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European trends: Small, efficient, fast and connected

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Models pose in front of the new Alpha Romeo C4 at the Geneva auto show.

AP PHOTO Enlarge Image

Models pose in front of the new Alpha Romeo C4 at the Geneva auto show.

SPIFFY SMALL CARS

European automakers are taking their bread-and-butter small cars to a new level, focusing on fun and styling, not just economy. It's a road already travelled by the Fiat 500, which is offering an updated version.

A joint venture between PSA Peugeot Citroen and Toyota results in a trio of small-car premiers on the same platform from the same factory that are helping the automakers achieve better economies of scale: Peugeot 108, Citroen C1 and Toyota Aygo. The Renault Twingo gets an update, going for an edgier look.

PLUG-IN HYBRIDS

Plug-in hybrids have also come to the fore in Geneva.

A regular hybrid pairs a conventional engine with an electric one to increase energy efficiency. Plug-in versions have batteries that don't rely solely on the combustion engines to recharge, but can also be plugged into the power supply -- giving the car the ability to make short trips using only its electric power.

Volkswagen unveilied the Golf GTE, with a range of 31 miles (nearly 50 kilometres) in all-electric mode for a theoretical driving range of 584 miles (939 kilometres) when the full engine is in use.

SUPER SPORTSCARS

Automobili Lamborghini SpA, a division of Volkswagen AG, is unveiling its Huracan LP 610-4, the successor to its most-successful car ever, the Gallardo, which stopped production in November after a decade.

The carbon fiber and aluminum Huracan, which means hurricane and also refers to a bull, the Lamborghini logo, comes with a new gasoline injection system that provides more power with less consumption.

McLaren is launching the new 650S, which it boasts is faster than the legendary F1 road car from the 1990s. Ferrari is rolling out the V8 California T convertible, marking the return of turbocharged powertrains. And Ermini Seittosei is bringing out a unique numbered car.

DIGITALIZATION

Among the models carmakers were presenting at the Geneva show, a big focus was on connecting the car to the smartphone and making apps easier and safer to use. Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo are previewing Apple's iPhone technology for cars this week.

Volkswagen is one of the carmakers working with Google Inc. to turn Android phones into an essential part of cars. Google hopes to finish work on its system for tethering Android phones to cars by the end of this year.

VW chief Martin Winterkorn said in Geneva that cars are becoming mobile computers with "revolutionary consequences for future operation." He said in the future customers may be able to update car software in their own garage.

Winterkorn predicted that digitalization will disrupt model cycles, with customers demanding "the right car with the right technology at the right time," forcing carmakers to consider shortening the normal seven- or eight-year cycle to develop a car.

"Over the next few years, our industry will face one of the greatest upheavals since the invention of the automobile."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 7, 2014 F2

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