Motor industry charges ahead with electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids
Technology took centre stage at last week's Frankfurt Motor Show, writes Martin Brennan
The motor industry is charging ahead, with big companies like VW planning to launch 20 electric and plug-in hybrid cars by 2020. The Porsche Mission E and Audi e-tron prototypes have a range of 500km, the company says, with an 80pc top up in 15 minutes. And a Taiwanese company, Thunder Power, will have an electric car with a range 650km launched by 2017 with a further 300km available on 30-minute top-up charge.
It is a sign of the times. Big changes are on the way with VW boss Martin Winterkorn indicating on the eve of the Frankfurt Motor Show last week that technological leadership is no longer solely defined in terms of horsepower and torque.
But petrol and diesel power are the mainstay of the industry for the immediate future, with companies like GM saying that its European arm, Opel, is planning 29 new models in the next five years. The company is concentrating on cutting weight from its models and blending sharper design features with more frugal engines. Built into all upcoming models will be the most up-to-date technology in terms of safety and user- friendly features such as On Star, which can be a life saver in accident emergency situations.
This technology is featured in its all-new Astra and Sports Tourer, which were launched at the show.
The Tourer version arrives in January with the hatchback going on sale in October with an entry price of €19,995. Versions with On Star and IntelliLink for information and entertainment will cost more. On Star uses GPS to connect the car to an around-the-clock call centre in the UK. In the event of an accident where an airbag is deployed, an alarm is triggered and the driver is contacted to see if help is required. Drivers can also report other accidents encountered on journeys to bring speedy help.
The system can also download maps to your satnav, give information on restaurants and filling stations, unlock your car if you are locked out and determine its location if it is stolen. It can be located even if the GPS signal is deactivated by the thief, Opel says. There is a wide range of other features, including remote checking on oil and fuel levels and if the car is secure with lots more set to come on stream. The service is free for the first year and costs €99 a year thereafter.
4G Wi-Fi will also be available free for the first year, the ongoing cost is still being negotiated, streaming of music from iPhones and laptops will also be available and voice command technology will make for safe driving.
Also available on mid-range models will be forward collision alert, powerful 'white light' headlights that never need to be dipped, heated rear seats and even a perfume diffuser to add to the up-market feel. In Europe 30,000 orders have been placed for the car that is more compact on the outside but more spacious inside.
Dave Sheeran, who heads Opel here, believes that bringing luxury features into compact cars will be a winner in a market that is expected to grow from 125,000 to 150,000 sales of new cars next year. The new model will sell alongside the existing saloon and GTE, and combined is expected to represent 3,000 sales next year. A new flagship SUV is on the way and a new Meriva, which is due at the end of 2016, will have a crossover style and will be followed by a similarly styled Zafira. The existing Zafira Tourer will be retained.
On show was the new Audi A4, which comes here with three petrol and four diesel engines, with the S4 getting a new V6 petrol engine.
Honda has high hopes for its new Jazz, which, interestingly, has lower fuel consumption with the CTV automatic transmission. Hyundai has a new Tucson here towards the end of October while cousin Kia has a new Optima arriving here towards the end of the year and the very stylish Sportage also on view at the show last week will be for January sales.
For the cash rich, there is a new Mercedes Benz S-Class Cabriolet, which should be here by mid-2016, and a C-Class Coupe. For the more cost conscious, there is a new Suzuki Baleno due here in the spring with a one-litre direct injection engine. Toyota has a larger Prius coming in January. Boot space has been increased. In the SUV stakes, the VW Tiguan, a real good looker, was one of the stars of the show.