meanwhile Saab has shown us the 9-X, its "bio-ethanol hybrid" vision of the future with 3D instruments and rear-vision cameras for mirrors. "Close to production-capable", they say – industry speak for "don't hold your breath".
Geneva is full of these kinds of Tarmac teasers, and the more excited I get when I see them, the more resentful I am when they are never seen again. I schlepped all the way to Japan in November to see cars that looked like Rubik's Cubes and flying armchairs but are no more likely to see the light of day than Emily Dickinson's knickers. Switzerland is closer, but it's still a long way to go to tut scornfully at Pininfarina's Sintesi, with its 700bhp generated by "little hydrogen reactors", and to spasm in exasperation at the Mégane Coupé concept's two-piece gullwing doors that would probably cost as much to engineer as the Cern reactor.
Even the cars that are purporting to be on sale are, in reality, impossible to get hold of: the Alfa 8C Spider won't be ready until 2010, and they are building only 500, which should just about cover the Agnelli family.
But what can replace the traditional motor show? How about somewhere we could go to see new cars that we can actually buy; cars with normal-sized wheels; cars that we can see out of; and that aren't designed for Nearly Headless Nick to drive? We could inspect these cars without the distraction of bikini-clad lovelies and without having to fight through the anoraks and brochure collectors. Perhaps we could drive them, and then maybe even buy them. I know! We could call them something like car showrooms.
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