Auto Companies Look for Faster Way to Turn Green Thinking into More Sales, Better Clout
GENEVA -- The global auto industry is experiencing a green revolution, convinced that lower emissions and hybrid engines could turn eco-minded drivers into a long-term customers.
At the Geneva Motor Show, where hundreds of cars -- big and fast, small and slow -- are on display, the concept of going green is taking root in ways that automakers hope will not only create less pollution, but also more purchases.
German carmakers, sometimes criticized for their gas-guzzling vehicles, highlighted the development of their own hybrid engines and showed off emission-control technology.
DaimlerChrysler AG's Mercedes-Benz unit put its BlueTec science on view, demonstrating how a 170-horsepower engine can be powered with about 1 1/2 gallons of diesel fuel per 62 miles.
BMW AG and DaimlerChrysler are cooperating on new engine technology by developing hybrid engine components. Thomas Weber, an executive board member with DaimlerChrysler, said the Mercedes-Benz unit is set to launch its first hybrid car in 2009.
"We'll launch a hybrid model for our Dodge brand in 2008, and the first Mercedes-Benz brand hybrid will come in 2009," he told reporters, but he did not specify models.
BMW also pointed to its involvement with General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler on new, advanced hybrid engines and its own work on hydrogen power, though buyers won't see that technology any time soon.
"BMW has been leading the way regarding efficient diesel engines for many years," BMW Chief Executive Norbert Reithofer said.
Diesel engines produce less CO2 emissions, but contribute more nitrates, which are harmful to the environment. Hybrid engines, which derive their power from an electric motor and gas-power transmission, produce less CO2 and less nitrates.
As it moves to combat global warming, the European Union has set a goal of 130 grams of CO2 per kilometer per vehicle by 2012, down from around 163 grams per kilometer on average now.
Porsche AG CEO Wendelin Wiedeking said that while he realized the automotive industry had a responsibility to reduce CO2 emissions, he said Porsches will not be powered by diesel engines.
The company has teamed up with Volkswagen AG to develop hybrid engines and plans to launch a hybrid-version of the Porsche Cayenne model by the end of this decade, with the aim of reducing fuel consumption by some 30 percent to around 2.4 gallons per 62 miles.
General Motors Corp., meanwhile, unveiled a new 2.9-liter V-6 turbo-diesel engine that boasts new injection and combustion technology aimed at reducing emissions without hampering performance.
The 250-horsepower engine will be mainly sold in Europe and is scheduled to be in the new Cadillac CTS starting in 2009.
"We expect the V-6 diesel to be highly competitive in the European luxury segment," said Jim Taylor, Cadillac general manager. "With its excellent low-end torque and its high power output, it is a great fit with Cadillac's performance-oriented brand character."
The compact dual overhead cam, four-valve V-6 engine belongs to a new GM family of diesel engines, featuring a closed-loop combustion control system designed to meet future emissions standards.
GM CEO Rick Wagoner said the push for better, cleaner fuels and power is accelerating.
"We're going to move to ethanol. We're going to see more hybrids," he said. "Eventually, we're going to see fuel cells."
Fuel-cell vehicles run on the power produced when oxygen in the air combines with hydrogen that's stored in the fuel tank -- producing only harmless water vapor.
BMW is keen on fuel cells, too, citing hydrogen as the best sustainable solution for such power, as are DaimlerChrysler, Ford Motor Co. and truckmaker MAN AG, which last year along with energy companies Shell Hydrogen BV and Total France, announced a joint project to advance the use of hydrogen as a fuel for trucks in Europe.
But Japan's Toyota Motor Corp., viewed as a pioneer because of its Prius hybrid, is still the leader in the field. It showed off its Hybrid X, a four-door, four-seat concept car powered by the Hybrid Synergy Drive that is low to the ground and evocative of something in a Japanese manga comic book.
Masatami Takimoto, the executive in charge of research and development for the world's second-biggest car maker by sales, said the company is looking at a range of more efficient gas and diesel engines, hybrid technologies, fuel cells and electric power.
Even its luxury unit, Lexus, expects to sell 45,000 Lexus 450h hybrids this year.
Associated Press writer Michael Bauer in Geneva contributed to this report.
Source: Associated Press