Like Lana Del Ray singing in the rain, the automakers at the 2012 Paris Motor Show tried to keep their enthusiasm even as the clouds grew dark. After 12 hours spanning nearly 40 presentations by automakers -- from dry recitations of numbers to a tri-lingual rap performance that wouldn't be welcome at midnight, let alone 7 a.m. -- the preview day reflected an industry growing more nervous: about the economy, about regulations, and finding a future for itself that will look radically different than the past. Some things worked, others seemed out of tune. Here's our picks for the best and the worst.
BEST CAR, REALITY DIVISION: The new Jaguar F-Type. In pictures, it's nice if a little too restrained. Up close, one gets a much better sense of its heft and details — from the way the tail lamps wrap halfway around the rear fender to the door handles that rest flush with the door when locked and pop out with the fob as needed, in a kind of mechanical handshake. It's been quite some time since a Jaguar evoked this much passion among the scribbling set.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A POP STAR WHO MIGHT NEED A HUG: As part of the F-Type festivities, Lana Del Ray appeared at a Jaguar gathering outside the Musee Rodin, walking over a soggy shag carpet to sing two songs. They weren't festive, but maybe that's more with the times.
WEIRDEST RE-USE OF NATURAL RESOURCES: Peugeot's Onyx concept car--constructed out of, among other things, felt, "Newspaper Wood," and glass--was the darling of all the European photographers at this year's show. Most notably, the Onyx featured doors and a front grille crafted out of the finest copper, buffed to a new-penny shine. When pressed for details, a Peugeot product guy said, condescendingly, "it is not a real car. It is just fun, yah?" Yah. And so are Legos.
WORST USE OF AN AUTO SHOW BOOTH PROFESSIONAL: Nissan's never-ending campaign for its new New York City taxi came to Paris for some reason, feature a woman topped in tulle hanging out on the side of the NV200 van, with stuffed shopping bags as props. Does Nissan expect someone to hail a cab in Manhattan and have it shipped to Paris for a shopping trip?
MOST REDUNDANT PAVILION: Definitely Pavilion 2, the "alternative energy" hub. If you wanted to be alone with your own thoughts during the Motor Show, this was definitely the place. When just about every manufacturer seemed to be devoting their time and attention to talking about CO2 emissions or featuring concept cars run on a combination of electricity, hydrogen, and powdered unicorn horns, the alternative energy area, once the hub of the most progressive ideas at any auto show, suddenly seemed like a high-school science fair. Admittedly, it was an AP Science fair for gifted students, but a fair nonetheless. Move over, alt-energy nerds. The corporations are doing your work now.
WORST EUROPEAN CAR NAME THAT DOESN'T TRANSLATE TO AMERICAN ENGLISH:
"Come on down to the tri-state area's first Dacia dealership and hock yourself a Lodgy!"
BEST NEW VEHICLE FOR REGULAR PEOPLE: While most of the attention at these kinds of shows naturally gravitates to the luxury sports cars, there were several models European-only models unveiled aimed at a middle-class clientele. Of those, the pint-sized Opel/Vauxhall Adam -- General Motors' answer to the Fiat 500 -- showed that style didn't have to come with an inflated sticker price.
WORST PRESS-CONFERENCE ENTERTAINMENT: The introduction to the BMW Active Tourer featured two guys in porkpie hats and orange suspenders doing pop-and-lock moves while a dirty-blond ponytailed hippie hopped around the entire stage on one hand. And it was a big stage, too, a few yards short of a soccer pitch. There were also girls in slinky black dresses and some other guys, wearing gray T-shirts, doing somersaults over one another. It was like the opening number for the Eurovision song contest, and, judging by the enthusiastic applause and hoots from the journalists present, most of whom were European, just about as popular, too.
STRANGEST CONCEPT CAR IDEA THAT WILL NEVER BE BUILT: The Smart Forstars concept (so named because its clear glass roof is for...stars, sigh) includes a built-in projector in the front grille that can show movies from an iPhone over a Bluetooth connection. It's the clearest sign yet of how many automakers would rather be building Apple products.
BEST CAR, CONCEPT DIVISION: There's just nothing quite as intense and over the top as the McLaren P1 at the show -- and only the Bugatti Veyron comes close in the industry as a whole.
WORST SMELL: It's tempting to nominate the area of the snack-bar in front of the tuna-fish sandwiches, but that was before we visited the press lounge, housing 200 overdressed hacks from all continents but Antarctica, with the thermostat set to "humid summer." If anyone ever crystallizes that collective B.O. and sells it to the Iranians, we're all in trouble.