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Geneva Motor Show: Smaller -- and Greener -- is Better

Green rhetoric gave way to genuine progress at the Geneva Motor Show this year. GreenBiz was invited to the press preview of the 82nd annual event before the public show, which runs from March 8-18th.

Driven in large part by tightening fuel economy regulations on both sides of the Atlantic, globally increasing oil prices, and some of Europe's "stairstep" policies to promote greener mobility, sustainability is being woven into every segment of the automotive business at an impressive rate.
The shift is happening even in unexpected places: Porsche proudly displayed a fuel-sipping diesel-powered Panamera on their stand, and Ferrari claimed better efficiency for their latest V12 engine.

Most striking compared to last year's show was the relative absence of green sub-brands. Whereas many automakers waved "eco" flags last year (execs from VW's Czech-based arm, Skoda, even wore green ties) the 2012 show saw less flag-waving, but even more "numbers on the door."
The picture below shows some of the ratings of cars at Geneva in grams of CO2 per kilometer, the standard of emissions common in Europe:
Many vehicles also proudly displayed a letter-grade environmental rating alongside information on price, standard equipment, and performance specifications. An impressive number of production vehicles earned an "A" on this scale for sub-100 g/km CO2 ratings.

Doing more with less

Most of the important new production cars revealed at the show had the common quality of small size. As wereported from Frankfurt six months ago, making smaller vehicles more desirable is a critical component of the industry's strategy to meet the fuel-economy targets mandated around the world. Of these production cars, highlights include:


  • Ford's B-Max (pictured at right), an urban mini "people mover," which was arguably the most significant vehicle of the show. Its novel pillar-less entry design (the front door is conventional, while the rear door slides; either can open independently) means that five family members can climb aboard with ease of access unmatched in the B-segment. It's unlikely that the U.S. will see the B-Max, but the C-Max, a larger cousin, is on sale now.
  • Fiat showed the production-intent 500L, which despite the name is not just a stretched 500, but a new design with the 500 "face." It will go on sale in Europe at the end of the year with a choice of two gasoline engines and one turbodiesel. A version of this vehicle will eventually join the 500 on sale now in the U.S.
  • Mercedes-Benz launched an all-new A-Class, the second full redesign since the automaker joined the mini segment in 1997. It is very popular in Europe.
  • Audi unveiled its third-generation A3. It might not look dramatically different from the current model, but it is built around a new modular architecture called "MQB" that will be the underpinning of many of the Volkswagen Group's future cars, from small to large, including the next-generation Golf -- one of Europe's most popular vehicles -- plus the next Passat, Audi TT, and many other brand variants. Because MQB standardizes the distance between the front axle line and the pedals and other critical engineering relationships, but allows variability in other dimensions, it promises to spread the development cost of new technologies like electric drive across a range of vehicles with unique sizes and character.
  • Audi's corporate parent also showed five-door versions of the new-last-year city cars known as Up!, Mii, and Citigio across its Volkswagen, Seat, and Skoda brands, respectively.

Corporate commitments and high honors for sustainability

Slipped into the Volkswagen press conference was an announcement of what they called "a fundamental ecological restructuring" that they say will result in an average of 120 grams CO2 per kilometer across the Volkswagen Group fleet by 2015 -- an equivalent of 45 mpg. This represents a 30-percent improvement compared to a 2006 baseline. These hard targets come on the heels of heavy criticism from Greenpeace activists in Europe, including a protest at the Frankfurt show in September. More information on Volkswagen's new commitments is available on their news site.

In related corporate news, the BMW Group earned top honors from the Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IÖW) and Future e.V. in their ranking of 2011 sustainability reports. BMW's report, which details the company's strategy in efficiency, electromobility, and next-generation corporate programs such as car-sharing, is available here.

Adding to its list of accolades worldwide, the Chevrolet Volt and its Opel Ampera twin took home the prize for 2012 European Car of the Year, selected from a field of 35 new vehicles.

More fuel-efficient fun on the way

Nearly every concept car at Geneva points to a future where personal mobility is more sustainable.

Most striking was Toyota's FT-Bh (pictured below), a hint of what a future Prius might look like. It features a sub-800 kg curb weight (a third less than the already lightweight Yaris) with a drag coefficient of just 0.235, versus the segment average of 0.29. Toyota says it showcases "a 'total vehicle' approach to reducing emissions in an affordable city car," designed to avoid expensive materials and complex manufacturing processes.

Nissan showed a nearer-to-production hatchback with high fuel economy and CO2 emissions of less than 100g CO2/km from its aerodynamic design, lightweight construction and "advanced engine technology." Infiniti, Nissan's premium brand, pulled the wraps off of what it calls the Emerg-E, a 400-horsepower halo car with range-extended electric power.

Hyundai also previewed range-extended electric technology with the I-oniq sports concept, a series-hybrid hatchback with a 1.0-liter gasoline engine. Hyundai says the car has a range of 74 miles in electric-only mode, and up to 435 miles using gasoline. While concept-car performance specifications are subject to change, we're closer than ever to a more sustainable future.

This article was originally featured in GreenBiz.

Topics: Sustainability