GENEVA (Reuters) - When Lamborghini and Hummer try getting in on the action, you know greener cars have come of age.
The makers of $400,000 supercars and flashy sports utility vehicles find themselves trying to keep up with tiny, fuel efficient new models at this week’s Geneva auto show as toughening pollution laws put the focus on small, light and thrifty.
Hummer, the rugged U.S. troops transporter that has become popular with Hollywood stars, is showing a version of its HX concept vehicle that can run on ethanol, which emits less greenhouse gasses than gasoline.
Lamborghini’s new version of the Gallardo, its “cheaper” model at $222,000, is also designed to emit less CO2, the main greenhouse gas blamed for climate change.
But trimming 20 kilograms off a 325 km/h (202 mph) supercar is well short of the radical steps being taken by industry heavyweights such as Toyota as a battle of superminis heats up.
Toyota calls its new iQ the world’s smallest four-passenger car at less than 3 meters long and expects to begin sales by the end of this year.
“I dream of a car that improves the air while it rides, that makes its occupants healthier and that can go around the world on a single tank,” Toyota Chief Executive Katsuaki Watanabe told reporters at the show.
The Japanese have been crafting tiny cars for decades but with consumers in Europe now buying such models in increasing numbers, the stage is set for a major upturn in exports from Japan’s top brands, mostly from their low-cost factories in China and India.
While Toyota and Suzuki with its A-Star Concept go for sleek lines to bolster their offerings, India’s “people’s car,” the Tata Nano, is proving a major draw at the auto show for its price.
At just $2500, it is the cheapest four-seater around and a potential threat as a result, especially once Tata Motors Ltd turns its sights on exports.
France’s Renault is among the European companies which said this week it is considering building a rival model.
Chinese maker BYD Co Ltd has its eyes on the electric car market with its F3 DM (Dual Mode) model on display at the auto show.
The company says it expects to do battle with plug-in hybrid models being developed by Toyota and General Motors.
“All cars will become electric one way or another,” said Carl-Peter Forster, president of General Motors Europe.
“But we don’t know yet the road towards that destination. It’s time we stop discussing how to get there and let’s get on with it.”
Nissan’s bubble-shaped Pivo concept car is also electric but its design is even more radical, with a cockpit that spins, doing away with ever having to back up.
Switzerland’s Rinspeed also has a two-seater concept car with electric power on display, the sQuba, which as the name suggests is capable of driving under water like James Bond’s white Lotus Esprit in the film The Spy Who Loved Me.
Buyers beware, however, as the Rinspeed has an open roof.
Britain’s Morgan is also displaying a model that shows environmentally friendly cars need not be boring.
Its gun-metal gray LifeCar prototype conceals a pollution-free hydrogen fuel cell and offers a 21st-century revamp of Morgan’s traditional open roadster styling, which is little changed since the 1940s.
“The LifeCar’s purpose is to demonstrate that a zero emission vehicle can also be fun to drive,” the company says on its website.
For environmentalist group Greenpeace, automakers cannot change fast enough.
“For a century the car industry has sold us a dream of faster, bigger, heavier automobiles,” campaigner Helen Perivier said.
“The climate crisis means the new century requires a new dream of cars.”
Editing by Jason Neely