Frankfurt Motor Show: Automakers Go Green, Will Customers Follow?

GM says the issue is supplying eco-friendly cars in a way that consumers feel it's a good value.

The Frankfurt Motor Show pushed its green theme to the limit on Sept. 11, but if heads of the world's biggest auto companies were clearly on board, questions remained about whether customers would follow. General Motors was among carmakers introducing new designs that focused on sustainable mobility, the show's theme, rolling out several cars aimed at sharply cutting fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.

"It's neither feasible, nor optimal for our industry to continue to rely almost exclusively on oil to supply the world's automotive energy requirements," GM's CEO Richard Wagoner said as he presented his strategy for the future.

GM has invested heavily in developing E85 capable cars that use gasoline with a stiff shot of ethanol.

GM's European president, Carl-Peter Foster, said that automakers would probably rely on a range of solutions, with no single technology covering all needs to begin with. "I think that basically what you will see is a competition of various technologies and ultimately the one that best suits the needs of specific segments would win", Foster said. "I think that alternative fuels have to play a larger role," he added, along with electrification, which was cheap to produce and integrate into vehicles.

Even German luxury sports car maker Porsche showed a hybrid version of its Cayenne SUV, keeping to the German Automobile Federation's slogan for the show: "See What Will Move Your Future."

German giants Volkswagen and DaimlerChrysler sent flotillas of "clean cars" to the fair, and fuel consumption and CO2 emissions replaced, temporarily at least, horsepower or torque as sector buzz words.

The emphasis on cleaner cars comes in part because automakers are under pressure from the European Commission to cut CO2 emissions sharply by 2012 to around 130 grams per kilometer. Opel's Flextreme concept car was designed to run around 55 kilometers (34 miles) on electricity while recharging with a small diesel engine. That would meet the needs of 75% of European commuters, according to GM research, but emit less than 40 grams of CO2 per kilometer and use less than 1.5 liters of diesel fuel per 100 kilometers, a feat by current standards.

Clean is not cheap however, and analysts question how many customers will dig deeper into their pockets to prove they are environmentally conscious. Wagoner said that GM was happy to build eco-friendly cars, like its low-slung silver electric Volt model that glittered under metallic trees, but that making them affordable was tough. The issue was supplying them "in a way the consumer feels like it's a good value," he said. "That's the challenge."

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007

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