Uli Deck/European Pressphoto Agency
With growing consumer interest in green vehicles and a pledge to build a European Union-wide network of electric charging stations, many Europeans are looking forward to the next generation of cars.
“The automobile industry is going through its biggest changes since the car was first invented in the 19th century,” said Yves Vandewalle, a local French politician who is promoting green cars.
At the Geneva auto show, one of the most important dates on the European automobile calendar, big manufacturers and small boutique producers are debating the future of the car.
Not all arguments are green.
Ten percent of all the cars exhibited at the 83rd International Motor Show in Geneva, running from March 7 to March 17, are eco-friendly, organizers said.
“It is clearly evident that these vehicles are now completely integrated into the product offerings of the manufacturers and are interesting to all the visitors to the Motor Show and not just to those who are involved in ecology movements or those who are only technology-oriented!” said Maurice Turrettini, the president of the car show in a statement.
Organizers at the show consider a car green if it generates less than 100 grams in carbon dioxide emissions per kilometer driven.
The cars that make the list are all-electric, plug-in hybrids, non-plug-in hybrids and some very efficient conventional vehicles. Some of them are well-known models that come from big carmakers in Europe, Asia and North America and from small European designers.
“The electric cars there are mostly concept cars,” said Christopher Tan, the editor of the German Web site, GrueneAutos.com.
Still, as the curvaceous female models adorning many of the car displays can attest, the car show is firmly rooted in its macho tradition, which includes gas-guzzling SUVs and outsized limousines.
“The big carmakers are still relying on their cash cows,” said Mr. Tan.
Mercedes-Benz, too, is vamping with its roughly $500,000 SLS AMG electric drive (apparently the fastest EV built in series). For ordinary consumers interested in green luxury, it is showing the new A 180 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY.
Volkswagen, Europe’s biggest carmaker, is exhibiting the widely heralded XL1, a slick two-seater that, burning just 1 liter of gasoline for 100 kilometers driven (over 250 m.p.g.), is possibly the most fuel efficient car built in series. At a reported 50 units built, however, the term “series” might be an overstatement. That together with the fact that Volkswagen has not come up with a sticker price yet shows that this marvel of efficiency is not yet consumer-ready.
French carmakers are showing movement on the green car front in Geneva. The Citroën C-Zero (for zero-carbon) and the Renault Zoe are both pure electric cars built in series and available to consumers.
The Renault Twizy, also on display at the auto show, has been popular since it hit the showrooms last year. With its open cockpit and its single seat, the Twizy looks more like a car from the future (it is licensed as a street-legal quadricycle) than many other designs at the car show.
Next to the models from the big carmakers, design and engineering firms are showing vehicles that are looking further into the future.
The Yvelines department in France, a region just east of Paris, is known to be a national hub for automotive and engineering firms. The department is supporting four prototypes exhibited in Geneva.
Besides electric drivetrains, these concept cars feature wireless charging, autopilot and automated valet parking.
One day you will be able to press a button on your smart phone and a car will automatically drive to your address and pick you up, explained Mr. Vandewalle, vice president of economic development in the Yvelines department.
“We are paving the roads of the future,” he said.