In closely guarded, advanced showings at the International Auto Show, environmentally friendly cars were the headliners Monday, with General Motors Corp. unveiling a new hybrid compact — one among many vehicles at the show with advanced propulsion systems and cleaner engines.
GM showed off its Flextreme from European subsidiary Opel, a small commuter car with an electric-diesel hybrid that can travel 34 miles on a single charge before switching to fuel. It is a concept car, meaning it may or may not go into production.
Concerns about gas prices, fuel efficiency and global warming are clearly reflected in the show, which runs from Thursday to Sept. 23. Green technology is the focus: lower-emission diesels, new hybrids and hydrogen fuel cells — some market-ready, others concept cars.
The Flextreme uses a battery to produce no emissions directly — and packs a small turbo-diesel engine for when the juice runs dry.
GM vice chairman Bob Lutz described the lozenge-shaped car as a solution for commuters concerned about environmental impact.
“Commutes to major city-centers in Europe will do nothing but grow more challenging in the future,” he said, adding that “we see E-Flex vehicles as an elegant solution for commuters.”
Matthias Wissmann, president of the German Association of the Automotive Industry, said 1,081 companies were on hand for the show and 88 new models would debut. The show is held every two years.
Small cars were expected to garner much of the attention, and France’s Renault SA surprised many when its chief executive, Carlos Ghosn, said the company would build the Sandero, a five-door hatchback, in Brazil, as part of an effort to grab market share in South America.
Auto industry green expert Ted Grozier said the show will illustrate a sustained industry effort to steer away from gas-guzzlers.
“The conventional wisdom is that the U.S. will go hybrid and in Europe the diesel is being challenged,” said Grozier of Green Order, a New York-based advisory group that counts General Motors Corp., among others, as clients.
“This may be a pivotal year for the industry in the battle for greener cars and the gloves have come off,” he said.
BMW AG, Porsche AG, Volkswagen AG and DaimlerChrysler AG will all be showing cars with lower-emission diesel engines and hybrids that use electricity, as well as hydrogen fuel cell concepts that BMW is researching. It is all part of the effort to make high-mileage, cleaner cars that also meet high performance expectations.
Swedish automaker Volvo AB, owned by Ford Motor Co., will have its plug-in hybrid concept at the show. Called the ReCharge and based on its C30 hatchback, the hybrid is similar to GM’s Chevrolet Volt, which was unveiled at the Detroit auto show earlier this year.
Like the Volt, the ReCharge uses a separate electric motor to power each wheel, augmenting a 1.6-liter four-cylinder Flexifuel engine. Volvo says a fully charged model can travel about 62 miles on electricity alone before the engine takes over.
Japan’s Nissan Motor Co. will show its Mixim concept car, an electric car powered by lithium ion batteries with the driver’s seat in the middle, and steering controls inspired by video game controllers. Unsurprisingly, it is geared toward younger drivers.
Ford will show off current models under its ECOnetic label that produce a lower level of emissions.
Volkswagen will debut five models, along with a version of its mainstay Golf, that use refinements it calls BlueMotion to reduce emissions to 119 grams per kilometer, or 4.2 ounces for just slightly more than every half mile, from 135 grams, or 4.7 ounces.
France’s PSA Peugeot-Citroen will have its 308 BioFlex compact at the show. The car uses biofuels, or fuel obtained from crops. GM will go a step further and unveil a hydrogen fuel cell-powered car.
Ford is eager to pique consumer interest in its new subcompact concept car, the Verve. If successful, it could be the basis of a new small car for global sales. Designed in Europe, the Verve has a rounded design and is demonstrably smaller than most cars on U.S. roads.
Chrysler LLC, newly divorced from DaimlerChrysler, will show its 2009 Journey, a sporty crossover wagon. The Journey is the company’s first crossover and will go on sale in North America, Europe and Asia next year.
Dodge is Chrysler’s best-selling U.S. brand, with a 6.5 percent share in the U.S. market in 2006, according to Autodata Corp. But the company has struggled to make a dent overseas, and it is counting on the Dodge Journey to help.