It’s the second day of the Geneva Motor Show and I have been coming here for the last 12 years.
I have just had a personal demonstration of the brand new Audi R8, and it is only one of around 260 fantastic cars to be seen at this 10-day annual show that draws more than 700,000 people.
This year, many more ecologically friendly cars are on display, including hybrids and electric cars. Even supercars, typically petrol-thirsty, have had their green credentials boosted.
Car manufacturers are taking steps to show that they are falling in line with new, tougher environmental standards in Europe.
Ferrari’s new models are draped with signs that say their carbon emissions have been cut by 30 percent.
The F12 Berlinetta, a 12-cylinder car with 740 horsepower, is equipped with a system which automatically halts its engine at red lights or in traffic jams, thereby saving some fuel.
In fact, there are very few cars with a bigger engine than 3.5 liters that are not hybrids.
By year end, carbon emissions of new cars will have to be below 130 grams per kilometer. In 2015, all cars sold must reach this target, or their manufacturers will be heavily fined.
Some firms are also pushed by consumer demand to develop greener sports cars. At the moment, there is one of the highest gasoline price spikes in Europe that I have ever seen.
“We have for example, bosses of companies which respect environmental standards and who therefore do not want to be in a paradoxical situation in which they are driving a highly polluting sports car,” Eric Mathiot, marketing director of Exagon Motors, told AFP.
Car manufacturers have to attract customers with a hook, be it affordable prices, car recyclability – that is, how well a car will sell once the owner decides to upgrade – or fuel efficiency for environmentally conscious buyers.
The VW stand dominates one hall – there are three halls that cover around 25 acres – and shows almost every car that they make. They also have a separate section for eco-friendly cars.
Smaller stands feature the souped, tweaked and concept cars, which are the most popular along with Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bugatti, Porsche and Bentley. Bentley has unveiled its first SUV, the EXP 9 F, which is expected to be on the market in three years’ time.
Rolls Royce have a small display in comparison, only showing three or four cars, all of which are Phantoms.
Although greener cars are the future, some sports carmakers still believe in the necessity of unleashing their most powerful vehicles yet, whatever the environmental cost.
With 1,200 horsepower, a 7.9 liter-engine and a maximum speed of 410 kilometers per hour, the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse is no model of sobriety.
The consumption of the “most powerful tourism vehicle in the world” reaches 37.2 liters for every 100 kilometers in the city and its carbon emissions stand at 867 grams per kilometer on urban terrain.
“It’s not that Bugatti does not want to go into this subject [environment] but the brand is considered as VW’s spearhead and therefore it needs to demonstrate our savoir-faire technique,” a spokeswoman told AFP.
Although there are tens of thousands of people, the Geneva Motor Show today is still the quietest I have ever seen it, which is mainly because of the poor exchange rate between the euro and the Swiss frank. As a result, more people are strapped for cash, and the ones that are here are those that come every year. Tickets per day to the show, which runs from March 8-18, are around $20.
There are two types of people that have come to the car show, those who are buying and those who are just browsing – the latter arrive with cameras at the ready. The weekend is expected to be packed with visitors, while on weekdays, people take time off work or visit the show during their lunch hours.
One of the few wealthy in attendance Thursday bought the one-off topless Lamborghini Aventador J for $3.3 million.
My son, James, who has traveled from Beirut to visit the show, remarks that many of those looking to buy cars seem to be downgrading rather than upgrading, or they are moving to eco-friendly vehicles. Green is certainly the new black at the Geneva Motor Show 2012.