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CAR confidential: A reluctant rush to play catch up

As the dust settles after the biennial Frankfurt Motor Show, it’s time to take a health check of the motor industry. The world’s biggest auto show is a perfect barometer to measure the pressures reshaping our business – and I came away disappointed with progress.

As with every motor show in recent years, environmental issues were thrust firmly in the spotlight.

No surprise there. The tide has well and truly turned, with consumers as well as politicians now demanding greener cars – and the manufacturers are slowly adapting their age-old practices to turn the dirty petrol-swilling cars of yesteryear into the clean, green transport solutions of tomorrow.

My problem? It’s only now that they’re backed into a corner by the European Commission’s threatened 120g/km limit by 2012 that carmakers are responding. We’ve known that exhaust fumes have been harmful for decades, and it’s disgraceful it’s taken the industry so long to put its house in order.

Take Land Rover’s big announcement that it would become the latest manufacturer to fit stop-start systems to cut engine when stationary. Big deal.

Volkswagen sold a Golf with this system back in the 1980s. And why is the rest of the world a decade behind Japan when it comes to hybrid technology? BMW, Kia, Porsche, Mercedes, Smart – to name but five – had part-electric cars on show, but we’ll have to wait years before they roll into showrooms in most cases. Meanwhile, Toyota is steadily increasing sales of its hybrids and they now make up 3% of total sales.

Don’t get me wrong. I applaud the arrival of eco technology across the board. But wandering around the Frankfurt show, I had the distinct impression that most carmakers were reluctantly rushing to catch up.

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