Carmakers showed off their leanest, greenestmass-market models Thursday in anticipation of stricter Europeanemissions controls as the Geneva International Motor Show openedits doors to the public.
A host of small cars are celebrating their debut in Geneva,including production versions of Ford Motor Co.'s new, fuel-stingyFiesta and Toyota Motor Corp.'s three-seater iQ, and a conceptversion of Fiat's 500 Aria. All three boast carbon dioxideemissions of under 100 grams per kilometer, which will help thosemanufacturers beat an EU proposal for a fleet average of 130 gramsby 2012.
Environment ministers from the 27-nation bloc -- the world'sbiggest consumer market with 490 million people -- met in Brusselsearlier this week to discuss the plan, which has ruffled feathersamong Europe's large car-producing nations such as Germany.
The environmental group Greenpeace says even tighter emissionstargets than those in the EU proposal are needed if climate changeis to be reigned in.
About 20 activists protested at the show on Thursday morning,demanding that automakers rethink what makes a good car and callingfor average fleet emissions to be limited to 120 grams perkilometer by 2012, and 80 grams by 2020.
The Geneva show is traditionally regarded as the most levelplaying field for carmakers because Switzerland lacks its ownindustry.
Europeans will get their first glimpse of Indian manufacturerTata's Nano, hailed as the world's cheapest car and due to beginrolling off the production line by the end of the year. Thepint-sized five-seater will cost $2,500 plus tax and delivery, butwill initially only be available in India while Tata works onimproving the car's emissions ratio and safety features.
Chevrolet too will be appealing to Europeans accustomed todriving smaller vehicles than their trans-Atlantic cousins.
General Motor Corp.'s top-selling brand is unveiling athree-door version of the Aveo, which debuted in Europe at lastyear's IAA exhibition in Frankfurt, Germany, with a five-doormodel.
One of the loopholes to the emissions proposal currently beingdiscussed in Brussels lets carmakers pool their fleets with thoseof companies producing more efficient vehicles.
Companies that exceed the limit would face stiff fines startingat 20 euros ($30) per gram per kilometer, multiplied by the numberof cars sold, rising to 95 euros ($144) by 2015. If automakers passthis cost on to consumers it would add hundreds of euros (dollars)to the price of a car.
Low-volume manufacturers producing fewer than 10,000 vehicles ayear would be exempt, but major players such as BMW, Daimler and
Volkswagen would have to team up with greener carmakers or improvetheir own fleet if they want to continue selling high-powered SUVsand sports cars in Europe.
The EU proposal, even if it is watered down before being agreedupon, has set automakers fine-tuning their product range to reduceemission levels as much as possible.
Moves by several large cities to follow London's lead incharging owners of gas-guzzling vehicles a daily fee to enter thecity have also spooked manufacturers and given them a furtherincentive to reduce emissions.
London mayor Ken Livingstone last year raised the daily chargeto 25 pounds ($49) for cars that produce more than 225 grams of CO2per kilometer, while those that produce less than 120 grams perkilometer enter free of charge.
Matthias Wissmann, head of the German auto industry group VDA,has accused Livingstone of appealing to "social envy" rather thanpursuing a sound environmental goal.
Almost every major manufacturer in Geneva is showing off hybridversions that use electricity or hydrogen in addition toconventional fuels. Lighter materials, electricity-generatingbrakes and even solar panels will be on show by the 260 exhibitors.
No single technology has yet emerged as the definitive way ofreducing emissions, but manufacturers including General Motors andDaimler have put their weight behind developing more efficientlithium-ion batteries for use in hybrid vehicles. The Germancarmaker said its Mercedes-Benz flagship S-class luxury sedan willbe available in a gas-electricity hybrid version next year.
Martin Lloyd of Greenpeace, who toured the show before itsofficial opening, accused carmakers of "greenwashing" theirindustry with a few headline-grabbing eco models while continuingto sell heavier, faster and less efficient vehicles.
"The industry knows what it has to do and it has the technologyto do it," Lloyd said.
The show runs through Sunday, March 16.
On the Net:
Geneva Auto Show: http://www.salon-auto.ch/en
Greenpeace -- What makes a good car? :http://www.greenpeace.org/goodcar