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Eco-Mobiles and Ego-Mobiles

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Alfa Romeo 8C Spider Photo: Sean Frego
By Alexander Popple
As one of the world’s richest countries, yet lacking an indigenous motor industry, Switzerland hosts a motor show that always brings small-scale makers of exotic supercars out in force. Their products may be obscenely expensive, but they secure significant sales during the show. Yet the mainstream carmakers are here too, and their ever-expanding, and increasingly practical, range of ecologically responsible cars also stands out. If there’s a key theme for 2008, it’s the contrast between these trends. Here’s a selection of the best of each, chosen by MSN editors, and presented in no particular order.
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Zagato Bentley Continental GTZ Photo: Rod Hatfield



Zagato-Bentley GTZ

This extraordinarily beautiful reworking of the Bentley Continental GT Speed by Italian coachbuilder Zagato with its double-bubble roof and two-tone paint harks back to the elegant luxury cars of the ’50s and ’60s, a style Zagato calls “neo-classical.” Every panel is new, but the interior and running gear is unchanged from the standard Bentley. A handful of these will be produced, all of which are likely to be sold out with the first week of the show. The ultimate ego factor is that they’re all likely to be collectors’ items: Cars you buy to look at, not to use.

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Bugatti Veyron Hermes Edition Photo: Sean Frego

Bugatti Veyron Hermes Edition

Standard Bugatti Veyron not exclusive enough for you? Then you need this limited edition, extensively customized by the craftsmen of Hermes, the Paris fashion house. Standout features include grilles incorporating the “H” of Hermes, internal door handles that mimic Hermes luggage, a leather-covered central console, and restyled seats (leather, of course) and special wheels with a “Hermes” stitch design. The ego factor? Each buyer gets a personalized wallet in its own recess in the central console. It can all be yours for €1.55m (approx. $2.4 million U.S.) plus tax, but you might have to be patient, as Hermes’ perfectionist craftsmen can only manage one car a month.


Photo Gallery: Ego-Mobiles

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Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe Photo: Bruce Whitaker

Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe

Much more graceful than the already very attractive, palatial Phantom sedan, the new coupe is also Rolls-Royce’s most driver-focused car. It has the stiffest ever Rolls-Royce chassis, but in typical understated style they bill it as a “sporting car” rather than a “sports car.” Sharing much of its engineering with the Phantom Drophead Coupe, it nevertheless promises a distinctly different experience, and thanks to increased fuel and luggage capacity could be a useful grand tourer. Ego factor: the beautiful “starlight” roof with its pinpricks of light, first seen on the 101EX “experimental” (read concept) has unexpectedly made it into production.

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Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 Photo: Rod Hatfield

Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4

This update of the Gallardo supercar adds some Italian spice to our list. The LP560-4, as the name implies, ups horsepower to 560 and (necessarily) adds 4-wheel drive to handle it. Larger air intakes are incorporated in a revised front bumper, and the rear is extensively redesigned, taking cues from the Miura Concept, the Murcielago LP640 and the Reventon. Displayed at Geneva in gorgeous satin-finish white paint, with contrasting black wheels, the Gallardo was a big crowd-puller. Ego factor: If the looks alone aren’t enough for your ego, then the 3.7 second 0-62 mph time and a selectable gear-change mode named “THRUST” should do it.

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Alfa Romeo 8C Spider Photo: Sean Frego

Alfa Romeo 8C Spider

So Alfa is not such a select name as the others in the list, but with production limited to 500, the 8C Spider will certainly be exclusive. A drop-top version of the Competizione Gran Turismo coupe, it keeps most of the sporty styling signatures below the waistline and adds a double-layer fabric top with one-touch electro-hydraulic operation. It definitely has a 450-horsepower 4.7-liter V8 but Alfa’s confused announcements left us unsure about the transmission arrangements. Never mind: The ego factor here is the sexy looks, and maybe the race-style seats that can be “adjusted according to the physical characteristics of the driver.”

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Think City Photo: Sean Frego



Th¡nk City

City-dwellers may recall a smattering of “Th¡nk” electric cars from previous years — about 1,000 were sold. This relaunched Norwegian company is now offering a second-generation electric city-car. It will provide some competition for the Indian G-Wizz, with a body style that looks marginally less like a child’s toy and a choice of battery technologies (lithium or sodium based) depending on your performance needs. Range is up to around 125 miles, top speed around 60 mph, charge time up to 10 hours. With a built-in heater, air conditioning, electric windows and front airbags, there are creature comforts for the occupants as well as the environment. Eco factor: Zero roadside emissions and a payment plan that offsets carbon emissions during maintenance and manufacturing.

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Volkswagen Golf TDI Hybrid Photo: Rod Hatfield

VW Golf TDI Hybrid

This more conventional offering provides a low emission choice with longer legs. In a market sector that’s among Europe’s most popular — the compact hatchback — this car utilizes one of VW’s high-tech diesel engines, with an auto start-stop feature, a 7-speed DSG gearbox, and an electric motor. Eco-factor: miserly fuel consumption of up to 69 mpg.


Photo Gallery: Eco-Mobiles



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Audi TT 2.0 TDI quattro Photo: Rod Hatfield


More proof that choosing a fantastic-looking sports car doesn’t need to mean opting for an irresponsible gas-guzzler. There’s no special eco-technology here, but plenty of the conventional sort. With its 170 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque it can sprint from 0-62 mph in 7.5 seconds, gets around 40 mpg, and it shares the same great looks and handling of every other TT. That means it doesn’t shout “I’m green,” so maybe the downside is that people won’t realize how conscientious you are. Eco-factor: the power of a sports car with fuel efficiency more like a small compact car.

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Kia cee'd Photo: Rod Hatfield

Kia eco_cee’d

OK, the cee’d range, another designed-for-Europe compact hatch, isn’t the most exciting car you’ll see at the show, but it’s a breakthrough product for Kia and a very competent value-for-money choice for everyday use. Now Kia’s readying an environmentally optimized version called eco_cee’d, with a 1.6-liter diesel engine and 6-speed gearbox. It goes on sale in spring 2009. Perhaps the best news is that they didn’t even make a great fanfare of it: Offering cars like this is becoming par for the course as manufacturers get more and more serious about making a difference. Eco-factor: emissions of under 109 g/km and fuel economy of 58 mpg.

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Tata Nano Photo: Bruce Whitaker

Tata Nano

A controversial entry in this list, the $2,500 Nano has attracted criticism from some environmentalists because it will likely put millions of new motorists on the road in India and other developing markets. But its tiny 623cc engine is hardly a fuel glutton, and indeed it actually meets current European emission standards. The real eco factor is this: the more Indian drivers who switch from transporting their entire families (yes, really) on dirty and dangerous two-stroke mopeds, and start using relatively safe and modern Nanos, the cleaner and safer their living environment will become. We think that’s a good thing, and exactly the kind of positive social impact the motor industry should be striving for.