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Perfume Dispenser

photo, citroen airlounge

Concept car – Citrœn's Airlounge.

Paris Auto Salon

Paris:– Saturday, 25. September:– One of the perks of being the président of the République is getting to see the biannual International Auto Salon a day early, while the cars are still shiny. Also, the président has the car company bosses showing him their latest creations, while telling him their cars are 'people–friendly' to pedestrians they bowl over.

With an ordinary resident's card, I decided to go a see what's new on the first day while everybody was home having lunch. This worked like a charm on the Métro ride down to the Porte de Versailles, and there was no line of any importance to get in to the Paris Expo grounds.

Since the sun was shining on me, I walked outside to the far end of Hall 1, intending to start there and workphoto, ford focus cabrio my way east through the other halls – 11 in all. As at past salons, this is the hall with the big European manufacturers, and Renault's partner, Nissan. Oops, and there's Ford's partner, Mazda.

Ford's little Focus convertible.

And this far end of Hall 1 has Fiat, which in turn has Ferrari, and for some reason I can't fathom, all the people I thought would be having lunch are here instead, standing six–deep trying to see an insanely red Ferrari F430, which is an upgraded 360 Modena, with only two seats and a sticker price of 135,000€.

Since I can't see it, I can't see the 612 Scaglietti F1 either. It has four seats, a V12 mill, 540 hp, stops on a dime, and costs 226,000€. Not far away the crowd is treating an Alfa Romeo by Giugiaro like trash, so I get to see it too close for a good photo. It is just as silver as the Ferrari is red as far as I can tell.

This is all right by Ford's stand, which has Land Rover, Jaguar, Aston Martin, Mazda and Volvo as neighbors. People generally pay about as much attention to Ford as they do to small Opels, but Ford has done a quietly good job with a little Focus convertible.

This year's salon is featuring 60 world premieres. Maybe a dozen of these are a new type of car – a sort of van no bigger than a small European car. Renault calls theirs a Modus and across the way at Peugeot it is the 1007 model, as well as a remodeled Mercedes series 'A.'

Even BMW has a new entry vaguely in this area, with its new '1' series. Fiat has one and its sister Lancia has one calledphoto, lancia thesis Musa, and Alfa's is sporty, with a number upgrade from 146 to 147. All the Japanese, Korean, British, and other Europeans have a model in this category. The French are calling them 'minispace' to differentiate them from the larger 'monospaces.'

Lancia's somewhat larger Thesis.

Whatever the space, I say they are vans, or tiny station wagons. If I remember correctly, Renault was the first to have one with their post–war five–door 'R4' model. Since none of these are very sporty, I look for Maserati.

This year this maker is having a hard time because there are more 'concepts' around than usual. Peugeot has a deadly–looking two–seater named 907, with a V12 and 500 hp, while Renault has a perfectly reasonable–looking coupe named Fluence, which has a good chance of turning into a two–door Laguna and causing Peugeot's 407 coupé some problems.

In the ordinary car department Citrœn strikes again, with its new C4 destined to replace its nondescript but bizarrely–named Xsara. This is Citrœn being Citrœn, looking unmistakable and anything but boring, especially compared to the car it replaces.

The C4 comes as a 4–door, or as a coupé, which looks a bit strange in the rear. Of course the car may not stand out on the street where so many cars look somewhat strange, but Citrœn has loaded it up with their gadgets and tricks – such as a perfume dispenser.

This will be, if I can believe newspaper and TV–news reports which say that ladies chose a third of all cars purchased, a welcome feature indeed. But the ladies are also complaining about the small spaces left for luggage in most of the 'minispaces,' as well as no leg room in BMW's '1' series.

The main lack for lady drivers is the absence of dedicated storage for their hand–bags, they say. This applies to all sizes of cars, to vans, trucks, monospaces and SUVs. Oh yes – a huge truck–like thing on big wheels and there's no place to put a hand–bag!

Well, maybe we have to look at Citrœn again. Off from the razzle–dazzle of the new C4 there is sedan called a C–Airlounge. It looks like an egg with four doors and a big back seat, sort of like a stretched egg. I'm sure there's hand–bag space in there.

Because Renault's Modus doesn't look anything like a Twingo I can look at it for a short time and forgetphoto, citroen c4 coupe it easily. It will be a big seller and when there's a lot of them around it'll still be easy to forget. Peugeot's competing two–door 1007 looks more 'designed.' It also has the neat feature of doors that slide rearward rather than opening out. Slinging a big hand–bag into the rear seat will be no problem.

The new Citrœn C4 in its coupé version.

