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The Australian International Motor Show – still two steps behind the rest of the world

Posted by Car Geek on October 11, 2007

The Opel Flextreme will NOT be coming to Sydney. (Image from, licenced under CC 2.0. It’s that time of year again, with the big names of the world automotive industry descending upon Sydney for the Australian International Motor Show, nestled neatly in the calendar between Frankfurt’s IAA last September and the Tokyo Motor Show later this month. The lineup is largely the same fare as we’ve come to expect from auto shows around the world – exotics like Maserati, a range of concept cars from prestige auto makers and the odd bit of local historical flavour. It would be fair to question, though, whether this tried and true formula is still entirely applicable in today’s environment, given the remarkable shift in public opinion about the cleanliness of the cars they drive.

Consider the two major events on the automotive calendar that flank the Sydney motor show. The Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung, or IAA, occurred in September with the theme “See What’s Driving the Future”, and some very contrasting ideas of what the future might entail were certainly on display. Aside from the standard fare of concept cars and high-speed exotics, the Frankfurt show was billed as one of the “greenest” auto shows ever. General Motors showcased its Opel Flextreme, a plug-in hybrid that utilises a diesel generator (and hides two Segways under its boot!); Volkswagen showcased its spiritual successor to the Beetle, the Up!, which runs on a very efficient petrol engine and may be offered as a hybrid; as well as the wide variety of clean diesel engines that populate Europe. Even Volvo is getting on board with a plug-in hybrid that runs on E85. Tokyo is shaping up to be similar, with many activities revolving around “clean energy vehicles” and plenty of alternative fuel vehicles expected to be there, with the focus expected to be more on hydrogen vehicles than the plug-ins of the US companies and the diesels of Europe.

In contrast, what can we expect to see at the Australian International Motor Show, which opens today? The perennial V8-powered supercars, such as Ford’s FPVs and Holden’s HSVs; the Hummer H3; and a wide variety of sports cars. How many of the vehicles on display run on anything other than petrol? A handful of diesels, mainly in the Peugeot and BMW camps. No hybrids, no hydrogen, no plug-in vehicles, not even any ethanol-powered cars. Check the official site and you’d be lucky if you saw the words “green”, “emissions” or “renewable” anywhere. Why the show’s organisers have decided to take this path is known only to them, but when comparing our flagship exhibition to its overseas companions, we look positively neanderthal by comparison.

Part of it is no doubt due to the culture in Australia that is still focused squarely on horsepower, with new cars like the latest Commodore increasing in weight and needing more power to compensate for that. Consumer patterns are slowly changing as hybrids increase in popularity, but we’re still limited in a big way by the lack of options available to us. It would be foolish to think that the show’s organisers don’t know their audience, either – people go to the show to see big, powerful, shiny cars. The whole experience is almost primal, appealing directly to a predominantly male market. Testosterone doesn’t often have a beneficial effect on efficiency.

The automotive sector itself has to shoulder some of the blame as well, particularly the Australian-based manufacturers. Aside from rumours of a hybrid Camry or Aurion to be built by Toyota sometime in the future, where are our locally produced environmentally friendly vehicles? Why not a hybrid Commodore, an ethanol-powered Falcon XR8, or a clean diesel hatchback that can make use of the ultra-low-sulfur diesel that will soon be available (or even ideally biodiesel)? Every auto show has a geographically distinct theme, but where the Europeans pride themselves on their diesels and Japan moves from hybrids to hydrogen, so far the Australian cars on display have shameful emissions and fuel economy, and none take anything other than petrol. The Australian industry is too small to innovate on the same scale as those regions, but at the very least they could be developing and showcasing smaller, more efficient vehicles using existing technology.

In the end, it’s a matter of when, rather than if, the auto show circuit in Australia catches up with the rest of the world and realises that clean vehicles will be sitting alongside million-dollar exotics whether they want them to or not. The Melbourne International Motor Show next year will provide an indication of whether the nation is ready yet to embrace alternative fuels; in terms of emissions, Australia tends to focus more on electricity generation than transport emissions, so it may be a few years before any Australian auto show adopts a theme of looking towards cleaner technology, rather than just bigger engines. Regardless, it would be nice to see the Australian industry and public at the very least showing an interest in alternatively fueled vehicles at our exhibitions, rather than having to play catch-up with the rest of the world a few years later.


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