Expatica news

Carmakers show new product amid gloom

GENEVA – The Geneva Motor Show will feature more than 130 world premiere presentations as the auto industry tries for a few days at least to dispel some of the gloom clouding its future.

And it doesn’t get any gloomier than this: Passenger car registrations in Europe were down 27 percent in January 2009 from January 2008. In an effort to bring back consumers, European car companies are asking governments to give them billions in low-interest loans to help them build cleaner cars while sales fall during the economic downturn.

Greener technology is taking a prominent place at the show. General Motors Corporation’s European Adam Opel GmbH subsidiary will display the new Ampera, the European relative to the North American Volt, a plug-in hybrid with a gas engine to create more electricity on board.

GM envisions getting a 960-kilometre range with the technology it calls an electric vehicle range extender.

“It is the future not only of the Opel brand but also Opel technology,” GM Europe and Opel spokesman Frank Klaas said at the Opel stand Monday. “It is a symbol of how GM can support the Opel brand in the future.”

Volvo will unveil the C30, a car that can run with four different kinds of fuel, while the Swiss design firm Protoscar is presenting an electric concept car called Lampo, Italian for “electrical current.”

The motor show itself is also dedicating an entire pavilion to greener autos, not just those with lower fuel consumption but with newer technologies, from hybrids to battery operated cars.

“I think it is particularly important for the car industry to show what they are able to do even in financial crisis,” said Rolf Studer, general manager of the motor show, which held press premieres Tuesday and Wednesday. The show opens to the public from Thursday through 15 March.

“They must show to their customers that they are still here, that they are doing research and that they are making presentations to the market at this very important show.”

Geneva, coming after Detroit on the auto show calendar, remains attractive to many automakers, suppliers and design firms because it is held in neutral Switzerland, which does not have an automaker of its own.

Despite the tough times, Studer said he still has a waiting list to rent space in the Palexpo Convention Center even if some exhibitors are reducing their space.

Detroit-based General Motors, struggling to prevent bankruptcy in the United States, nearly halved its floor space, from 6,000 square metres to 3,500 square metres. CEO Rick Wagoner is not scheduled to attend the event.

For GM, which will also present the Chevrolet Spark, the emphasis is not on the new models, but on strategy.

“The whole theme of the press conference is on the environment. We’ll talk about the aspects that fit that bill. Certainly, the Opel Ampera is a key element,” said Opel spokesman Stefan Weinmann.

Fiat will show the convertible version of the iconic 500, one of the cars it plans to launch in the United States through its partnership with Chrysler.

The Turin-based automaker will also show a prototype of its Alfa Romeo MiTo GTA, a three-door small car. Alfa Romeo is another brand Fiat Group Autos wants to launch in North America.

There also will be some new luxury cars that automakers preferred to not display in recession-wracked Detroit. Aston Martin is expected to show its DBS Volante convertible and Bentley is launching with the Continental Supersports, a high-performance two-seat car that can run on ethanol-based E85 biofuel. Rolls Royce also is said to be showing an experimental car.

Japan’s Toyota presented its new Verso at an outside event Monday ahead of the show. The seven-seat minivan, manufactured in Turkey, will compete directly with the Mazda5 and Opel Zafira.

Text: AP / Colleen Barry/ Expatica 2009