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Business trends

Electric and hybrid SUVs take center stage at Geneva expo

Size and popularity make the segment ideal to lead the electric charge

The Volkswagen group's Audi e-tron electric SUV, which will not be officially announced until summer, appeared Tuesday at the Geneva International Motor Show with a camouflage pattern.

GENEVA -- A slew of electrified sport utility vehicles are debuting at the Geneva International Motor Show that kicked off Tuesday as automakers faced with tighter environmental regulations look to a popular category with the size needed to accommodate bulky batteries.

A prototype of Audi's upcoming e-tron, painted in a camouflage pattern, made an appearance at a Volkswagen group event Monday night ahead of the show. The electric SUV will not be announced officially until summer. Production will begin in Belgium this year for a rollout in early 2019.

The e-tron can travel roughly 500km on a full charge. Toni Melfi, head of communication at Audi, called it superior to U.S. automaker Tesla's rival Model X in every way.

U.K.-based Jaguar Land Rover on Tuesday showed off its first pure-electric auto, the Jaguar I-Pace. The vehicle is set to become the second electric SUV on the market, after the Model X, when it launches this summer. The I-Pace, a crossover combining traits of an SUV and a coupe, features an interior large enough for five, a 480km range, and motors that can generate a total of nearly 400 horsepower.

Jaguar Land Rover is working on electric or hybrid options for all models. A plug-in-hybrid version of its flagship Land Rover is already available.

The Jaguar I-Pace, due out this summer, will be the second electric SUV on the market, after Tesla's Model X.

Toyota Motor, which recently said it will no longer offer diesel versions of new models in Europe starting this year, unveiled the Lexus UX crossover Tuesday. The UX, the fourth SUV under the luxury Lexus brand, will feature a hybrid powertrain as a basic option. The Japanese automaker has found success with electrified SUVs in Europe, where hybrids account for 78% of its C-HR sales.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has said it will offer a plug-in-hybrid version of the Jeep Wrangler in 2020. Daimler and BMW have also announced plans for electrified SUVs.

With demand for compact cars and minivans shrinking, SUVs are among the few bright spots in the global auto market. Total SUV sales in 52 markets grew 13% last year, while the segment's market share rose 3 percentage points to 34%, data from U.K. research firm JATO Dynamics shows.

But SUVs emit more carbon dioxide than lighter vehicles. Volkswagen says it cannot cut CO2 emissions from compact SUVs beyond 120-140 grams per kilometer, well above the 95-gram fleet average that EU regulations will require in 2021. Developing hybrid and electric SUVs will be crucial to meeting this target.

Automakers plan large-scale rollouts of electrified vehicles going into 2025, banking on improvements in battery performance. SUVs seem poised to become the first battleground.

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