Continued from page 1

Ford Europe chief Odell told reporters that the new powertrains will include hybrid, pure electric and plug-in hybrid technologies _ including the first all-electric vehicle, the Transit Connect, making its European debut in Geneva. It goes on sale later this year.

Odell said he wasn’t overly concerned by fluctuating fuel prices: “With our capabilities in regular combustion engines and with five electric vehicles in production we are well placed.”

Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Italy’s Fiat and U.S. automaker Chrysler, took a similar position, saying Fiat’s low-consumption vehicles will protect it from the impact of higher oil prices. Fiat is focusing on squeezing more power out of engines, notably with the Twin Air engine on its popular 500.

The Twin Air engine has 85 hp and an emission level of 92 g CO2/km, according to Fiat.

“On the U.S. side, I think our experience before in spikes in oil prices is that the market readjusts in a period of 60 to 90 days, so I don’t think it is going to have a drastic impact on consumption,” he said.

“Having said this, I think it is absolutely essential that the whole American car industry focuses on reducing consumption on vehicles,” Marchionne said.

Fiat boasts it has the lowest C02 output in Europe, 123.1 grams per km, according to Jato Dynamics.

So far, Fiat has not aggressively entered the race in hybrid vehicles, a market dominated by Toyota. But Marchionne said Chrysler would have a hybrid at Detroit in 2012 _ and suggested that Fiat may have one at Geneva next year.

How long and how quickly drivers convert to hybrid and electric cars depends not only on steep gas prices but also on government incentives.

“I think governments have a role to play in conjunction with us to bring down costs,” Ford’s Odell said.

Toyota Europe _ which has 14 years experience making hybrids _ says it aims to have 20 percent of its sales be hybrids by 2013, up from 9 percent now.

Even Toyota said that for pure engineering reasons _ liquid fuel allows cars to drive a longer distance at the same volume _ combustion engines will be around for a time to come.

“It’s the emerging markets that will drive growth going forward. When you look at the emerging world it is difficult to see them adopting hybrid vehicles,” said Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota Motor Co. executive vice president.

Gas-powered vehicles, he said, get more power for the same volume than alternative technologies.

“As long as the fuel that is used for burning in internal combustion is secure, I don’t think it will disappear,” he said.

Story Continues →