Automakers aim to electrify Paris crowds with hybrid, battery powered cars after 2-year slump

By Greg Keller, AP
Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Emissions rules hang over Paris car show

PARIS — European car makers are looking to a bevy of fuel-efficient, lower-emissions models going on display at the Paris Auto Show this week to weather a depressed market and tough new EU pollution standards.

It has been a miserable two years for the industry since the last Paris show in 2008, as the industry faced the worst economic slowdown since the Great Depression.

But while the worst of the global recession is past, car makers are aware that their market has changed. Consumers remain cautious and environmental rules are more stringent — and the auto industry hopes hybrids and electrics will be a big part of the way forward.

The spotlight will center on hometown favorites Renault and PSA Peugeot Citroen, both of which will unveil road-ready hybrid and electric cars or light trucks to the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected to attend the show between Oct. 2 and Oct. 17.

Among the most anticipated unveilings will be Peugeot’s 3008 HYbrid 4, the world’s first full diesel hybrid vehicle, and Renault’s Fluence Z.E. (for “zero emissions”), an all-electric mid-size sedan.

European car makers especially are under fierce pressure to sell smaller and less-polluting cars and light trucks to meet tightening European regulations on carbon dioxide emissions.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally kicked the unveilings off early at a glitzy pre-show event across the street from France’s presidential palace. He unveiled the new Ford Focus ST, one of three new Focuses that the American manufacturer has developed for worldwide sales and hopes to build at least 10 vehicles off the undercarriage. Ford expects to make 2 million Focus-based vehicles per year worldwide by 2012.

Ford’s “EcoBoost” line of direct-injection turbocharged engines means the new Focus can achieve 20-25 percent better fuel efficiency than previous versions, Ford’s chief engineer for North America, Jim Hughes, told The Associated Press.

At the other end of the carbon-emitting spectrum and across town, Volkswagen also gave a sneak peak of some of its more exotic brands such as Lamborghini, Bugatti and Bentley. In a converted industrial warehouse in a less-fashionable area of southeast Paris, Volkswagen unveiled the Bugatti Veyron Supersport, which can reach a top speed of 264 mph (425 kph).

“The Future, Now” is the slogan organizers have chosen for this year’s edition of the show, which holds two days of media previews starting Thursday before opening to the public on Saturday.

The show — which dates back to 1898, making it the world’s oldest — will feature about 100 world and European premieres, organizers promise.

Car makers have been flaunting technologies aimed at cutting or eliminating carbon dioxide emissions from their vehicles at every major car show since the last Paris gathering. But this time more and more will be models headed for showrooms, not concept or idea cars.

“Maybe access to market-ready electric vehicles is going to be the big news in Paris,” said Carlos Da Silva, a senior market analyst at industry forecasters IHS Global Insight in Paris. “It will be a very ‘green’ show,” Da Silva said in an interview.

Other ready-to-roll green machines on display include Peugeot’s iOn, Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV and the Nissan Leaf.

Besides the 3008, PSA Peugeot-Citroen plans to launch the Citroen DS5 Hybrid as part of its goal to have 1 million cars in its fleet below 120 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer by 2012. That is in line with similar targets set by other car makers as they seek to meet an EU deadline for reducing their carbon emissions, Da Silva said.

Global car production fell 17 percent over 2008 and 2009, dropping to 57 million vehicles last year. Scrapping schemes introduced after the crisis helped support European car makers and their suppliers, but now that they’re being withdrawn, growth is stalling in the region.

Car sales in Europe will drop to 17.7 million this year from 18.2 million in 2009, according to J.D. Power Automotive Forecasting, which expects sales to stagnate around that level next year as well.

Production will rebound to its pre-crisis level of 69 million vehicles this year, Autofacts predicts, but nearly all that growth will come from China and North America.

By the time of the next Paris show in 2012, for the first time ever more than half of the world’s car production will be in emerging markets such as China, Brazil and India, said Gerard Morin, head of PwC’s automobile consultancy in France.

By 2020, PSA Peugeot Citroen CEO Philippe Varin thinks hybrids will grab as much as 15 percent of the market.

That’s more optimistic than the forecasters at PricewaterhouseCooper’s Autofacts consultancy, which sees electric cars capturing a mere 1 percent of the global car market by 2016. Hybrids may reach 4 percent market share by then, Autofacts predicts, leaving a full 95 percent of the market to traditional internal combustion engines.

By 2020, electric vehicle production is likely to hit only 1.5 million units, according to Autofacts, as the infrastructure to recharge the cars’ batteries, as well as the batteries’ expense and limits to their autonomy hold back wider adoption of the cars by consumers.

Hybrid technologies range from full hybrids, which alternate between gasoline and electric engines to achieve improved fuel economy, to so-called partial hybrids, or cars with such features as start-stop technology, which automatically shuts down and restarts an engine when stopped to reduce idling and reduce carbon emissions.

will not be displayed