x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Dubai Motor Show claims its spot on global car calendar

With one world-first reveal and plenty of new cars, the largest Dubai Motor Show yet proves the world's major players are recognising the UAE as a crucial market.

Gemballa was just one of the supercar participants at the Dubai International Motor Show last week, but there were also plenty of mainstream manufacturers showing their latest offerings to the UAE for the first time. Jaime Puebla / The National
Gemballa was just one of the supercar participants at the Dubai International Motor Show last week, but there were also plenty of mainstream manufacturers showing their latest offerings to the UAE for the first time. Jaime Puebla / The National

I've been to many motor shows in my time, but never in the UAE. So I approached this year's show at the International Convention Centre in Dubai last weekend, hoping it'll be more low key than Geneva yet much more alive than the last UK show in 2008, which was so poorly supported by manufacturers and public that it was ditched indefinitely.

The Middle East is a very important market for almost every motor manufacturer, however, so their support is almost guaranteed. And the market is still young enough for pessimism and jaded apathy not to have set in with the buying public. There was a proper buzz about this show and it was quite contagious. In fact, it was the largest Dubai motor show in its history, with more than 150 exhibitors covering more than 60,000 square metres of hall space.

Entering the first of two large exhibition halls (SS1), what greeted visitors was a glamorous, brightly lit arena of car heaven. There are shiny cars and extravagant displays wherever you look, and one of the biggest displays - and perhaps the biggest story - was at the Chevrolet area. For the first time ever, the Dubai show hosted a major international unveiling, this being for the Chevy Trailblazer seven-seat SUV. The body-on-frame, mid-sized truck actually looks almost svelte, a tribute to the Sao Paolo, Brazil-based designers who were also at the event. It was developed alongside the Colorado pickup truck, which made its debut at the Bangkok International Motor Show in March. The Trailblazer will be built first in Thailand and then also in Brazil and should appear in the UAE late next year. John Stadwick, the head of GM Middle East, was excited to soon have it in his lineup.

"I think the global reveal here just shows the commitment GM has for the Middle East. It has been our best-selling vehicle prior to 2008, more than 15,000 units a year. It's been five years in the making with a $2 billion (Dh7.3bn) investment, and our biggest concern is are we going to be able to produce enough."

Of course, a motor show wouldn't be a motor show without the glamour vehicles. On the Jaguar-Land Rover stand there was the quite extraordinary C-X75 hybrid supercar and the funky-looking DC-100 Land Rover concept - the C-X75 is scheduled for production and the DC-100 is a good bet to make it, too. That's apart from a brace of Evoques and Jaguar's new Sport and Speed variants of the luxurious XJ, XKR-S and XFR.

Aston Martin has been pretty quiet here of late due to changing its dealership structure but that's set to change with the opening next year of a new showroom in Dubai, a stone's throw from the newly opened McLaren facility in the shadow of the Burj Khalifa.

Aston had the V12 Zagato sharing space with the Vantage S, a Virage Volante, a Rapide, a DBS and a couple of tiny Cygnets “just to test the waters”. Personally, I hope they eventually sell the diminutive runabout here – it’s cute and as well appointed as a Chanel handbag.

McLaren, as mentioned, is new to Dubai and this was the first time many have been able to cast an eye over its MP4-12C supercar. The company also revealed its special operations bespoke programme, which can go far, far beyond a simple paint job.

“McLaren special operations is, on one side, all about different colours and trim,” said Marcus Korbach, the manager of sales and customer relations for McLaren. “But there is another side that we’re building up as well, which is design your own car. So with the wonderful rolling chassis of the 12C, our customers can come up with their own design theme; we look at art, we look at images, whatever he can bring. Then our design studio comes up with drawings for your one-off car.

“It’s like coachwork; the skin on this car isn’t structural, that is taken care of with the carbon tub and aluminium framework. We already have two projects nearly finalised.”

Depending on how fancy you get, expect the price of your one-off McLaren to get up between £3 million (Dh17.5m) and £5m. Ouch.

