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09/28/02 WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM PARIS

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Tue, Nov 5, 2002

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM PARIS

By ROY NAKANO

LA CAR Managing Editor Bill Wright and I had the good fortune of attending Le Mondial de l'Automobile, in Paris, France. Known to the English-speaking automotive press as the Paris Auto Show, it is claimed to be the oldest such show in the world.

The French take this car show seriously. Citroen treated the American journalists with the French-sounding publication (La Car) to a luncheon complete with no less than five glasses for five different drinks. Not to be outdone, Volkswagen asserted its new image as a high-end player with a Phaeton-like meal to the press that included truffles and foie gras. Newspapers and magazines at every street side newsstand publicized the event.

John-Fredrik and Bill Wright at the Citroen luncheon

The number of journalists accredited for the event alone totaled more than 10,500. With an attendance record of 1,447,753 people, the show organizers proudly proclaimed it the highest-attended auto show in the world. Even French President Jacques Chirac was there to partake in some of the action.

The most indelible automotive impressions, however, were not made at the car show, but on the streets of Paris . I expected to see the streets dominated by small cars. What I didn't expect was to see a total absence of SUVs on the road. Even trucks are few and far between. In the truest sense o the term, Parisians are car people.

The Ferrari Enzo was unveiled at the Paris Auto Show

And what kind of cars? There are lots of Golf-size (and smaller) Peugeots, Renaults, and Citroens. Many single-occupant drivers were driving the tiny Smart car. A considerable number of Fiats, Alfa Romeos, and Volkswagens flock the streets. Passats are the favorite vehicle for taxicab owners. Thrifty diesels dominate the motor vehicle landscape there.

Every fifteen seconds, an American family expecting their first-born child decides they need a minivan to accommodate their new family addition (or maybe an SUV because it's "safer"). Back in the 1960s, my brother owned a Volkswagen Beetle, to which he used to transport his family of four. Paris reminded me that you don't need a big vehicle to carry a family. Just think, if freeway commuters in Los Angeles drove the size of cars that Parisians drive, it would reduce traffic congestion by one-third.

Curiously, it's not just the cars in Paris that are trim. The people of Paris are astonishingly trim as well. The few overweight people we saw turned out to be American tourists. I don't know if it's because Parisian's walk more (they have an excellent public transportation system). Maybe it's the wine and tobacco. Maybe it's simply because Parisians just don't feel the need to indulge themselves the way we do.

Another show stopper: The new Bentley Continental GT

Mark Walton of the British magazine, Car, drove a Smart vehicle across the United States to see how well the Big Country would take to the tiny car. He got a great reception. However, in addition to shaping the minds of the Americans, he found himself being physically re-shaped:

"Our breakfasts seemed to grow against our wishes, like they had a mind of their own. On our last morning, I ate enough food to feed a small island community: jams and fruit and toast, sour cream and maple syrup and waffles and eggs, and a bottomless coffee cup with some kind of sterilized, non-dairy whitener. I looked at that plateful and realized that, for all my good intentions, if I lived in the US for a fortnight I'd be obese. And I'd buy an SUV. And a pick-up. I would, and you would too. At least, until the oil ran out. And then I'd buy a Smart."

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