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Geneva turns to green tech

2011-03-02 09:25

LACK OF FOSSIL FUELS: The focus at the 2011 Geneva Auto Show remains green technology. The show opens to the public on March 3.

COLLEEN BARRY

GENEVA, Switzerland - Ford is to boost its offering of low-emissions technologies and will have a choice of five powertrains to sell in Europe by 2013.

Stephen Odell, chief of Ford Europe, told reporters the new powertrains would include hybrid, pure electric and plug-in hybrid technologies.

Fuel prices, driven sharply higher in the past month by tensions in the Middle East, have raised worries that people might again shy away from buying a new vehicle.

"With our capabilities in regular combustion engines and with five electric vehicles in production, we are well-placed," Odell said.

THEME IS FUEL EFFICIENCY


Although most automakers are showing upbeat signs of recovery, the key theme at the show, as during the financial crisis years, is once again fuel efficiency.

Rolls-Royce's one-off battery-powered Phantom luxury sedan could give electric the kind of upscale appeal it has so far lacked. The concept car was unveiled on March 2, 2011, though there are no plans to put the car into production.

BMW, which owns Rolls-Royce, is also launching its latest ActiveE electric concept car in Geneva.

Ian Fletcher, an analyst at IHS automotive, said: "We'll see a lot of alternative powertrains. They will get a lot of attention, given current oil prices. Nobody knows where that is going to go, especially given what is going on in the Middle East."

OPEN PLATFORM


As for hybrids, BMW and Peugeot announced on the eve of the show that they would invest €100-million in a joint venture to build hybrid components from 2014. Their goal is to create an open European platform for hybrid technologies, which Peugeot-Citroen CEO Philippe Varin said would enable the development of electric powertrains.

Volkswagen presented a luxury hybrid for its Porsche brand, the Panamera S. The car has carbon emissions of 159g/km and consumption of 6.8 litres/100km.

There will be a particular focus on engine downsizing, an industry term for squeezing more power out of smaller engines. Nissan will show a 1.2-litre, three-cylinder engine in the Nissan Micra DIG-S that is touted as having the same power as a 1.5-litre four-cylinder model. Fiat has done similar work with the Twin Air engine in the Fiat 500.

"It's tweaking current technology to meet new levels of expectations," Fletcher added. "The internal combustion engine is still a relatively cheap way to produce power in a light vehicle."

OPTIMISM


Overall, automakers are showing optimism at Geneva, evident in the rollouts planned. After seeing participants scale back in recent years, organisers said they had requests for more show space than they could provide but 70 brands would be represented from 31 countries.

Geneva, which focuses primarily on European companies, is considered one of the more prestigious auto events of the year, and, because it's based in industry-neutral Switzerland which doesn't produce cars on any industrial scale, it creates a level playing field for German, French and Italian companies alike - not to mention a rare venue for Asian automakers such as Tata to show cars outside their markets.

Automakers that held back launches during the economic crisis - not wanting to squander the considerable investment - are out in force.

Fiat, which owns Chrysler, is launching the Fiat Freemont (based on the Dodge Journey and the first Fiat vehicle to be born of the alliance with Chrysler). It will be in showrooms in the second half of 2011.

Lancia, another Fiat brand that will be the European face of Chrysler, will unveil a series of rebadged cars to pave Chrysler's European renaissance under Fiat's management: an updated three-door Ypsilon mini, a new Lancia Thema sedan in the C-segment combining American size with Italian style, Flavia concept, a D-segment sedan car, and the Grand Voyager minivan.

But perhaps a surer sign that automakers are feeling cheery is that many high-end automakers have new products to show.

Fletcher again: "You only have to look at the launches. Look at the top end - Aston Martin, Jaguar, Rolls-Royce. They are all either unveiling a concept car or new rollours. If the top end of the market is doing well, it's a good sign for the overall economy and growth in developing markets."

The 81st edition of the Geneva auto show will be open to the public from March 3-13, 2011 after the two days reserved for the news media.

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