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Electric and hybrid cars: Automakers’ new battleground at Geneva Motor Show

At the Geneva Motor Show, a smoke-choked Volkswagen is working towards cleaner image using cleaner technology, Toyota and Nissan are playing their electric and hybrid games safe in Europe as local rivals grow. Wake up Tesla.

autos Updated: Mar 10, 2017 11:02 IST
Gulshankumar Wankar
Geneva Motor Show
A Toyota i-TRIL electric concept car is displayed at the Japanese carmaker stand during the first press day of the Geneva International Motor Show on Tuesday in Geneva. (AFP)

Move over Teslas. They will come when they have to.

Take notice of other carmakers at the Geneva International Motor Show who are flaunting their tailpipes, because there are none! Or may be fewer.

It’s not just the usual Japanese automakers gambling in the world’s biggest automakers’ symposium, but even European names like BMW, Renault, Jaguar and Volkswagen going green this year.

Japanese brands like Toyota and Nissan have been the crusaders of electric vehicles in Asian as well as European markets. Nissan introduced its electric hatchback Leaf in 2010 and has sold over 250,000 units worldwide until December 2016, the largest for a highway electric car in history.

Staff speak together next to a Renault Twizy electric car during the first press day of the Geneva International Motor Show . (AFP)

Toyota went to Geneva this year to show its hybrid car success. Its hybrid vehicles sales in Europe were up 40% in 2016 and 32% of all sales in the region. That means almost one in every three cars Toyota sold in Europe was a hybrid.

“We are on our way of achieving our target of having 50% of our mix in hybrids by 2020,” company’s Europe head Johan van Zyl said on Tuesday.

Toyota lost the no. 1 carmaker crown to Volkswagen in 2016, but that does not matter to the company.

“We are not a volume-chaser. We want to create a sustainable, growing business in Europe,” van Zyl said.

Volkswagen AG has shown a considerable shift towards electric and hybrid technology after growing out of the emissions scandal that broke first in September 2015. As it conserves resources for meeting its expenses towards penalties and compensations, the German auto giant has also invested considerably in clean technology and aims to launch more than 30 new all-electric vehicles by 2025.

The new Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid car at the Geneva Motor Show. (Reuters)

Performance brand Porsche, the second biggest contributor to VW’s overall profit, is also spending about $1.1 billion to make an all-electric Mission E, the brand’s first battery-only model that is expected to launch by 2020.

The sports carmaker wants to go beyond Mission E and make an all electric version of its compact SUV Macan and give its iconic 911 a hybrid avatar.

Volkswagen made its intent clear on day one of the GIMS when it also showcased a concept self-driving car. “The Sedric is a precursor for more such models from the Volkswagen (VW) group in years to come,” VW chief executive Matthias Mueller said.

“We are really in a transitionary phase for the industry. There are new competitors on the horizon like Tesla or Chinese ventures,” Herbert Diess, the head of Volkswagen’s (VW) main passenger car division, told reporters.

Volkswagen Sedric can carry 4 passengers and could be used for ride-sharing fleets as well as for individual consumers. (AP)

Volkswagen is on its way out of the emissions scandal but penalties and compensations will cause a lot of bleeding. But Volkswagen is not the only one dealing with problems while going big on cleaner technology.

British luxury brand Mini makes around 70% of its 360,000 cars at its Oxford plant in southern England. As dark clouds of Brexit hover which may complicate trade in the European Union, Mini and its parent BMW may start making electric Minis outside of the UK.

Mini head Peter Schwarzenbauer said they would decide by the end of 2017 where to make the new electric model -- at the existing Oxford site or the Netherlands, or a new location altogether.

VW, which is Europe’s biggest carmaker, aims to launch more than 30 new all-electric vehicles by 2025 in a strategic shift following its diesel emissions test rigging scandal and has backed Porsche to produce another all-electric car.

Tata Motors-owned Jaguar is engineering its first electric performance SUV Concept – the I-Pace. The production version of the I-Pace aims to cover longer distance, with fast charging times and better performance, à la Tesla.

Jaguar plans to run its Britain facilities at their full capacity and make I-Pace at Magna Steyr’s plant in Graz, Austria, in order to ease sales across EU, courtesy: Brexit.

Global market competition and auto production strategies have borne a good outcome. A smoke-choked Volkswagen is working towards cleaner image using cleaner technology, Toyota and Nissan are playing their electric and hybrid games safe in Europe as local rivals grow, and businessmen are not driving policies of the state, rather waiting for them.

The competition among automakers has grown beyond volumes and profits, it’s a battle for the future and electric and hybrid cars are the new battleground.

Well, Tesla (and Faraday if you’re really making a car that would work), Geneva has a writing on the wall.

Click for full coverage of Geneva Motor Show

The author tweets as @GulshanMWankar