Over on the Ferrari stand there was a stunning, white FF, as well as the new 458 Spider, which blew our socks off last month on the international launch. But the a real shock was next door at Maserati. The gorgeous GranCabrio Fendi special edition (basically it has some leather trim with lots of Fs embossed on it) on display had attendees dribbling but it was sharing stand space with a car that divides opinion like no other Maserati: the Kubang. A Trident-wearing SUV, the Kubang is, in fairness, less unattractive in the metal than photos suggest – not that it’s pretty, you understand.

Based on the underpinnings of the much lauded Jeep Grand Cherokee, it will be assembled alongside said Jeep in Detroit (Maserati parent company, Fiat, now controls Chrysler) and it’s the Italian marque’s attempt at replicating the staggering success of Porsche’s equally controversial Cayenne. A smart move by Maserati or a dire mistake, only time will tell. But we’re expecting it to be a big seller over here.

Speaking of Porsche and the 911, there was a new one on the stand. Yes, it looks almost exactly the same as the one before it but that’s probably a good thing. It’s actually an all-new car with an extended wheelbase to overcome the handling problems inherent with having a heavy engine slung out over the rear axle. The rear lamp treatment is particularly neat and the interior is more in line with the Panamera’s, which gives the venerable 911 a much-needed shot in the arm when it comes to cabin ergonomics.

Bentley is making a bit of noise about the Continental GTC, and this was its official Middle East unveiling. It’s a handsome machine and exquisitely engineered but I was expecting the flagship Mulsanne – an excellent drivers’ car – to have had a more prominent position on the crowded stand. Over at Rolls-Royce, however, the Phantom Drophead Coupé was causing jaws to hit the floor. With a jewel-encrusted Spirit of Ecstasy up front, ahead of a polished aluminium bonnet, the stark blue and white interior, inlayed with mother of pearl trim, had to be seen to be believed. At $250,000 (Dh918,300) over the list price of a “normal” model, this is as extravagant as a factory car gets.

Extravagance is something Lamborghini does better than most and the show marked the first official glimpse here of the genre-defining Aventador. And there was the Shelby Supercars sleek-yet-hard-to-pronounce Tuatara nearby, at least in concept form. But any international motor show is about more than luxury barges and shouty sports cars. The presence of so many “ordinary” manufacturers here goes to show just how diverse the market is.

Most of the usual suspects were here, representing Europe, the Far East and the Americas, and Honda was showing off its humanoid robot Asimo in case you were suffering from automotive overload. Very impressive he was, too – proof that Honda, even if its cars are rather staid at times, is busy turning the future into the present. Chrysler had a huge stand that included all its new offerings, including a Jeep Grand Cherokee in a sparkly, sandy gold. Jack Rodencal, the managing director for Chrysler Middle East, expects 2011 to be Chrysler’s best ever year in the Middle East, and he attributes this success to one thing: the new and improved products.

“After 2009 [when Fiat bought controlling shares in Chrysler], our chairman Sergio Marchionne really let excellent people do what they wanted to do. And he drives at it in a hard, demanding pace, but that’s the marketplace. And to do this in a short timeframe – all these vehicles have been changed in a 24-month time – but when you let people do what they want to do, and be passionate about it, that’s what can be done.”

Peugeot’s RCZ still looked like a sexy concept car, even though it’s been in production for 18 months now, while Nissan, Kia, Hyundai and Toyota’s enormous stands were positively rammed with shiny metal, much of which – though not all – pointed to a more environmentally aware motoring future.

Unlike shows such as Geneva and Frankfurt, there wasn’t the overwhelming impression that green motoring is high on the agenda. And yet, tucked away in the back of hall SS2 was a blue Tesla Roadster. Dubai’s newly formed Green Car Rental only found out there was some available stand space a couple of days before the show. General manager Mazen Al Toukhi was on excitable form, extolling the virtues of environmentally aware transportation, and he was ecstatic to report that there’s huge interest in his business, especially from the big corporations here.

Coming back to the main concourse was the Brabus stand. Surrounded by the likes of Gemballa, TechArt, Mansory and loads of others that take perfectly good cars and obliterate them with gaudy “personalisation”, Brabus is all about discreet yet stunning performance and Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum paid the guys a visit after officially opening the show to personally welcome them to the UAE. The lovely Brabus 800 Coupé is the most powerful and fastest of its kind in the world, with a top speed of 350kph, and it was here on the stand. Green it certainly is not but it does at least show that there was something for everyone at the Dubai motor show.