THE SHOW MUST GO ON
The global economy may be down, but carmakers were talking up the industry at the Sydney Motor Show, writes NEIL McDONALD
GREY storm clouds may be gathering over the car business, but green was the only colour in Sydney last week. Carmakers put on a brave face to launch 40 new cars and leading-edge technologies at the Australian International Motor Show, against a background of a collapsing Australian dollar and subdued consumer confidence.
The economic jitters were compounded by the withdrawal of more than 10 car companies from the Sydney event because of the cost of exhibiting there and in Melbourne each year.
The green revolution was embraced, with several key brands introducing hybrid technologies and new fuel-saving technologies.
GM-Holden not only showed off the 2012 hybrid-electric Volt midsizer, but launched its ‘‘Ecoline’’ fuelsaving technology that will appear in many models.
This somewhat overshadowed the launch of the Cadillac CTS, which marks the first time Cadillac has been sold here for 70 years.
Holden calls the Volt an ‘‘extended-range electric vehicle’’ that can travel up to 64km purely on its electric batteries.
Compared with similar sized petrolpowered vehicles, it will save owners up to 1892 litres of fuel a year.
Power comes solely from lithium-ion batteries, with a conventional small petrol, diesel or ethanol engine as backup when the batteries are depleted.
Holden says the front-wheel-drive car can be charged overnight from a household electric socket.
Though development work is continuing, Holden chief Mark Reuss says the Volt will become an important part of the Holden line-up.
‘‘The Volt platform, from a technology standpoint, is a long-term idea for General Motors,’’ he says.
‘‘It will be a genuine production car with genuine production volumes.’’
That means that in time other models will appear, using the Volt as a basis.
‘‘We’ve been developing the car for world-wide capability,’’ Reuss says, including right-hand-drive markets.
He says the Volt will be available with a range of powertrains to back up the electric batteries.
Pricing is yet to be confirmed, but the Volt, similar in size to a Toyota Corolla sedan, is expected to cost about $35,000.
Holden also introduced its cylinder displacement technology, called active fuel management, which will headline its automatic V8 Commodores from January.
AFM allows the V8 to shut down four cylinders and use the other four for highway cruising.
Holden says it can save up to a litre of petrol for every 100km travelled. Holden’s Ecoline strategy also includes diesel and LPG, and will eventually broaden to include ethanolfuelled Holdens.
Holden wasn’t alone in the green theme. Toyota, Volkswagen, Volvo and Nissan showed their own technologies and concepts that are expected to soon make it into production.
Even tiny Japanese carmaker Suzuki got into the act with its sub-$13,000 Alto hatch city car, which goes on sale next year. Powered by a 50kW three- cylinder 1.0-litre petrol engine, the Alto delivers fuel economy of 4.5 litres/100km and CO2 emissions of only 103g/km.
Volvo drove home its commitment to reducing fuel consumption and lowering CO2 emissions with the unveiling of its DRIVe C30 hatch.
With consumption and CO2 emissions figures as low as 4.4 litres for 100km and 115g/km, the new C30, S40 and V50 DRIVe models are set to make a significant environmental impact when they go on sale in Europe by the end of the year. They are also being evaluated for the local market.
Of all the concepts, Toyota’s Hybrid X five-door hatch proved you could be green and groovy.
The X previews how the new Prius hatch might look and appeared alongside the Camry hybrid, which goes into production here in 2010.
At Lexus, its LF-Xh hybrid softroader concept points to the new RX range, due early next year.
As with the RX400h, the all-wheel drive LF-Xh uses a V6 petrol engine mated to an electric motor.
The car was designed by Lexus design chief Shuhei Miyashita and carries on the ‘‘L-Finesse’’ design philosophy.
With a shallow glasshouse, handleless doors and LED headlights, Miyashita has tried to make the concept look like a beefed-up coupe.
Nissan, like many carmakers, is fast-tracking its electric story, displaying the Mixim all-electric concept car and flagging the arrival of a similar all-electric small family car by 2012.
The company’s local boss, Dan Thompson, says it will have a small electric car on sale globally by 2010 and it will be sold here.
Thompson describes the car as a ‘‘zero-emission small family passenger vehicle’’. Nissan insiders say it will look like a wagon-style Mixim.
Nissan Australia is also looking into petrol-electric hybrid vehicles, which it already sells in North America.
Apart from the arrival of the Passat CC coupe and the special-edition Pirelli GTi Golf, VW showed its fuelsaving Bluemotion technology in the Polo hatch and Passat.
Both cars have modified software in their engines, longer gear ratios, aerodynamic aids, lowered suspension, light alloy wheels and low rolling-resistance tyres.
The Passat BlueMotion gets an 81kW 2.0- litre four- cylinder common-rail TDI engine and fivespeed manual transmission.
The maximum torque is 250Nm at 1500 to 2500 revs and the car returns 4.9 litres for 100km with CO2 emissions of only 128g/km.
This compares with the standard Australian- spec 103kW/ 320Nm 2.0-litre turbodiesel Passat, mated to a
six-speed automatic, which averages 6.6 litres for 100km and has C02 emissions of 175g/km. Despite the emphasis on frugal driving, one piece of European exotica lifted spirits and wooed showgoers.
The new Ferrari California sportscar was a hit, even with an expected price, in today’s dollars, of $450,000 when it arrives in showrooms next year.
Ferrari spokesman Edward Rowe says many buyers are well-heeled women.
‘‘More so than any other Ferrari in recent memory,’’ he says.
The California has a new mid-frontengined 338kW/485Nm 4.3-litre V8 that can reach 100km/h in less than four seconds and has a top of more than 300km/h.
Show of strength: the Pagani Zonda (right), the Koenigsegg CCX (left) and Nissan’s Mixim all-electic concept car (top).
Tyler, 6, is dwarfed by a monster truck
at the show.