Impressions From the 2011 Geneva Auto Show


Photo: Roy Brooke
This is a guest-post written by Roy Brooke. He went to the 81st Geneva Auto Show, and this is what he found. -Ed.

Automakers at this year's 81st Geneva Auto Show are falling over each other to showcase eco-friendly line-ups that feature everything from fuel-efficiency tweaks to a view deep into an electric future.
Photo: Roy Brooke

Many of the big players are putting their more energy efficient vehicles front and center. Luxury car maker Mercedes is highlighting Blue Efficiency technology, said to reduce fuel consumption by 12%, throughout its mainstream line-up. Nearby, the BMW Efficient Dynamics 320 diesel station wagon touts a surprisingly impressive fuel consumption of only 4.2 litres per 100 kilometers. Other major brands like Ford all showcased their own trademark efficiency technologies to woo environmentally-conscious buyers.

Electric is everywhere at the Auto Show. The range includes cars for the masses, concept cars straight from the University engineering lab, and dazzling eye-candy that may change the genre.

In the more mainstream line-up, visitors can test fully electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf, which has a range of up to 180 kms per charge, won the 2011 Car of the Year award and is being pre-ordered in the United States. The gas-electric Chevy Volt looks similar but can charge its own batteries, giving it a longer and more useful driving range. BMW claims that its own electric vehicle, indistinguishable from the rest of its line-up from the outside, will be available by 2013. How well it will sell with a range of less than 200 kilometers is another question.


Photo: Roy Brooke

Moving a step away from the family car is China's army-inspired electric GreenTech vehicle. It has yet to reach European and North American markets, but the rep is convinced this would happen after taking Chinese markets by storm. More outlandish designs such as the tiny Niama Reisser NR-1 concept car, which is powered by a centrifugal motor and will travel 100 kms on a single liter of fuel, may take a couple more years to see the light of day, but even this is slated for mass markets.


Photo: Roy Brooke

The gull-wing Mercedes AMG SLS E Cell sits astride the game-changer category. With four electric motors, over 500 h.p.of power and neon yellow paint, this car is drawing crowds of gawkers at the Auto Show. Acceleration of 0-60 m.p.h in 4.0 seconds might just do a little something to banish the notion of electric cars as dull and frumpy. Drivers will have to get their thrills quickly, however, as the range is about 150 kms..

Some of the usual suspects in the green car market are busy redefining themselves. The Smart Car's future, for example, may include a transformation as radical as the Mini Cooper's. Current Smart Cars begin and end with function, getting the driver from A to B with a couple of bags of groceries. The all-electric Smart Car ForSpeed concept car, by contrast, looks like a roadster built for hipsters who cruise the strip rather than the uber-practical with which consumers are more familiar.

The Geneva Auto Show answers some questions and raises others. Are eco-efficient cars becoming a mainstream fixture that is here to stay? All indications at the Show suggest yes. The crowds looking at the green cars suggest a real interest, and the breadth of manufacturers offering more eco-friendly options is impressive.


Photo: Roy Brooke

Will these eco-cars make an environmental difference? Tough question. The hybrid BMW 7-series still puts out a very hefty 219 grams of CO2 per kilometer, and some of the efficiencies in the luxury car segment are pretty minor. Many of the cars on display are not as inefficient as they might otherwise have been, but it is big stretch to say that they embody sustainability. And, for now, the full-electric cars are still heavily constrained by short ranges and long recharge times. So, on the downside, a real environmental difference is probably still a couple of years away, but the speed of change and the levels of interest are nothing short of impressive.

Perhaps in hindsight we will see that one of the biggest contributions the show makes is showing consumers that eco-car no longer means ugly and practical. Now it can mean stylish design and excellent performance, and this will only help a shift to true eco-vehicles.

This has been a guest-post by Roy Brooke. Many thanks to him! -Ed.
More on Electric Cars
CODA Preps for 2011 Launch of Electric Sedan in U.S.
Electric Mazda2 Coming to Japan in 2012
Tesla Model S 'Alpha Build' Hits the Road (Video)
Video Autopsy of a Tesla Model S Electric Car
Every Chevy Volt is Road-Tested Before Delivery
Tesla Motors Will Make $60 Million From Toyota's Electric RAV4
BYD Stops Production of F3e Electric Car (At Least for Now)

Tags: Electric Cars | Electric Vehicles | Transportation