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Gloss and glitter in London


Frustrating traffic jams, expensive parking and hefty congestion charges scarcely make London a car lover’s utopia.

Yet there was near universal approval for the British international motor show to return to the capital this year after 30 years away.

There was no chance of it returning to its former home in the elderly halls at Earls Court where conditions are outdated and parking a nightmare.
But ironically for a motor show, parking was almost non-existent at its new ExCeL home in the Docklands area of east London.

Public transport was the way to get there.

It’s the first motor show I’ve attended that you could get to by boat from the River Thames, or by flying in to the nearby London City Airport, or by taking the tube or bus. But the best way, and the way I got there, was by the driverless Dockland Light Railway that linked with the underground and dropped patrons virtually at the show’s door.

I spent the first part of my journey whisking through south London on a Vespa motor scooter: what a way to beat morning traffic and heatwave temperatures – scooting along the Albert Embankment against the backdrop of Westminster and the Houses of Parliament.

The show launched the new GM Opel/Vauxhall Corsa. Land Rover Freelander, three-door Honda Civic, BMW M6 cabrio, Mazda MX5 hardtop and Lotus Elise S.

But maybe the real star was the supercharged Jaguar XKR, the 410-horsepower coupe that benchmarks the more expensive Mercedes SL55 AMG.

Though the AMG packs a higher engine output, the 1665kg, all-aluminium, Jaguar is lighter.

The XKR is 30 percent faster than the naturally-aspirated 4.2-litre V8 XK and forward sales are strong.

Hype behind the powerful Cat was a relief to Jaguar, now facing its fifth successive year of losses.

Total Jaguar sales in the first half of this year were down 10 percent while its Land Rover, Aston Martin and Volvo partners in Ford’s Premier Automotive Group are in profit.

Jaguar wants the right mix of models rather than sheer numbers. Whereas the X-Type comprised two-thirds of Jaguar volume, this smaller model now makes up one-third of sales.

The famous British make has been cutting costs by opting out of Formula One and closing the old Browns Lane factory.

Land Rover workers will build X-Type Jaguars alongside new Freelanders at Hailwood.
Land Rover sales topped 100,000 in the first six months of 2006, a record for the marque after a booming 2005.

Land Rover hopes the momentum continues with the Freelander 2, led by the turbo diesel version.Alongside the Land Rover stand, Ford presented a bold face and talked up the environmental message.

During the next decade, Focus (the best selling European Ford) will emit less than 100 grams of CO2 per litre and a typical mainstream version is expected to be 20 percent more CO2 efficient.

At the same time, it will average an impressive 4.0 litres/100km (70mpg).
Ford says the Focus Flexible Fuel Vehicle (FFV) that runs on either bio-ethanol or unleaded petrol in any mix in the same fuel tank, produces lower emissions than comparable cars using hybrid technology.

Made from wheat or sugar beet, bio-ethanol is still small time in Britain with only 10 fuel stations.However, Ford believes flexible fuel will become the most easily accessible and widely used low carbon technology.

Ford is investing $NZ3 billion in new environmental technologies, including the flexi-fuel E85 ethanol vehicles.

“Climate change is one of the greatest single challenges facing the auto industry and society today,” said Lewis Booth, chairman of Ford of Europe and PAG.

The Ford initiatives arrive when world sales of larger hybrid models are slipping. Honda Accord hybrid sales were down 59 percent for the 2006 first half of 2006. Demand for the Toyota Highlander Lexus RX400 hybrids is also down.

Smaller hybrids – like the Honda Civic and Toyota Prius – are still doing well, and the clever self-parking Prius was strutting its stuff at the London show.
Saab’s world first hybrid with no fossil fuel emissions was also there. Based on the 9-3 convertible, it uses a bio-ethanol engine and electric drive systems.

The French $30,000 NICE (No Internal Combustion Engine) Mega City electric car has a range of 80km and a top speed close to 80km/h.

The handsomely styled Focus coupe/cabriolet, which goes on sale in a couple of months, will offer a choice of 1.6 and 2.0 petrol and diesel motors.
It’s Ford’s first power-operated hardtop model and the two-piece, fully retractable hardtop is impressive. British pricing undercuts the GM Astra Twin-Top and Volkswagen Golf Eos.

Celebrating the arrival of the Focus convertible – and totally appropriate in the heat wave conditions – was a six tonne ice sculpture of the new model. This coolest car at the show was the result of two weeks works by a team of sculptors working in a giant freezer.

Just a few metres away Mazda was removing the wraps from the MX5 Roadster Coupe, which weighs just 37kg more than the standard softop model.

Apart from the electrically-powered rear deck cover and slightly different rear guard and bootlid, the Mazda looks identical to the softtop with the hardtop stowed.
The new Mazda BT-50 ute was also making its European debut and the Mazda 3 MPS marked its British premiere.

Honda is looking at an extra shift at its English assembly plant for the stylish new Civic three-door model which will only be built in Britain.
The three-door Civic uses the same platform and has the same overall dimensions as the five-door version.

A high-performance Type R Civic with 20-inch wheels was also on the Honda stand, eight months before its on-sale date.
Executives also admitted they were looking at making a new small Honda in Europe fitting below the Jazz. This will help Honda lower carbon dioxide emissions while satisfying demand for thrifty vehicles.

Dodge is returning to Europe and used London for the world unveiling of the 2.0-litre and 2.4-litre Chrysler Sebring lower medium sedan.
Set to go on sale in North America later this year, the Sebring is a conservative arrival destined for right-hand drive in 2007.

Volvo world firsts at the show were the 2007 S60 sports saloon and an XC90 variant.
While the talk surrounded saving fuel and the world, most eyes were on exotic metal like the Rolls-Royce 101EX experimental coupe, the four-door Aston Martin Rapide (a stretched DB9 prototype), or the extraordinary Maybach Exelero concept and the Nissan URGE minimalistic sports car concept.

Sadly not all manufacturers were there. Missing were Audi, Volkswagen, Porsche, Skoda, Subaru, Suzuki, Ferrari, Fiat and Maserati.
They missed a good party. 

Auto Trader New Zealand