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Car industry revs up green models in Geneva

swissinfo.ch

Small eco-friendly cars powered by next-generation fuels feature prominently at this year's Geneva International Motor Show, which opened on Thursday.

This content was published on March 6, 2008 - 08:16

The event, which is expected to attract more than 700,000 visitors, showcases 94 new models, 17 of which run on alternative technologies designed to be less harmful to the environment.

Over the next ten days, around 260 exhibitors from 30 countries will be displaying their shiny wares at the first big motor show of the year, the traditional location of many of the industry's most important launches.

"Among the latest trends in Geneva, visitors can discover hybrid and fuel-efficient eco-cars, those using alternative energy such as biodiesel, low-cost cars from China and India, as well as the traditional high-performance sports and luxury cars," Rolf Studer, the motor show's general manager, told swissinfo.

The bumper crop of new models, including significant new offerings from Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota and Volkswagen, comes at a time when sales are falling in the United States, stagnating in Europe and growth is slowing elsewhere.

And with fuel-efficiency a growing consumer concern, the big manufacturers are almost falling over themselves to show politicians and the public they are gearing up for a leaner, greener future.

"We can clearly say that talks over carbon dioxide emissions have been fruitful," said Studer. "All the major constructors have invested a huge amount of money in the development of eco-cars."

Buzzwords

As manufacturers pursue different strategies for fuel efficiency, the range of new technologies and their buzzwords – plug-in, hybrid, BlueTec, Blue Motion, dual mode, etc. - can at times seem bewildering.

Among the eco-stars in Geneva is Toyota, which is unveiling its lightweight four-seater hybrid concept car with plug-in engine. The Norwegian firm Think Global is launching its zero-emission electrical car and Saab is presenting a compact, ethanol-powered crossover named 9-4X, to name but a few.

In Switzerland demand for green cars continues to rise. According to e'mobile, the Swiss Association for Electric and Efficient Vehicles, there are now around 7,800 hybrid and 5,800 natural gas-powered vehicles, up by 3,200 (+50%) and 2,500, respectively, compared with last year.

Susanne Wegmann, e'mobile's director, is convinced the industry is on the threshold of major new changes and that electrical cars and battery technology will lead the way.

"The industry has been testing new battery technology and is really ready to enter the market on a large scale, which will drive new car concepts," she told swissinfo.

Greenwash?

But despite the rhetoric and new technologies, environmentalists like Cyrill Studer from Greenpeace Switzerland cast doubt on the auto industry's claim that it is moving towards a greener agenda.

"Marketing is one thing; the reality is another," he said.

According to Studer, the industry is "fighting hard" to resist a European Union proposal requiring carmakers to cut average carbon dioxide emissions by 25 per cent by 2012 from current levels of 160 grams per kilometre.

"If they really cared about the environment and climate change, they wouldn't try to stop the EU proposal," he said, adding that reducing the weight of cars would also have a significant impact on CO2 emissions.

According to the European Environment Agency, 30 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions are caused by transport and this figure is due to rise to 50 per cent by 2050.

In response, Greenpeace is demanding ever more efficient, lighter cars that meet stricter emission targets of 120 grams of CO2 per kilometre by 2012 and 80 grams per kilometre by 2020.

"The politicians have to make this framework and the industry has to follow," he added.

swissinfo, Simon Bradley in Geneva

In brief

Alternative powered vehicles, sports cars and prototypes are some of the key attractions at this year's Geneva International Motor Show.

Swiss President Pascal Couchepin opened the event, running from March 6 to 16.

Some 94 world and European premieres are announced, with 17 dedicated to new technologies.

The International Advanced Mobility Forum, dedicated to future environmental technologies and a scientific conference, will be held from March 11 to 13.

The organisers claim that the Geneva motor show generates SFr200 million ($192.9 million) in direct and indirect income.

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