About here my stamina is wearing down. One of these big auto shows is a bit like an organized techno parade, with sound and lights blasting all over from every direction. On top of it, every third visitor has a digital camera and their flashlights are going off incessantly.

And those people who were supposed to be having lunch, are becoming more. Mobs and mobs of them. I decide to seek the little cars, the cars that are really small – like golfcarts with roofs. In the Hall 1 the first is already before me on Peugeot's stand.

I can't tell if the Quark is a four–wheeled motorcycle or a jetski with wheels. Maybe it's for people who can't balance a motorcycle, or people who feel like jetskiing on pavement.

One last look around finds a Jeep much bulkier than I've ever seen before. Why not? Everybody else is doingphoto, jeep them so why not Jeep? At least it looks like a Jeep. It's the kind of thing that looks more like a SUV than SUVs do.

The new, bigger Jeep that looks like a big Jeep.

Not far away on another Chrysler stand there is a tidy little sporty coupe called a Crossfire. It also exists as a convertible. Hmm, the note says it's based on a Mercedes SLK, it has 218 hp and costs about 40,000€. It's practically a bargain compared to Lamborghini Murciel A60 for 221,858€.

At the top of the stairs I look back at hectares of people and gaudy stands and shiny metal mixed with hellish noise, and think, no, it's not worth a photo. It looks like the inside of a mall without walls.

The little car department is in a bit of building, a passage really, joining two bigger halls. Between the stands of insurance companies and the ghetto where Honda, Mitsubishi and Hyundai lurk. Well, er, there's MG–Rover, Lada and Venturi in here too.

But the little guys, these are Piaggio, Lombardini, Aixam and Secma – and these all have sub–cars or the scooter types of transport. Piaggio is scooter, or Vespa. Two here – the 'Scooty' by Aixam and Secma's 'Fun'Tech' Scootcar. I know, I know – it's bad enough jumping off sidewalks because of two–wheeled scooters.

I get outside and notice the sun is shining. Hall 4 is ahead of me, Hall 7 is to the right – it's three floorsphoto, peugeot 1007 in there, all huge – and Hall 8 is somewhere behind. By skipping Hall 4, I miss what is mainly Volkswagen and Toyota land, and I miss Bugatti, Bentley and Lamborghini, but mainly I miss Audi.

Peugeot introduces a new car with a new model name, '1007.'

The Germans are always whining about Volkswagen's Golf. It's the 'motor' of German industry. It has its good years and bad, its good seasons or models, but mostly it's like the Renault of Germany. People will buy a lot of them no matter what it looks like.

Audi, though, is a different matter. It used to be a car favored by school teachers, and then it changed by going racing. I don't know if they are used for racing any more. I suspect Audi's currently claim to fame is ugliness. It's got a grille on it that looks like the junkyard dog is lurking behind it. I see that the Rover 75 has a similar face, so it must be catching.

It is a long way to get around Hall 4 and I pass Peugeot's little race track on the way to Hall 8. Young drivers are trying timed runs between pylons, without making much smoke or noise. Hall 8 has a balcony in the sun for watching the kids drive too carefully.

After seeing some of the funnies elsewhere, Hall 8 is refreshing because it is big and it hasn't got much in it. Ten stands are backed by billboard–sized repros from comic books, and the real cars featured in the drawings are sitting on the carpet before them.

There is lots of room, except in front of the Ferrari. The video camera guy isn't in the way but his producer's elbow is. It leaves me with half a Ferrari, a whole Cadillac and an underexposed Shelby Cobra. It wasn't light enough to tell if it wasn't black.

In one corner there is a shop area with the comic albums for sale. Some have been made into movies so there are videos too.

Having the comic cars and their comics is a touch of lightness for the Auto Salon, which is a giant industrial showcase of consumer goods.

The Minister of Transport, Gilles de Robien, lauds the French for changing their driving habits enough to lower thephoto, comic cadillac mortality rate from 8000 killed in a year to about 5000 deaths in 2004, and adds that safer cars help in this effort. He says the cars of tomorrow with be safer, cleaner and more comfortable, and that the state will work harder to make roads better.

In the comics' Hall 8 – a star Cadillac.

The Auto Salon is not a forum for saying that the state will be installing more robot radar speed detectors and hiring lots more gendarmes, or that the city is forever experimenting with ever more efficient parking metres, and sending out more mobile controllers.

All in all, the private car is a wonderful invention. It enables the world to go around, and users pay for everything through the nose, except sidewalks.

This year's 'Mondial de l'Automobile' continues showing off its shiny new paint until Sunday, 10. October. Entry is 10€. At Paris–Expo, Porte de Versailles, Paris 15. Métro: Porte de Versailles. InfoTel.: 08 92 70 36 04.

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