The Geneva Motor Show got underway with an environmental flourish and a financial whimper from General Motors – a symbol of the struggles automakers are facing in unveiling more fuel-efficient cars in the face of some of the worst sales declines they've seen in decades.
GM unveiled the Ampera, the European version of its Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid, at the auto show on Wednesday, saying the lithium-ion battery powered hatchback could be available by 2011, one year after its American cousin is set to hit showrooms.
But the unveiling came just days after warning that Opel, the German business unit that would make it, may not survive without $4.2 billion in government aid.
And that's not to mention GM's problems at home. The troubled automaker is asking Congress for an additional $9.1 billion in loans, on top of the $13.4 billion it has received so far, in order to keep to its plan to return to profitability and start making more fuel-efficient cars.
GM reported last week that it lost $30.9 billion in 2008, its second-worst annual loss ever, amid U.S. sales that fell 53 percent in February compared to same month last year. Carl-Peter Forster, head of GM Europe, said at the motor show that he expects the car market will remain poor into 2010.
Chrysler, which is also planning a line of plug-in hybrid and electric cars in 2010, is asking Congress for $5 billion more from the loan program it has already tapped for $4 billion. The company's U.S. sales fell 44 percent in February compared to the same month last year.
Nevertheless, Chrysler showed off its all-electric Circuit EV sports car at the Geneva show, without specifying when it might hit the market (see Tesla Spiffs Up Roadster; Chrysler Touts All-Electric Sports Car).
Mitsubishi, which has seen its U.S. car sales drop 43.6 percent in the first two months of 2009 compared to the same months last year, said Wednesday that it has signed an agreement with Peugeot Citroën to collaborate on a car based on the electric-powered MIEV. The MiEV is planned to hit both Japan and Europe in 2010 for a price of about $24,000.
Nissan, which plans to bring electric cars to market by 2010, starting with smaller cars aimed at city drivers (see Is Nissan Building a Car That Charges Itself?), unveiled a concept for the diesel hybrid Essence under its Infiniti luxury brand at the Geneva show.
Nissan's U.S. sales declined 37 percent in February compared to the same month last year, and it is projecting a $2.9 billion annual loss for fiscal year 2008, its first in eight years.
Toyota saw U.S. sales fall nearly 40 percent in February compared to the same month last year, and is expecting to post its first annual operating loss in 70 years (see Toyota to Build All-Electric Car by 2012).
Honda saw a 38-percent sales drop in February compared to the same month last year and reported a $3.7 billion operating