Geneva auto show pushes window on technology with hybrids juiced with lithium-ion batteries

3rd March 2008, Comments 0 comments

Hybrid autos with new lithium-ion power sources will be in focus at the Geneva International Motor Show this week, including a new Mercedes luxury sedan from Daimler AG as well as a Swiss creation that swims.

3 March 2008

GENEVA - Hybrid autos with new lithium-ion power sources will be in focus at the Geneva International Motor Show this week, including a new Mercedes luxury sedan from Daimler AG as well as a Swiss creation that swims.

The sQuba concept car from Rinspeed Inc., which says it can cruise at a depth of 10 meters (30-feet), will be among the more outlandish examples of innovation at the motor show this week, but its lithium-ion battery is an example of a technology that is gaining ground in the mainstream of the auto industry.

Daimler AG plans to introduce a gasoline-electric hybrid version of its Mercedes-Benz flagship S-Class luxury sedan that uses a lithium-ion battery. Lithium-ion technology is already widely used in consumer electronics but is now being adapted to meet demanding automotive requirements. They are lighter than other batteries, but cost and concerns about overheating have held back use so far.

"What we have here is a groundbreaking key technology that is going to be a decisive factor for the future success of the automotive industry," Daimler Board of Management member Thomas Weber said in a statement.

In the same vein, Toyota Motor Corp. already has announced that is preparing to start mass production lithium-ion batteries for low-emission vehicles. And General Motors Corp. is developing the Chevrolet Volt, an electric sedan to be recharged by plugging it into a household outlet. Plans call for it to be powered by an electric motor, also fed by lithium-ion batteries.

GM spokesman Brian Corbett said Saturday that the Detroit-based automaker plans to make a major announcement Tuesday about hybrid technology at a press conference during the Geneva Motor Show, which opens to the public on Thursday.

Among the other highlights at the show: Ford is rolling out a new version of its Fiesta global compact car that goes on sale in Europe this spring. The new version has large, swept-back headlights and a deep front bumper flanked by fog lamps.

The Fiesta could have the power to realign the European market, said Frankfurt, Germany-based auto analyst Christoph Stuermer with Global Insight.

"It looks delicious," Stuermer said. "It may shift the balance of whose up and whose down in the small car market."

The car was developed in Europe, and is slated to go on sale in Asia next year and in North and South America in 2010.

The battleground will likely be swing countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, Greece and Spain, where there are no national brands to claim consumer loyalty, Stuermer said.

The European compact market has proven itself somewhat volatile recently, with In the European small car market, Fiat surging from sixth best-selling at the end of 2006 to the fourth in January, largely at the expense of the French automakers and thanks to the sales of its Panda, Grande Punto and 500 models.

The Turin-based automaker, which has been returned to profitability and cleared itself of debt in less than four years, will be at the car show with the Fiat 500 Abarth, a sporty version of its award-winning and hugely popular redesign of the classic 500 last summer. But the Fiat Group's big gambit will be with a new launch by its Lancia brand of the Delta sedan.

Lancia hopes that the new car will help propel the brand to sales of 300,000 a year in 2010 _ from about 120,000 in 2007.

The coupe _ sleek two-door cars whose market had given way to convertibles _

also may be making a comeback at Geneva with rollouts from Volkswagen with the Scirocco and Peugeot with the 309, Stuermer said.

"It really is incredible, the compact sports coupe, which was completely dead, now gets two fresh entries," Stuermer said.

[Copyright dpa 2008]

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