| PARIS, Sept 28
PARIS, Sept 28 European consumers have been
buying far fewer cars in recent years; Fiat boss Sergio
Marchionne says the auto companies "have lost three million
(sales) in five years."
That poses an epic challenge for Europe's struggling
carmakers: How to rekindle automotive lust in crisis-sated,
climate-conscious consumers and lure them back to showrooms.
One not-so-obvious solution was on display this week at the
Paris Auto show - green supercars.
No one expects the average customer to shell out the
416,500-euro asking price for the new Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG
Coupe Electric Drive, the "most exclusive and dynamic way to
drive an electric car," according to the German luxury brand.
With a combined maximum output of 552 kW and a top speed of
250 km/h, the flagship performance model will likely be the
fastest and most powerful production electric car on the road
when it goes into extremely limited production in 2013.
Mercedes admits the battery-powered SLS is reserved for
those lucky and affluent few who are "enthusiastic about
ambitious high-tech solutions for the future of motoring."
But corporate parent Daimler clearly believes the
mere presence next year in Mercedes showrooms of the
high-performance two-seater, with its signature gull wings and
four powerful electric motors - one for each wheel - should
attract curious shoppers who just might walk away instead with a
new garden-variety A-, B- or C-Class.
Rival BMW is thinking along the same lines. Its i8
plug-in hybrid, first shown as a styling concept at the 2009
Frankfurt show and reprised in Paris, has been described by the
company as its "new-generation sports car". It is expected to
cost well over 100,000 euros ($128,600) when it arrives at
dealers in 2014.
So far BMW has shown several versions of the i8, including a
four-passenger coupe and a two-passenger spider. The futuristic
i8 features advanced electronic systems and extensive use of
lightweight carbon fiber. Like Mercedes' SLS Electric, all four
wheels on the BMW are driven, but with a 96kW electric motor
powering the front axle and a 164kW turbocharged three-cylinder
gasoline engine at the rear. That's a fraction of the muscle
supplied in the Mercedes, but given the i8's ultra-light weight,
it's enough to propel the car from 0-100km/h in less than five
seconds, while returning a frugal 2.7 litres per 100 kilometres.
Meanwhile Daimler's crosstown rival Porsche
continues to stretch its brand with an unlikely derivative of
the four-door Panamera, a wagon-like plug-in hybrid it has
dubbed Panamera Sport Turismo and tentatively slated for
production around 2015.
The Panamera Sport Turismo uses a more advanced version of
the electric motor and gasoline engine that power the current
Panamera Hybrid, which is priced from around 100,000 euros. It
is not nearly as potent as the all-electric Mercedes or the
hybrid BMW, but its single motor and supercharged 3.0-liter
engine deliver a combined 306kW, and the wagon can be driven in
pure electric mode at speeds up to 130 km/h. Fuel consumption is
less than 3.5 litres per 100 km, while CO2 emissions are less
than 82 g/km.
Conspicuous in its absence is the long-awaited and
oft-rumoured "New Enzo" from Ferrari. Intended to fill the slot
left by the ultra-short production run of the original Enzo
(named for the late company founder), the new supercar will now
be formally unveiled in January at the Detroit Auto Show, with
the first customer deliveries slated to begin late next year.
Here in Paris, Ferrari elected to tease the faithful with a
sculpture-like piece of carbon fibre it described as a piece of
the new car's chassis, adapted from its highly successful
Formula 1 racing cars.
The New Enzo will be Ferrari's first production hybrid
model, which it says "will be produced in a limited-edition,
special series" rumoured to have a starting price tag well in
excess of 660,000 euros - the price of the original 2002 Enzo.
Likely to ignite even the most jaded Ferraristi, racetrack-style
performance will be provided by a massive 600kW 12-cylinder
engine mated with a 90kW electric motor, a combination that
could rival the output of the mighty Bugatti Veyron.
While all these green supercars are in the pipeline for
production, Paris also produced a genuine rarity: An eye-popping
concept car with a high-performance hybrid powertrain adapted
from racing and a stunning, sharply chiselled body that had
seasoned designers like Italy's Giorgetto Giugiaro drooling.
The car - a surprise hit of the show - is the Peugeot
Onyx, from the troubled French automaker better known
in recent years for its humdrum family cars and dogged
determination to sell diesel-powered hybrids to a dwindling base
Everything about the Onyx marks it as a one-off
technological tour de force that is unlikely to see an assembly
line: Fenders and doors hand-crafted of copper, a "double
bubble" roof made of a special acrylic and a 450kW V8 diesel
hybrid system derived from Peugeot's Le Mans endurance racecars.
Sandeep Bhambra, the car's exterior designer, said his
mission was simple: "I wanted to show that there are still many
dreamers inside Peugeot."