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Geneva motor show flies green flag

Rinspeed's eXasis has eye-catching bodywork and runs on bioethanol Keystone

Fuel efficiency and the need for more eco-friendly cars are key themes at this year's Geneva International Motor Show, which opened on Thursday.

This content was published on March 8, 2007 - 08:03

The event, which is expected to attract more than 700,000 visitors, features over 80 world and European vehicle premieres, including models from Russia and for the first time China.

This year's motor show, which runs until March 18, was officially inaugurated by Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey.

Rolf Studer, the motor show's general manager, told swissinfo that the development of new technologies was a major concern for car manufacturers in the face of global warming and tougher emission limits.

Last month the European Commission unveiled plans to force vehicle manufacturers to slash greenhouse gas emissions from new cars by almost a fifth within five years.

"Hybrid cars are a big theme this year, as they were last year. We have over 40 cars with alternative energy or alternative engines," Studer said.

The big manufacturers are positively falling over themselves to show off their green credentials at this year's motor show.

Saab is presenting its BioPower 100 concept car that runs on pure bioethanol, Honda is unveiling a hybrid sports car, while Volkswagen is bringing its Passat BlueMotion. Toyota's futuristic Hybrid X concept car will give visitors an idea of the shape of things to come.

Fuel emissions

Environmentalists, however, remain unconvinced. They claim the car industry is not taking the issue of emissions and global warming seriously and is hoodwinking both the public and the media.

On Wednesday Geneva's local Green Party argued that while average fuel consumption might have fallen by a quarter from 1990-2005, the number of cars on the road had increased by 29 per cent over the same period.

Jacques Grinevald, a professor at Geneva's Graduate Institute of Development Studies and a champion of décroissance or degrowth, is also convinced that the car industry is turning a deaf ear to climate change.

"We need lighter cars that consume less fuel, accelerate more slowly and don't go as fast, which would mean less wear and tear and fewer accidents," he said. "The problem is this is of no interest to those who believe in growth."

Global warming

But Frank Rinderknecht, founder and chief executive of Swiss specialist car maker Rinspeed, denies the industry is paying lip service to global warming.

He said it had only been six or seven years since the first "green" concept cars emerged and therefore it was no surprise that it was taking time for both the industry and the public to make the switch to more fuel-efficient cars.

"Now we are seeing people starting to change. But it's not only the industry that needs to change, it's also the public," said Rinderknecht.

"People need to understand that being environmentally friendly can be positive and does not mean having to restrict your comfort or way of life. I think this is starting to happen on both sides – the industry as well as the public."

As if to hammer home the point, Rinspeed is this year presenting the eXasis, a lightweight, low-emission car that is transparent.

Climate change

The motor show's Studer says it is difficult to quantify how much climate change is influencing the car industry and flagship events like Geneva.

But the chances are that hybrid cars, which combine conventional fuel and electric motors, will end up on the shopping lists of a number of visitors.

"We know that every tenth visitor makes their decision here in Geneva which kind of car they will buy afterwards," said Studer.

"Exhibitors do not sell a lot of cars here but if we have 700,000 visitors, there are 70,000 decisions taken here at the show."

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont in Geneva

Key facts

The 77th Geneva motor show covers almost 77,000 square metres and includes over 250 exhibitors.
Around 700,000 visitors are expected – 40% come from abroad.
Over 80 world and European premieres are taking place in the vehicle sector alone.
It runs until March 18.

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