“the start of coal power, (not end of oil) because much of the electricity generated to power the batteries will come from the burning of fossil fuels”
Picking the star of a car show is a bit like picking the most valuable player in professional sports. Most of the time the choice is obvious because of the stand-out performance.
But at this year’s Frankfurt Car Show the rules have changed. Not only is the European industry picking itself up and dusting itself down after the worst recession in 30, some say 60-years, manufacturers are being forced to divert precious resources to the greening of the industry because of government legislation and public opinion.
Japanese companies like Toyota and to a lesser extent Honda have led the way with gasoline electric hybrids. GM’s Chevrolet is pioneering plug-in hybrids, which promise greater range and flexibility because they provide a substantial range for electric-only driving, and onboard generators recharge the battery. You can plug the car into to your house overnight to recharge.
Should the Frankfurt showstopper be a low-tech, mass-market vehicle which might restore profits, or an environmental one, which at this stage will have limited sales, but might save the world?
Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn Ghosn deserves the star award for his brave, some might say foolhardy, battery stance.
Ghosn said hybrids are a blind alley. Battery power is the key, and he is effectively betting the future of the French-Japanese alliance on this gamble. If he is wrong, watch out Renault shareholders.
In almost messianic speech to the Frankfurt Show, Ghosn unveiled four new battery powered vehicles, which he says will lead the world to the electric age, and help an endangered planet. Ghosn said by 2020, 10 per cent of the global market for cars will be electric.
Ghosn said Renault will produce an all-electric compact van, a family car and a city car by 2011 and a five-seater by 2012. Renault confirmed plans to allow drivers of electric vehicles to rent the cars’ expensive batteries rather than owning them, bringing down costs. Ghosn said Renault’s four models would sell at a comparable price to similar diesel cars, but he didn’t give any more details.
The Twizy ZE, a tiny two-seat city car, will have an electric driving range of just over 60 miles. The other three models the Fluence, Zoe family car and electric Kangoo van will have a range of 100 miles.
Critics say Ghosn is way off beam.
Off by a factor of 10
Automotive Consultancy CSM Worldwide says it is reluctant to forecast such a volatile market so far ahead, but doubts Ghosn’s vision. Peter Schmidt, editor of British newsletter Automotive Industry Data, says Ghosn is off by a factor of 10, reckoning that electric vehicle’s market share will be more like one per cent in 2020, not 10 per cent. Schmidt says only massive government subsidies could undermine his forecast. Volkswagen reportedly expects 1.5 to 2.0 per cent electric market share. You have to admire Ghosn’s steadfast belief, despite much evidence to the contrary.
Ghosn, in his speech, talked about his zero emission battery cars, when in fact the generation of the electricity is often from the burning of coal, gas or oil. (Except in France where nuclear power provides more than 80 per cent of electricity). Renault has linked up with Better Place, an organisation dedicated to green solutions for autos. Better Place founder and CEO Shai Agassi, in a speech following Ghosn’s, said Renault’s plans marked the end of the oil age for cars, but he might just as well have said this was the start of coal power, because much of the electricity generated to power the batteries will come from the burning of fossil fuels.
Dieter Zetsche, CEO of Daimler and former Chrysler leader, was much more circumspect when he unveiled the Mercedes S500 Plug-in hybrid. Carefully and pointedly, Zetsche talked about “local” emissions-free mobility.
In more normal times, the nomination for star of the show, or at least the most significant car, might have gone to the new Opel-Vauxhall Astra. The new car was unveiled by Opel chairman Carl-Peter Forster, fresh from nailing down the sale of this former GM Europe subsidiary to the Magna-Russian consortium. The Astra will have to compete with Europe’s most successful car, the Volkswagen Golf. Judging from its bland looks, this might be an uphill struggle. The model is the top seller for Opel and its British sister brand Vauxhall, accounting for one third of the company's sales.
The Astra is based on General Motor's new Delta platform, which also underpins the Chevrolet Volt and Cruze.
Ford of Europe has redesigned the C-Max small minivan, and over the next few years this new global compact platform will spawn as many as 10 different vehicle variants around the world. The next Focus will be available as a four-dour sedan, three- and five-door hatchback and convertible. That still leaves a number of other possibilities that Ford hasn't announced yet. With the increasing importance of the compact segment, all of these variants will play a big part in Ford's future. . The C-Max is likely to appear in the U.S. in late 2011 or early 2012.
