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Hybrids, EVs take a back seat at Geneva

2015-03-02 10:21

SPORTS CARS AT GENEVA: Audi's SA-bound R8 (above) will join a host of sports cars on display at the 2015 Geneva auto show. Image: Audi

FRANKFURT, Germany - Compact SUVs for families and powerful sports cars for the rich are the main themes at the 2015 Geneva auto show.

Environmentally correct battery vehicles and hybrids, not so much — thanks to cheaper fuel and limits on battery range.

Here are the major themes for the March 5-15 show:


Analysts say this show is more about the "search for hit vehicles" than new technology, since automakers are trying to boost sales as Europe slowly recovers from its debt crisis.

Car registrations in the 28-country European Union increased 5.4% in 2014 to 12.5 million but remain woefully below their peak of around 16 million in 2007. High unemployment and weak growth are still holding back the industry, despite 17 straight months of increasing sales.

Tere are headwinds from Russia, which appears headed for recession after the ruble's plunge.

On the other side of the ledger, expensive new luxury and sports cars will cater to demands from buyers in the recovering US economy and China.


Compact SUVs and crossovers have become a hot-seller for growth-hungry automakers. The category will be even more crowded with new vehicles on display at Geneva.

Small SUVs are the same length as compact or smaller midsize cars but have more ground clearance and off-road features such as cladding protecting the wheel wells and underside.

Renault will debut its Kadjar, a crossover in two- or four-wheel drive versions, while Honda blurs the borders between car and hatchback with its new HR-V, touting "acoustic insulation" that reduces road noise and three different ways to configure the interior.

In the premium market, Infiniti shows off its QX30 concept with carbon-fibered trim and big 21", hinting at the design language of future Infiniti models.


High-priced sports cars and luxury vehicles will be in abundance. Audi is showing a new version of its R8, set to arrive in South Africa in 2016. Its previous 4.2 V8 has been superseded by a non-turbo, 5.2-litre V10, in two variants. In standard guise, it’s capable of 402kW/540Nm, 100km/h in 3.5sec and 323km/h. The R8 Plus is tuned for 454kW/560Nm, 3.2sec and 330km/h.

In Europe the V10 costs the equivalent of R2.1-million and the V10 Plus R2.4-million.

The new McLaren 675LT is powered by a 3.8-litre V8, capable of 497kW/700Nm enabling it to sprint to 100 km/h in 2.9sec and on to 330 km/h. It will cost the equivalent of R4-million when it goes on sale later in 2015. Though the automaker reports the US version is already sold out.

Ferrari will join in with its 488 GTB, powered by a turbocharged eight-cylinder engine.

In the ultra-luxury market, Mercedes-Benz has the Maybach Pullman, a stretched high-end version of its S-Class. It's 6.5m long and lets people in the back sit facing each other behind an powered partition separating them from the chauffeur. Prices start from R6.5-million.


Electric vehicles and hybrids have lost some buzz due to declining fuel prices. Despite this they are still arriving, as Mercedes-Benz introduces a plug-in hybrid version of its C-Class sedan. Problem is, as a class, "green cars" don't sell well. Yet.

Only 75 331 EVs and hybrids were sold in Europe in 2014, an increase of 37%. Limited range and higher costs mean little demand aside from hard-boiled environment enthusiasts.

Stefan Bratzel, an industry expert at the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany, said: "You've got low fuel prices at the moment and the e-mobility issue is at a very difficult phase of development."

For electric sales to take off, he said, the battery range would have to increase from 150km to 400-500km and more charging stations would have to be built. That could happen - but not in 2015.


One of BMW's new vehicles is the 2 Series Gran Tourer, a seven-seat version of its 2 Series Active Tourer, that's something of a contrast with the automaker's powerful sedans and SUV's. Analysts say luxury automakers have dipped into more moderately priced categories in search of more revenue.

The basic version starts from the equivalent of R350 000 in Germany.


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