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At Geneva, cars go green

March 16, 2007 09:17 IST

For car lovers eager to plunk down more than $150,000 for the latest Bentley, Aston Martin, or Ferrari, there's no auto show like Geneva's Salon d'Automobile, which runs from Mar. 8 to 15 this year.

The lure is opulent sedans and classy coupes that exude status -- as well as super sport cars with screaming horsepower. The brawny SUVs and thrifty compacts take a back seat in Geneva, unless they have dazzling design.

But the growing global debate on reducing carbon emissions has for the first time cast a green hue over the Geneva show, which will feature a record number of debuts for environmentally friendly cars. And for Europeans, always enthralled by automotive technology and innovation, the green fleet at Geneva may well prove a powerful draw.

Green highlights at this year's show include Honda's small sports Hybrid X Concept cars, Toyota's FT-HS Concept -- which debuted at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January -- and the Saab BioPower 100.

Outer Limits

These cars all strive to prove that fuel-efficient innovations can be packaged with great handling and cutting-edge design. The Honda is a streamlined coupe designed in Europe and powered by a hybrid gas-electric engine. Premium market leader BMW will be showing its new three-door version of the 1 series, which comes with a stop-start system and brake energy regeneration that cuts emissions and fuel consumption,

It's no wonder automakers feel compelled to spotlight more progressive models. On Feb. 7 the European Commission agreed to push for limits on carbon dioxide emissions from cars to an average of 130 g/km. Europe's automotive industry has blasted the limit as too severe, and member states have yet to adopt the legislation.

But top executives at Europe's premium carmakers are starting to realize the public debate is going against them, as fears of global warming mount, and they had better start to plan for a greener future. "We have to reconcile two targets, carbon dioxide and performance," says Audi's new chief executive, Rupert Stadler. "We have to assume our responsibility."

Honda, by contrast, is actively backing tough limits on CO2 emissions and toiling to demonstrate the industry's commitment to coming up with innovative ways to slash the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. That could give the company a competitive edge.

Lingering Luxury

Of course, none of the European automakers is about to give up on raw horsepower, exquisite handling, and sumptuous interiors. Maserati's new 405-horsepower Gran Turismo four-seater won't lose its appeal among car-lovers, at least this year. Another hotly awaited upscale model is Audi's A5 coupe, which highlights a new direction in Audi's design language with more angular lines.

U.S. automakers have taken to launching eye-catching roadsters in Geneva, such as the GM-Opel GT that dazzled last year's crowds. This year, Dodge is in the spotlight with its Demon a rear-drive roadster with 170 horses. Green may be the latest trend but, as the auto industry descends on Geneva, it's still "long live speed and luxury."

Gail Edmondson, BusinessWeek