Ford said the new 7-seat C-Max will introduce a host of new technologies to the Ford range, including an all-new 1.6-litre Ford EcoBoost direct injection petrol engine. Other advanced convenience and safety features include semi-automatic parallel parking and a blind-spot detection system.
The C-Max will be launched in the second half of 2010 in Europe.
VW, Europe’s biggest car maker, showed a concept vehicle called E-Up, said by some to be the Beetle of the 21st century, the legendary little car which stormed world markets about 40 years ago.
The battery powered E-Up is small - under 10.5 feet long and will seat four in a three plus one arrangement. Top speed is listed at just under 85 miles per hour. Zero to 60 mph will take about 11 seconds. Performance is helped by the E-Up's low weight of about 2,400 pounds 530 pounds of which is accounted for by the 18 kWh lithium ion battery pack. That gives a range of about 80 miles, which VW believes is sufficient for urban use. The battery pack replenishes to 80% in an hour.
Kia of of Korea unveiled its new little Venga citycar, which is not expected to make it to the U.S. market.
The Venga, “designed in Europe for Europeans” will be produced at a factory in the Czech Republic. It will offer 1.4 and 1.6 litre diesel and gasoline engines.
Kia, which has been hugely successful in Europe recently because of government scrapping incentive schemes, also introduced an all new Sorento SUV, and an updated Cee’d
Audi A5 Sportback
The A5 Sportback is another high profile car here which won't go to America, apparently because Americans don't like hatchbacks.
This handsome new car will be priced from about $52,500 after tax in Germany when it becomes available next year. Europeans will be able to choose from 170 hp 2.0 litre, 190 hp 2.7 litre and 240 hp 3.0 litre diesel engines or 180 hp/2.0, 211hp/2.0, or 265 hp 3.2 gasoline motors. There are four wheel drive options, and continuously variable or twin-clutch automatic gearboxes.
The Frankfurt car was billed in advance as the first real green show, but looking around the fair, there seem to more gas guzzlers than fuel misers, as manufacturers race to get their designs on to the market before new CO2 rules from the European Union start to kick in.
Rolls Royce Ghost
BMW’s Rolls Royce showed off its new “small” luxury sedan the Ghost. The Ghost is powered by a 6.6 litre V12 gasoline engine and will cost up to $350,000.
Ferrari 458 Italia
Ferrari’s new 458 Italia coupe will go on sale by the end of the year in Europe, priced at about $255,400 after tax. Expect to see the car in the U.S. next year.
The 458 is powered by a 4.5 litre V8 direct injection gasoline engine that develops 570 hp. Bentley launches the Mulsanne
British luxury carmaker Bentley, now owned by Germany’s Volkswagen, introduced its massive new flagship sedan, the Mulsanne.
Replacing the discontinued Arnage, the Mulsanne will sell for about $300,00 in the U.S.
Under the hood is twin-turbocharged, 512 hp, 6.75 litre V8.
They were still arguing around the Porsche stand about whether the Porsche Panamera was ugly or beautiful. It will certainly grab your attention, whatever your verdict on this fastback/hatchback supercar. When the Panamera goes on sale in the United States in mid-October there will be two engine options - a 4.8 litre, 400 hp V8 or a 500 hp twin turbo motor. Porsche will also offer the Panamera with four-wheel drive, and later unveil a 2.8 litre V6 version at least in Europe, which will also be available with a hybrid motor.
Panameras come with a 6-speed manual gearbox as standard in Europe, or you can order a double-clutch 7-speed automatic. Initially, U.S. sales will only be of the automatic. Prices for the 400 hp version start at about $90,000 before tax.
Audi R8 electric
Audi unveiled an electric concept version of its R8 supercar.
The so-called “e-tron” has four electric motors, two each at the front and rear axles, and the two-seater accelerates from 0 to 62 mph in 4.8 seconds.
The lithium-ion battery provides energy content of 42.4 kilowatt hours which Audi says would enable a range of approximately 155 miles. The battery is directly behind the passenger cabin for an optimum center of gravity and axle load distribution.
Mini Coupe Concept
There always has to be an unfortunate, unofficial competition for the ugliest car at the show, and that nomination goes to the new Mini Coupe Concept.
That was less surprising after Mini CEO Ian Robertson said the coupe’s looks had been called a “back to front baseball cap”.
As the Coupe still has the title of concept, there is still plenty of time for Mini to make some major changes to its looks.
Neil Winton September 20, 2009