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Suzuki’s new Swift hatch and sedan in SA

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Green cars take centre stage

2006-11-27 10:43
Innovative new designs and environmentally friendly vehicles are expected to take centre stage as car manufacturers lift the veil on their latest machines at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

The 10-day exhibition - the most important in North America after the Detroit auto show will showcase the auto industry's new products in a city that is recognised as the car-culture capital of the US.

Los Angeles, where owning a car is essential, boasts around 14m drivers and averages 3.1 vehicles per household, according to figures.

Traditionally held in January, the LA Auto Show has shifted its place in the calendar with the aim of becoming the biggest opening exhibition of the season.

Among the thousands of vehicles that 47 manufacturers will display at the Los Angeles Convention Centre, 21 will be making their debuts.

Fourteen of the new designs will eventually go on sale to the public while seven are 'concept cars', flagging groundbreaking new technologies.

A majority of these prototypes have been dreamed up in southern California, home to design centres for around 15 car manufacturers from the United States, Europe and Asia, such as Honda, Acura, Hyundai and Mazda.

Several manufacturers will use LA to display models tailored for both the sun-drenched California climate and the state's big-spending inhabitants, such as the new Aston Martin convertible and Lamborghini.

But California is also the biggest US market for environmentally friendly 'hybrid' cars powered by both electricity and gasoline. The state also boasts the most stringent clean-air laws of any in the US, and have set ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade.

Several manufacturers are exploring alternative technologies that will allow Americans to preserve their beloved cars whilst reducing their dependence on gasoline, which has tripled in cost at US petrol pumps since 2001.

German giants BMW's revolutionary hydrogen-fuelled 7 Series is among the "green" cars of the future that will be displayed during the show. The car runs on a conventional-style engine with almost zero emissions.

General Motors meanwhile will show off a hybrid version of their best-selling 4x4 the GMC Yukon as Ford displays a gas-electricity variation of its Escape stationwagon.

But these US designs are already scrambling to make up lost ground in the face of Japanese giants Honda and Toyota, which already have second generation hybrids on the market and are busily developing the third.

Toyota is currently working on a hybrid 'plug-in' vehicle capable of being recharged directly from a power grid, enabling journeys of 3,000 km on a single tank of gasoline.

The LA Auto Show is also likely to highlight the severe financial difficulties faced by US car manufacturers in the face of stiff competition from Japanese rivals.

Ford has suffered losses of seven billion dollars in the first nine months of 2006, GM 3bn and Chrysler, part of the German-US DaimlerChrysler group, 1.16bn in the third quarter alone.

Ford and GM are also set to slash around 75 000 jobs and close several factories across North America.


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