Fuel efficiency through new technology and hybrid vehicles will be a top theme at this year's Geneva Motor Show, with DaimlerChrysler displaying a lower-emission diesel engine and Toyota unveiling its Hybrid X concept marrying an electric motor with a gas engine.
The 77th edition of the show comes amid stronger concern about global warming and the environment, and a debate about car emission limits in Europe. One sharp focus is on making engines more fuel-efficient and more environmentally conscious _ while helping to maintain a healthy bottom line.
DaimlerChrysler AG's Mercedes brand will unveil its BLUETEC emission-control technology in combination with a consumption-optimised four-cylinder diesel, an engine that could lower emissions while increasing gas mileage.
"Our diesel strategy is an effective answer to the question of how to save fuel and, therefore, CO², how to further reduce all exhaust emissions," said DaimlerChrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche.
Japanese carmaker Toyota is also slated to have the next-step designs of its hybrid Prius models, which uses electricity, batteries and a gas-powered internal combustion.
As it moves to combat global warming, the European Union has set a goal of 130 grams of CO² per km per vehicle by 2012, down from around 163 grams per km on average now.
Smaller and more fuel-efficient cars from China will be getting attention. China's Brilliance JinBei Automobile unveils its first car aimed at European consumers, the BS 6, to be distributed through HSO Motors Europe.
"The exclusive ambience of this top salon forms a tremendous springboard for launching our top of the range model, the BS 6, and for the introduction of the Brilliance brand to the European market," said Hans-Ulrich Sachs, chairman and managing director of HSO.
China is more and more a crucial market and source of partners for Europe's big carmakers, and last week DaimlerChrysler, which is in the midst of reorganising its American Chrysler Group, announced a plan to start selling Chinese-made cars under the Chrysler name in North America and western Europe.
"Small vehicles such as these will allow Chrysler Group brands to compete in segments in which the brands do not currently compete, and which are especially important in price- and fuel-economy sensitive markets," the German-US carmaker said in a statement.
For those still in the market for SUVs, upcoming models of GM's Acadia and Toyota's Highlander offer improved internal seating.
Previous models have typically favoured bench seats in the back, but now designers are more keen on letting occupants move from one seat to the next without having to stumble or crawl by installing aisle seats, or captain's chairs, in the second and even third rows.
Meanwhile, struggling Ford, which is trying to stage a turnaround amid billions of dollars in losses in recent months, is bringing a new version of its Mondeo, an important vehicle as the company seeks to gain ground in the sedan market with SUVs in disfavor because of low gas mileage.
"We wanted to create an emotional connection with the new Mondeo that would attract people from an aesthetic point of view even before they appreciate its technology," said Martin Smith, executive director of design at Ford of Europe.
The car will come in four-door, five-door hatchback and station wagon styles.
Germany's BMW is set to show off a restyled 5-Series, a key sales generator, while Volkswagen, Europe's biggest car maker, will have its new Golf Estate on display, a roomier version of the standby Golf line.
Among the concept cars ideas that might or might not go into production DaimlerChrysler's Dodge goes for a sportier tone with its Demon, a compact roadster with a fierce front end that recalls older model British sports cars.
In all, more than 250 companies are signed up for the 11-day show, taking up nearly 77 000 square meters at the Geneva Palexpo.
Organizers expect more than 700 000 visitors to the show, which is open to the public from March 8-18. Admission costs 14 Swiss francs.