The Geneva Auto Salon is a small show in a small city of a small country. The show is big because it is an annual confab of automakers where shoulders are rubbed, mergers are planned, policies are set. The cars are mostly decoration. A top topic in Geneva was how to meet rigid EU emission limits. “There is a growing awareness that conventional hybrids and slow-selling battery cars simply won’t be enough,” Reuters reports from Geneva.
The interim goal of 130 grams of CO2 per kilometer by 2015 does not appear to be a big deal. Most carmakers think they will meet it. “But drastic steps are needed to meet the 95 gram target set for 2020 and the potential for tougher standards after that,” Reuter says.
“We can’t get the necessary gains we need with traditional technology any more. We’re seeing a real break with the past,” Peugeot innovation chief Jean-Marc Finot told Reuters.
While GM’s Dan Akerson made bold battery announcements, there is growing conviction everywhere else that battery electric vehicles won’t be the answer. “Battery technology has not been able to resolve the century-old problem of too much weight and limited range capability,” Arthur Wheaton, automotive expert at Cornell University, told Reuters.
This view reaches the staunchest battery supporters. Said Francois Bancon, Nissan’s upstream development chief:
“Demand for electric cars isn’t where we thought it would be. We’re in a very uncertain phase, and everyone’s a bit lost.”
To meet the fleet goal, cars must do more than output little CO2. They also must be bought. Green cars that just sit in the show room don’t help the environment. High-priced batter-electric vehicles collide with this simple fact. “There’s more and more regulation, but customers want to pay less and less,” Nissan’s Bancon said. “So we have to cut prices and increase technology content – that’s the headache we’re faced with.”
One company does not seem to be worried about the 95 gram limit, and that is Volkswagen. A day before the show started, VW announced that it is “committing to reducing the CO2 output of the European new car fleet to 95 grams per kilometer by 2020.” Volkswagen also wants to reduce “the CO2 output of its European new vehicle fleet to less than 120 grams per kilometer by 2015. Volkswagen intends to outperform by more than 12 grams the figure required by law for its vehicle fleet.”
Note: While Europe sets CO2 targets, while the U.S. has ostensibly different mileage targets, when all is said and done, both more or less want the same. Use less fuel, generate less CO2. There even is a handy conversion formula. Except that the formula is not EPA compliant …