Automakers making fast shift to environmental consciousness
It was the end of another long day at the Frankfurt International Motor Show, and Miroslaw Korek needed to jump-start his engine. The coffee at the kiosk near the Ford display provided just the spark.
An analyst for a French firm that makes interior automotive equipment, Korek is no stranger to the car show circuit. He’ll be in Tokyo next month and probably in Los Angeles the month after that for two more big events.
Beyond all the spin and polish and pretty models, Korek said those upcoming shows would likely stick to the “green” theme that so dominated the Frankfurt exhibit, which took place earlier this month.
In nearly every corner of every display area, there were references to the environment in slogans and model names.
For General Motors and Opel, it’s an initiative called ecoFLEX, while at Ford it’s the concept car Verve.
“The hybrid stuff started a year ago with all this talk about overheating,” Korek said, referring to global warming. “A couple of years back, [car industry] guys were saying: ‘Hybrids? That’s [crap].’ Now, everybody is going hybrid.”
Interest in fuel-efficient automobiles has fluctuated in the United States over the past 30 years, mostly on the low side and well behind Europe. But today, with gas prices in the $3 per gallon range, attention is sky high — and rising.
“It’s the new technology, to save energy,” said Henry Gmelin, a Mercedes engineer. “We want to have performance and save energy.”
European and Asian car makers have long been the leaders in fuel-efficient cars, and they’re not shy about that fact.
At the Toyota display in Frankfurt, three long-legged models in matching attire drew attention to a bright blue Prius. “Ten years of world leadership in hybrid,” two side door decals read.
Directly across the aisle, where several Peugeots were parked, a similar horn was being honked.
The French automaker’s new 308 hybrid HDi is said to average 69 miles a gallon. It also claims to have one of the lowest emission counts on the market.
Even a luxury car company like Mercedes is on board. In Frankfurt, it rolled out seven new hybrid models.
Hybrid vehicles typically rely on more than one technology to power it more efficiently. The mix usually includes an internal combustion engine and perhaps an electric motor or a battery.
“Does every car maker have a hybrid?” Peugeot agent Irina Sydoruk was asked rhetorically.
“Naturally,” she replied.
She smiled and hurriedly confessed her response was a popular one-word quip within the industry.
So going green is not only good, it’s fast becoming a cliché.
“That is the main theme of the motor show this year,” said Torsten Becker, product manager for Mitsubishi in Germany.
Mitsubishi was showing its electric car known as the “iEV.” Becker said the company hopes to start selling the cars commercially by 2010. The car is currently being road-tested in Japan.
U.S. servicemembers stationed in the Pacific theater will have their turn to see some of these cars during the next major car event. The 40th Tokyo Motor Show will be held in the Makuhari Messe in Chiba City from Oct. 26 to Nov. 11.
Los Angeles hosts its event Thanksgiving Day week, while the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, one of the most prestigious in the world, takes center stage Jan. 19-27.
The British International Motor Show 2008 runs from July 23 to Aug. 3. And like Frankfurt, Paris holds a motor show every other year, with the next exhibition scheduled for October 2008.
By then, maybe some of those hybrids unveiled in Frankfurt will be running their final test lap.
“It’s a new world,” said Christian Hake, a Maserati representative.