GENEVA Governments, carmakers and drivers must push for progress in green vehicle technology to help the environment, and global economic woes make it even more important to up the pressure, politician, actor and green car advocate Arnold Schwarzenegger said.
Carmakers are rushing to get electric cars and hybrids on the roads in a bid to meet toughening emissions regulations, whilst relying on government support in the form of charging infrastructure and consumer incentives to win over drivers.
But factors including "range-anxiety" for electric cars - the fear of running out of battery far from a charging point - and high price tags mean in some cases they are not yet selling in the high numbers manufacturers hoped for.
General Motors is halting production of its Chevrolet Volt electric plug-in hybrid for five weeks this spring on slack demand.
"Whenever we have a downturn economically things like new ideas slow down also - this is natural", Schwarzenegger, who was governor of California from 2003-2011, told Reuters on the sidelines of the Geneva Auto Show on Thursday.
"That's why it's very important to go and push and push and push ... it's all a matter of making an effort and focusing ... so that you always remind people ... this is still important. Even though the economy's down we still have to breathe the air, we still have to drink the water."
Schwarzenegger, former professional bodybuilder and the star of blockbuster films including the Terminator series, True Lies and Total Recall, said the car industry had made huge progress since the introduction of catalytic converters in 1975, which initially met with strong resistance from manufacturers, but slashed vehicle emissions.
Manufacturers still need to do more, however. "They are doing well but they always can do better. I always push for the ultimate, I always go all-out," he told Reuters.
Austrian-born Schwarzenegger was speaking in the show's Green Pavilion, where low or zero-emission cars including Nissan Motors' Leaf and Renault's futuristic Twizy two-seater city car showed the alternatives available for environment-conscious drivers.
The good news was that drivers no longer had to make sacrifices on speed, power or looks when choosing an electric car or a hybrid, said Schwarzenegger, who cited the Cadillac Escalade -- a luxury SUV made by U.S. carmaker General Motors -- as one of his favorites.
Ten years ago, green cars were "very ugly -- I wouldn't want to sit in (one)," Schwarzenegger had earlier told reporters.
"But now they're very very attractive-looking cars. You have sports cars, two-doors, four-doors, SUVs - you have all kinds of vehicles."
Schwarzenegger, who was in Geneva to attend a series of meetings for the R20 non-profit organization dedicated to low-carbon projects he helped to set up, said his dream was a slow conversion to alternative fuels which would also reduce dependence on oil, whose high prices hurt drivers' pockets.
That dream would take some time to achieve, he said. "It's not going to happen from one day to the next, nor are we going to live without fossil fuels from one day to the next."
And if at the Geneva Auto Show in five or ten years, the dream becomes a reality, with hydrogen-powered, electric and hybrid cars filling display stands in the sprawling main halls and petrol- and diesel-engine cars consigned to the "alternative fuels" area, will Schwarzenegger be there to witness it?
"I'll be back," he said.
(Editing by David Cowell)