Wacky racers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 March, 2007, 12:00am

Photos: AP/ EPA/ Reuters

WHILE CARMAKERS AND politicians quibble over automotive emissions, the Geneva Motor Show has revealed some weird and wonderful models that may yet challenge Hongkongers' preconceptions about cars.

From Russia comes luxury. The flowing lines and even the name of the debutante Russo-Baltique Impression mark a shift in gear for Russia's motor industry. So does the price, at more than Euro1 million (HK$10.35 million).

Playing up the sense of (counter-) revolution after decades of cheap Ladas and Volgas under communism, the grandiose new coupe by young Russian industrial designer Ivan Shishkin unashamedly harks back to the elitist luxury of the tsars.

The Russo-Baltique name revives a company founded in Riga 100 years ago, when Latvia was part of the Russian empire.

Tsar Nicholas II bought two of the company's tourers, which were winning prestigious rallies at the time, but the Bolshevik revolution put paid to such extravagances and the company was closed down in 1919.

Shishkin's 30 employees have honed the aerodynamic shape of the four-seat, 5.5-metre-long coupe during the past two years. Each model takes up to 18 months to hand-build and has a 555 brake-horsepower Mercedes-Benz engine that's said to give the car a top speed of 304km/h.

The production run will be limited to 16, and the only model on show has already been snapped up by an unnamed Russian businessman. Russo-Baltique's new boss needs two more orders to get the targeted production run off the ground.

But there's much more eccentricity at the show, which ends tomorrow.

Made in Bangalore and selling for Euro17,500, both the Greeny AC1's dimensions and price tag are more modest than those of the Impression. It's an electric 2+2 car designed for city traffic, with a cruising range of 80km, which suffices for most Hong Kong commutes.

Available in 'tiger', 'lion' and 'zebra' colour schemes and weighing 680kg, this tiddler is equipped with a lead-acid battery and a maintenance-free AC motor with a highly efficient drive train, the Geneva show notes say. The marque also presents the AC1-Z concept, with a range of up to 140km.

Even sparer than the Greeny is the motorcycle-like Carver One. In the early 1990s, before cities considered anti-fug congestion charges, Dutchman Anton van den Brink questioned the logic of bending 2.5 tonnes of steel to transport a 100kg person. So, motivated by studies showing that more than 90 per cent of all cars are occupied by only one or two people, he and some fellow engineers founded Eco-Car, which developed a three-wheeled prototype tested by the Dutch police and presented at the 1999 Frankfurt Motor Show.

Now the Dordrecht-based company has produced the Carver One three-wheeler (www.carver-worldwide. com), which steers like a car, banks into corners like a motorcycle and makes 'you feel like you're flying a jet fighter', the marque says.

Powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder 660cc, 16-valve, five-speed rear-mounted engine, the Carver One has a mechanical-hydraulic dynamic vehicle control system that automatically adjusts the tilt angle to the speed and acceleration of the vehicle, ensuring an optimum balance and an 'agile but safe, stable and comfortable platform', the marque says.

The vehicle can hit 100km/h in eight seconds, tops out at 185km/h and sells for about Euro35,000. There's a waiting list for a 500-unit production run, but delivery is scheduled for the third quarter of this year if you order now, the company says.

Designed to roll and pitch in a different way, the Citroen Cruise Crosser all-terra in concept vehicle is the result of a tie-up between the French carmaker and the Espera Sbarro school of design. The Cruise Crosser is a three-axle pickup that recalls Citroen's expeditions of the 20s and 30s. It looks tough, but has a hybrid drive train that combines a conventional diesel engine with an electric motor under the rear floor to cut fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

When the electric third axle is used alone, it's even possible to drive silently in 'zero emission' mode. Fitted with an advanced satellite navigation system, a DVD player and leather seats in bright colours, the Cruise Crosser can accommodate a third row of seats or a loading area. Sand boards are stored at the rear to help extricate the vehicle from any tricky situations and step plates improve access to the rear compartment.

KTM, Europe's second-largest motorcycle producer, has rolled out the X-Bow, the prototype of a new two-seater with a carbon-fibre chassis and a four-cylinder Audi 220bhb FSI turbo engine.

Weighing 700kg, the X-Bow hits 100km/h in 3.9 seconds. You'll need a good visor on your crash helmet because this car hasn't a roof, doors or even a windscreen. It's likely to sell for about Euro40,000.

From the country that gave the world the transparent Swatch comes a transparent car, the Rinspeed eXasis. The 750kg concept car has a plastic frame that recalls the old Auto Union racing cars, with open wheels and fore-and-aft seating, powered by a two-cylinder, 150bhp, 750cc bioethanol engine.

Probably the weirdest vehicle in the show also comes from Switzerland. Sbarro's Assystem City Car is smarter than it looks, however, because it's built for cities such as Hong Kong.

The cushion-like bumpers are designed to be pedestrian-friendly and it's powered by an electric motor with a 30km range and a 60-horsepower Honda petrol engine that can whip the 600kg recyclable aluminium and plastic hybrid to 130km/h. The vehicle also has cameras that ease manoeuvring and monitor the driver's vigilance. One day, perhaps all cars will look like this.

Also among the hybrids is Toyota's X, a showcase for future generations of hybrids with a four-door, four-seat open-space cabin.

But for unreconstructed petrol-heads, Zagato of Milan has designed two models of Ottovu that are powered by a V8 Maserati engine to celebrate 100 years of the Diatto marque.