Lower-emission vehicles take front seat

DESIGNS for a carbon-conscious world took front place as car makers revealed their latest high-tech models at the Paris auto show, hoping for rebound in a struggling car market.

Hybrids and other fuel-efficient, lower-emission vehicles took front seat.

Innovations included Renault’s DeZir, a small, sporty concept car, and its ZE – for “zero emissions” – line, and the single-platform Ford Focus.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors are expected at the two-week show, the oldest and one of the largest of its kind. It opens to the public tomorrow.

Car makers have been flaunting technologies aimed at cutting or eliminating carbon dioxide emissions from their vehicles.

But this time, more and more will be models headed for showrooms, not concept or idea cars.

“New energy technologies are a major theme of this show, and we are well positioned to take advantage of that,” said Peugeot-Citroen head Philippe Varin.

In addition to the 3008 diesel hybrid, Peugeot is also to begin selling its iOn electric car. Other ready-to-roll green cars on show include Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV and the Nissan Leaf.

China is also a focus for Peugeot, which will make one-third of its new 508 saloons in China, with targeted sales in its first year of 200,000, Varin said. The Chinese market soared 50% last year, he said.

Renault boss Carlos Ghosn said the show represents “the year that electric vehicles become a reality”.

Global car production fell 17% over 2008 and 2009, dropping to 57 million vehicles last year. Scrapping schemes introduced after the crisis helped support European car makers and their suppliers, but now that they are being withdrawn growth is stalling in the region.

Rebecca Lindland, an analyst at IHS Automotive, said the market looks optimistic after two “terrible years” since the last Paris show because of the global recession. Recovery is faster in some places than others, she said.

“The important thing is that manufacturers prepare, because once that economy really starts clicking they’ve got to be able to offer consumers the best and the brightest of those vehicles,” she said.

The show focuses on the European market, but the continent’s growth prospects are slim compared to burgeoning areas like Brazil and China, which has eclipsed the United States as the world’s single-biggest car market.

Ford is making the Focus its world car, hoping to make some two million vehicles off the same platform by 2012 to reap economies of scale. Before, the US giant had a strategy of one Focus platform for each major region.

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