Electric cars center stage at Geneva

Electric-powered vehicles has emerged as a way to persuade environmentally aware consumers to buy new cars during the global recession.

GM electric car 88 248 (photo credit: )
GM electric car 88 248
(photo credit: )
GM's troubled Adam Opel GmbH subsidiary presented the lithium-ion battery-powered hatchback Ampera on Tuesday at the Geneva Motor Show, where electric-powered vehicles emerged as one way to persuade environmentally aware consumers to buy new cars during the global recession. Ossther automakers - including Chrysler, Mitsubishi and Ford - also touted their plans for cars equipped with electric motors, as the industry both seeks to overcome the current crisis that has decimated sales and meet increasingly tough environmental and carbon emission standards. Only European giant VW bucked the trend, saying its answer to the electric car would come out "in the coming decade." European drivers could be silently cruising around in the Ampera by the end of 2011 - the first 60 kilometers on pure electricity, augmented by another 500 km. of extended range from a gasoline engine, which would generate less than 40 grams of C02 emissions per kilometer. The Ampera presented in Geneva was a white four-door sedan with a hatchback - and a set of front headlights that created a menacing, masculine impression. An Opel official demonstrated how the car could easily be plugged into any household electrical supply. "This is the kind of game-changing technology that the auto industry needs to respond to energy and environmental challenges," GM Europe president Carl Peter Forster said. Mitsubishi Motors Corp. said it had reached an understanding with Peugeot Citroen PSA to sell its new electric car "i MiEV" to European customers as early as late next year. Mitsubishi's president, Osamu Masuko, said the collaboration could help pave the road to "tomorrow's sunny days" for the automotive industry, which is struggling amid the global economic downturn and a decline in global sales. Peugeot will sell the car under its own brand in Europe, while Mitsubishi will launch the car in Japan this year. The four-door electric-only hatchback produces no carbon dioxide emissions and has a top speed of 130 kph. It has a range of 145 km. once its 330-volt lithium ion battery is charged for 14 hours. By contrast, Ford, Toyota and Chrysler showed only concept cars illustrating the company's thinking about electric cars. Ford presented at its stand a five-seater passenger vehicle called the Tourneo, developed for European markets by Smith Electric Vehicles - part of the Tanfield Group, which developed the Ford Connect van in the United States. "The plan is to go into production as soon as we feel the market is ready for production," Tanfield CEO Darren Kell said. Chrysler showed its Dodge Circuit EV sports car, which was unveiled in Detroit. Toyota showed its FT-EV fully electric four-seater concept car, also previewed in Detroit, as part of the Japanese automaker's pledge to produce a fully electric commuter vehicle by 2012. The Indian carmaker Tata introduced its compact Indica Vista EV, an all-electric commuter vehicle that it plans to test in Norway later this year. Tata claims it has a range of at least 160 km. and a top speed of 128 kph. VW, by contrast, was moving more slowly before showing any product. Chairman Martin Winterkorn said the German automaker would launch its first electric vehicle "in the next decade." "Announcements alone have never brought new technology onto the road," Winterkorn told a presentation Monday evening. "It's a long path to safe electric cars that are available for everyone. We are not talking about being the one with the fastest solution. We want the best solution." Opel faces a particularly difficult situation, and such new technologies are critical to the restructuring plan it has laid out seeking government funds. GM Europe has proposed that Opel loosen its ties with its beleaguered US parent and said it would need €3.3 billion in financing or guarantees from European authorities over the next two years. The aim would be to pay the money back in 2014 or 2015. At the same time, the Ampera, the European relative to the North American Volt, and the Chevrolet Spark, which Opel also presented in Geneva for sale in Europe by early next year, represents the kind of technology that it can get from its US parent company.