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Euro carmakers frugal at Paris

2010-09-30 07:17

Greg Keller

European automakers are looking to a bevy of fuel-efficient, lower-emissions models going on display at the Paris Auto Show this week to weather a depressed market and tough new EU pollution standards.

It's been a miserable two years since the last Paris show in 2008 with the industry going through the worst economic slowdown since the Great Depression. While the worst of the global recession is past, automakers are aware that their market has changed.

Buyes remain cautious, environmental rules are more stringent - and the auto industry is hoping that hybrids and electrics will be a big part of the way forward.

The spotlight will focus on on hometown favorites Renault and PSA Peugeot Citroen, both of which will unveil road-ready hybrid and battery cars or light trucks to the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected to attend the show between October 2 and October 17.

Among the most anticipated unveilings will be Peugeot's 3008 HYbrid 4, the world's first full diesel hybrid vehicle, and Renault's Fluence Z.E. (for "zero emissions"), an all-electric mid-size sedan.

European automakers, especially, are under fierce pressure to sell smaller and less-polluting cars and light trucks to meet tightening European regulations on carbon dioxide emissions.

Pre-show events

Ford CEO Alan Mulally kicked off the unveilings early at a glitzy pre-show event across the street from France's Presidential Palace. He unveiled the new Ford Focus ST, one of three new Focuses the American manufacturer has developed for worldwide sale. The company hopes to build at least 10 vehicles off the undercarriage.

Ford expects to make two million Focus-based vehicles a year worldwide by 2012.

Ford's chief engineer for North America, Jim Hughes, told The Associated Press: "Ford's "EcoBoost" line of direct-injection turbo engines means the new Focus can achieve 20-25 percent better fuel efficiency than previous versions."

"The Future, Now" is the slogan organisers have chosen for this year's edition of the show, which has two days of media previews starting Thursday before opening to the public on Saturday.

The show - which dates back to 1898, making it the world's oldest - will feature about 100 world and European premieres, organisers promised.

Automakers have been flaunting technologies intended to cut or eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from their vehicles at every major car show since the last Paris gathering. This time more and more will be models headed for showrooms, not merely concept or idea cars.

"Maybe access to market-ready electric vehicles is going to be the big news in Paris," said Carlos Da Silva, a senior market analyst at industry forecaster IHS Global Insight in Paris. "It will be a very 'green' show," Da Silva said in an interview.

Other ready-to-roll green machines on display include Peugeot's iOn, Mitsubishi's i-MiEV and the Nissan Leaf.

Looking ahead

Besides the 3008, PSA Peugeot-Citroen plans to launch the Citroen DS5 Hybrid as part of its goal to have a million cars in its fleet below 120g CO2/km by 2012. That's in line with similar targets set by other car makers as they seek to meet an EU deadline for reducing their carbon emissions, Da Silva said.

Global car production fell 17 percent over 2008 and 2009, dropping to 57-million vehicles last year. Scrapping schemes introduced after the crisis helped support European automakers and their suppliers but, now that they're being withdrawn, growth is stalling in the region.

Car sales in Europe will drop to 17.7-million this year from 18.2-million in 2009, according to JD Power Automotive Forecasting, which expects sales to stagnate around that level in 2011 as well.

Production will rebound to its pre-crisis level of 69-million vehicles this year, Autofacts predicts, but nearly all that growth will come from China and North America.

Gerard Morin, head of PwC's automobile consultancy in France, said that by the time the next Paris show comes around in 2012, more than half of the world's car production will be in emerging markets such as China, Brazil and India.

By 2020, PSA Peugeot Citroen CEO Philippe Varin thinks, hybrids will have as much as 15 percent of the market.

That's more optimistic than the forecasters at PricewaterhouseCooper's Autofacts consultancy. They see electric cars capturing a mere one percent of the global car market by 2016. Hybrids may reach four percent share by then, Autofacts predicts, leaving 95%of the market to the good old internal combustion engine.

By 2020, electric vehicle production is likely to hit only 1.5-million units, according to Autofacts, as the infrastructure to recharge the cars' batteries, as well as the batteries' expense and limits to their autonomy hold back wider acceptance.

Hybrid technologies range from full hybrids (which alternate between petrol and electric engines to improved fuel economy) to so-called partial hybrids which have features such as start-stop technology that automatically shuts down an engine when its host stops the fires it up again when the clutch is depressed.


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