Fuel economy and style drive 81st Geneva Motor Show

Talk about split personalities! The Geneva Motor Show that opened Wednesday in Switzerland really puts the dual nature of the 21st century automobile industry in focus. While there’s a huge emphasis on green technology in the form of gas sippers, hybrids and electric vehicles, lots of flashy and fast vehicles – both production and concept – also are on display. The two personalities sometimes come together in individual models.

The 81st International Motor Show at the Palexpo-Geneva opened for a 10-day run with an expected attendance of more than 700,000. What’s available in seven exhibit halls and 860,000 square feet of space are the most innovative products and concepts from 260 exhibitors representing more than 700 brands from 31 different countries. There are almost 170 world and European premiers of both production and concept cars of every size and description.

With gas prices heading up because of the unsettled Middle East, the loudest buzz has been about fuel-efficient, electric and hybrid vehicles and the green technologies underpinning them. In fact, there’s a whole Green Pavilion for show attendees to learn about and drive green vehicles, many from little-known companies that are on the cutting edge of green automotive design. Among the well-known cars available for test drives are Chevrolet, Mercedes, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Renault and Smart.

Green has definitely gone mainstream, both in production and concept cars on display.

Nissan, whose all-electric Leaf is debuting in the U.S., unwrapped the Esflow concept, a two-seat, rear-wheel-drive sports car that could be the future of the Z car. “There’s been a lot of excitement. …We’re happy that Nissan is out in front in the thinking and technology and applying it to products,” enthused Empire Lakewood Nissan’s owner Dean Dowson. The Leaf will debut here at the upcoming Denver Auto Show.

Heads turned for Volkswagen’s all-electric Bulli. The back-to-the-future microbus concept echoes the iconic 1960s van, but under its boxy hood lurks an engine capable of 186 miles on a one-hour charge. A similar vehicle could be sold in the U.S. in a couple of years, although according to Fred Emich of Emich Volkswagen, “We’ve been asking for a version of the Eurovan or minibus in the U.S. for years. We may never see this in America, even if it gets produced.”

Another head-turner was BMW’s ActiveE prototype based on the 1-series coupe. Its 100-mile range, according to Schomp Automotive CEO Lisa Schomp, might work in an urban setting. “But here in the West it’s just not enough. Overall, with electrics and hybrids, I don’t think we’ve gotten there yet, but we have to start somewhere and start doing something,” she said. Schomp General Manager Aaron Wallace said, “The only question we have is, ‘Can we sell it?’ Except for the Prius, electric cars have not gone over well with the public when it comes down to actually buying them.”

Volvo is plunging in with the V60 Plug-In hybrid AWD with front wheels powered by a diesel engine and a 70 hp electric motor powering the rear wheels. In hybrid mode, the car’s range is 745 miles before needing a recharge/refuel. It’s available next year in Europe.

Porsche showed a production hybrid Panamera sedan with a 333 hp V6 supplemented by a 47 hp electric motor that does 0-60 in six seconds, goes 168 mph, averaging 34 mpg, with a $95,000 price. Its Boxster E concept has two electric motors putting out 241 hp.

Saab is back in business with the PhoeniX concept, powered by a 1.6 liter turbo engine and an electric rear wheel drive technology that captures brake energy to boost gas mileage to 47 mpg.

Even Rolls-Royce gets into the act with a Phantom plug-in concept. At almost three tons, it takes a lot of electricity, but its range is supposedly 120 on a charge.

Among gas-sippers, the Mini Rocketman concept stands out. It’s shorter and smaller; its styling allows for easier access and variable seating configurations. It’s speculated that Rocketman, if it comes to market, would be outfitted with a three-cylinder turbocharged gas or diesel engine that BMW and Peugeot-Citroen are co-developing.

Mercedes-Benz didn’t bring new EVs or hybrids to Geneva, but its new models have fuel efficiency cred. According to Terry Minnick, General Manager of Mercedes-Benz of, all new models offer an increase of 30 percent or more in fuel efficiency. “It’s not just one model they’re bragging about; this is our whole line-up,” he said.

Making its world premiere in Geneva is the new C-Class coupe with fuel-efficient Blue DIRECT injection, while the new C63 AMG on display has a “Controlled Efficiency” mode that shifts smoothly at the lowest possible engine speed for fuel efficiency. Minnick says Mercedes also is poised to extend its BlueTEC clean diesel technology to more models. “I still think the future is uncertain on what’s going to happen with hybrids and batteries when consumers have to dispose of them and replace them,” making clean diesels more appealing.

For drivers looking for sex appeal, performance and speed as much as fuel economy, Geneva does not disappoint.

Lamborghini’s Aventador sports a 700hp V12, does 0-62 in 2.9 seconds and goes 217 mph, available this summer for a mere $379,700. The muscular 700hp production Pagani Huayra two-seater is priced at $1.6 million. Ferrari’s entry is a four-seat, 4WD, 650hp replacement for its Scaglietti that does 0-62 in 3.7 seconds. Alfa Romeo’s 4C will mark the Italian brand’s re-entry to the U.S. market, late next year. It’s small and light and its direct-injection turbocharged engine delivers more than 200 hp and 0-60 in about four seconds.

Not be left in the dust by the Italians, Aston Martin is showing off its 2012 Virage with a 490 V12; Jaguar has a mid-sized concept sedan called the B 99, designed by Bertone; and Range Rover introduced the Range e concept plug-in hybrid with a top speed of 120 mph and 85mpg fuel economy giving it a 690- mile range per tank of fuel. Look for it in some form within two years, according to company officials.

The Geneva Motor Show runs through March 13. Denver’s own annual celebration of the automobile, the Denver Auto Show, is coming March 30 – April 3. You want to make sure and participate. It will be a must-see event.

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About timwjackson

Working every day for a better Colorado.
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