Carmakers are finding the Paris Motor Show, held in a city whose mayor wants to ban diesels to reduce pollution, to be a fine place to show off new zero-emission electric vehicles.
Most prominently, Volkswagen will unveil a new small electric car as part of its pivot from diesel to more electric models as it struggles to recover from a scandal over 11 million cars that were rigged to evade diesel emissions tests. And Mercedes-Benz will unveil a luxury electric SUV aimed at warding off competition from, among others, all-electric upstart Tesla.
Volkswagen on electric avenue
Volkswagen has vowed to launch more than 30 fully electric new vehicles by 2025 and to sell 2-3 million of them a year. Its new electric car is billed as a “design study” for future models.
Mercedes-Benz is expected to show off an SUV that would compete with other luxury carmakers, in particular Tesla and its Model X. Tesla loses money at present but its buzz and rising sales to rich customers appear to have been noticed by German carmakers.
GM’s Opel has the Ampera-e, the European version of the Chevrolet Bolt, which attracted attention when US regulators said it had a range of 383 kilometers on a full charge.
Now for the reality check:
Not many people buy electric cars, due to limited range and higher cost, and when they do it's often with a fat tax break. And they're not really zero emission, either, if coal or natural gas is burned to generate the electricity to charge them.
Only 4.2 percent of all passenger car registrations in the European Union last year were alternative-fuel vehicles. Yet carmakers need to sell at least a few electrics to help meet increasingly tough government requirements. The EU is lowering its limit on average carbon dioxide emissions in 2021; the US will require fleetwide average mileage of 4.3 l/100km by 2025. Paris Mayor Hidalgo wants to “eradicate” diesel in the city by 2020.
Still a place for sports cars
Luxury and sports cars are a regular feature of motor shows, and this one is no exception.
One of the more breathtaking examples is Ferrari's limited edition, open-top hybrid LaFerrari Aperta. The company has shown photographs of a ferocious-looking, low-slung two-seater in black with red accents and big side air scoops.
SUVs a hot category
Carmakers just keep coming out with new SUVs and crossovers. It's a hot category. Analytical firm IHS Markit says that sales of SUVs and crossovers in the midsize category grew over a decade from 43 500 to just under 1.71 million in 2015. And the forecast is for more growth.
One of the most important in Europe is the Peugeot 5008, which is morphing into a crossover from a so-called multi-purpose vehicle (translation: van-like vehicle with room for kids, bikes and skis.)
Skoda will have its seven-seat Kodiaq and Suzuki a sub-compact crossover under the revived Ignis nameplate. At the higher end, Jaguar Land Rover has its new Discovery, getting the first wholesale body design change in 12 years.
For the rest of us
More basic transportation for the mass market will also be on hand, several from French automakers at their home show. Nissan unveils a new version of its Micra compact (teaser pic below) and Citroen will show off the third generation of its small C3, whose distinctive design includes optional airbumps. In the midsize category, Honda has the new five-door version of its venerable Civic hatchback.
Some carmakers are skipping the show, including Rolls-Royce, Ford, Mazda, Aston-Martin, Bentley, and Lamborghini. Some luxury carmakers prefer to do their own exclusive events; others find the French show too small. There is also competition from technology shows. This year Ford instead went to the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona, Spain, in February, where CEO Mark Fields talked about the company's efforts in new technologies such as autonomous vehicles.
Associated Press (AP)