Despite the crisis, automakers have not given up on selling dreams at the Geneva Motor Show, which opened this week with an array of eye-catching cars that are always shinier, faster, and ever more expensive.
“Geneva has always been a bit special, somewhere between the provincial and the chic,” said Carlos da Silva, analyst at Global Insight.
Garish colors help to highlight the array of concept, sports and luxury vehicles, which are still one of the principal attractions for the 700,000 visitors expected during the show until March 15.
As the doors opened to the public, overcrowded trains were spilling visitors from around Europe into Geneva while roads to the
exhibition hall were jammed.
Sports cars with prices above 100,000 euros (125,000 dollars), such as the new Lamborghini Murcielago LP 670-4 Super Veloce, inevitably capture minds in search of escape from economic gloom.
Crowds already pressed around the low slung, yellow sports car during the press preview, trying to imagine the effect of being slung by 670 horsepower to 100 kilometres per hour (62 mph) in 3.2 seconds.
The Murcielago is “more extreme and more exclusive than any other car,” Lamborghini’s chief executive, Stephan Winkelmann, claimed.
Not to be outdone, Aston Martin unveiled the One-77 sports car with a price tag of 1.0 million pounds (1.2 million euros, 1.4 million dollars).
Only 77 will be built and the company claims to have received queries from about 250 potential customers.
Aston Martin also revived the luxury Lagonda name with a brash four wheel drive vehicle on show in Geneva, to try to appeal to new markets in the Middle East, India and China.
“The Lagonda is the luxury car of the future,” said Aston Martin Chief Executive Ulrich Bez. It might not be available for another five years.
Meanwhile, young men with feather dusters toured the stands to ensure the cars never lose their shine and wipe off finger marks, while “hostesses” handed out brochures or simply posed by the cars.
“They make us dream,” said Marcello, a young Swiss visitor whose gaze was fixed intently on the vehicles.
Amid the dominant theme of fuel economy and environmentalism, the carmakers freely admit that they are trying to stir emotions as well.
“Cars are very important part of the human psyche, because they are symbols of pleasure and prestige,” explained Simon Rochefort, the sales manager of US newcomer Tesla.
The Californian company was presenting its electric-powered convertible sports car in Europe for the first time, trying to combine the zero emissions of an electric motor with the thrill of a Lamborghini or Porsche — and a 99,000 euro (124,000 dollar) price tag.
During a crisis “it’s even more important to dream,” said Frank Rinderknecht, owner of specialised Swiss firm Rinspeed, which presents a new and generally more outrageous concept car every year.
But this year Rinderknecht also sought to capture the mood of the moment by showcasing an array of environmental technology.
Even the elite end of the market is tentatively reaching out to the “ecologically correct”.
Bentley is trying out biofuels, which pollute less but are controversial because of their impact on crops, food prices and the amount of energy it takes to produce them.
Bentley’s chief executive, Franz-Josef Paefgen, admitted that the dreams might have reached their limits.
“It is a crisis that affects luxury cars as much as it affects other sectors,” he remarked