Carmakers bet on green tech to offset costly fuel

GENEVA (AP) - Mass-market automakers like Toyota, Fiat and Ford say green technologies on display at the Geneva Auto Show will help them weather the impact of skyrocketing fuel prices _ while less humble sportscar makers like Lamborghini flaunted their gas guzzlers.

Companies rolled out a raft of new models _ including many electric, hybrid and more efficient conventional engines _ in a sign of renewed confidence following the economic crisis that bottomed out auto sales and put a freeze on new models.

“I remember the auto show of two years ago. Pretty grim,” said Stephen Odell, the chief of Ford Europe, on Tuesday. “I think we are in a better place.”

But General Motors CEO Dan Akerson thought it was too early for optimism as oil prices continue to rise due to unrest in energy-producing nations in the Middle East.

“I don’t think the industry learned a lot of lessons from 2008. They will this time around,” he said on the sidelines of the motor show.

Opel chief Nick Reilly said fuel costs would make the situation “clearly more difficult” if they remained elevated, while Daimler’s Dieter Zetsche estimated that an oil price of $150 a barrel “would be very heavy.”

The recent surge in oil to around $100 has pushed up gasoline prices in the U.S. by nearly 20 cents per gallon in the past week. That’s the sharpest increase since 2005, according to the Oil Price Information Service. Americans are now paying roughly $75.6 million more per day to fill up than a week ago.

Auto industry consultancy IHS is still forecasting around a 6.3 percent increase in total global passenger car volumes for 2011, “with the proviso that the knock-on effect of what is currently occurring in Libya and elsewhere could have profound consequences for the global economy,” IHS automotive analyst Tim Urquhart said.

But premium brands like Lamborghini and Ferrari were not going to let anyone kill their buzz.

At the show Lamborghini rolled out the sixth generation of its V6 engines, which get just 13 miles (21 kilometers) to the gallon, and Ferrari unveiled the FF, a four-seat, four-wheel drive V12 billed as the company’s most powerful four-seater ever.

Besides a few such flamboyant examples, the key theme at the auto show, as during the financial crisis years, was fuel efficiency.

Opel launched the electric-hybrid Ampera, which will go on sale in the autumn. Opel chief Reilly said he “was pretty optimistic” about the future of electric, noting his company already had 3,000 Internet orders, and 800 customers had already made a downpayment without even making a test drive.

Rolls Royce’s one-off electric-powered Phantom luxury sedan could give electric the kind of upscale appeal it so far lacks. The concept car was unveiled Tuesday, with its traditional Spirit of Ecstasy steel hood ornament _ of a woman leaning forward with arms stretched backwards _ replaced with a glowing blue version of the same statuette. There are no plans to produce the car, but it will be used as a test vehicle to come up with ideas for possible future production models.

Volkswagen presented a luxury hybrid for its Porsche brand, the Panamera S. The car boasts carbon emissions of 159 grams per kilogram and consumption of 6.8 liters per 100 kilometers.

Ford Motor Co. said it is boosting its offering of low-emissions technologies and will have five alternative powertrains to market in Europe by 2013.

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