PARIS, France (AFP) – Glamorous women draped themselves over gleaming vehicles and technicians plugged in electric cars Thursday as the world's auto industry met in Paris to showcase dozens of new models and pray that crisis is behind it.
The worst global slump since the 1930s savaged the industry and it is now setting its sights on emerging markets like China and India to compensate for stagnating sales and fierce competition in Europe.
"In 2010 we are dealing with a two-speed world," said PSA Peugeot Citroen boss Philippe Varin as he presented the French firm's new models at the Paris Motor Show.
In Europe carmakers are expecting a drop of seven percent in sales this year but in China they continue to rise rapidly, making it the biggest and fastest growing market and an eldorado for the industry.
Carmakers are hoping places like China, India and Brazil will snap up the models displayed at the show that opens to the public Saturday after press previews and a visit Friday by President Nicolas Sarkozy.
More than a million visitors were expected to flock to the huge exhibition halls to ogle shiny vehicles -- and the pretty women employed to stand next to them -- and see for themselves the latest innovations in the art of driving.
A major feature of this year's exhibition is a range of electric cars -- with the French leading the pack -- ready to hit the road.
High glamour comes in the form of sports cars from Ferrari, Porsche and Lamborghini, while Renault and Citroen add a touch of fashion by showcasing cars they built in partnership with fashion brands Lacoste and Miss Sixty.
Kia's three-seater electric "Pop" concept car, featuring "butterfly-wing" doors that open both upwards and forwards, was creating a buzz at the show held every two years.
Mercedes unveiled its new CLS which mixes coupe styling with the four doors of a saloon. Ford showed to European buyers its new Focus range, while the future of family cars may be hinted at in Vauxhall's GTC Paris Concept.
Peugeot features its upgrade for the 407, the 508, and visitors will get a peek at the new Citroen C4.
Chevrolet premiered four new models as part of a bid by the iconic US carmaker to boost its tiny market share in Europe.
Ever tougher regulations on carbon dioxide emissions, environmental worries and uncertainty over oil prices are all major concerns for the auto groups.
Carmakers are continuing to invest heavily in new technologies to reduce CO2 emissions and slash energy consumption.
This week they put on display some of their results at the Paris show, where an entire hall was dedicated to emerging energies and clean cars.
Renault presented the electric Fluence ZE (zero emission) saloon and its Kangoo Express ZE van, which are expected to go on sale next year, and also unveiled a near-final version of its flagship Zoe model.
PSA displayed the Peugeot Ion and Citroen C-Zero runabouts, derived from the Mitsubishi i-Miev, and Nissan showed off its Leaf saloon.
"We have now moved from electric concept cars to cars you can actually buy," said Carlos da Silva of IHS Global Insight. "Paris will be the first car show in the world where there really will be five or six cars you can choose from."
Citroen showcased an electric Berlingo van that left Shanghai after the World Expo there in May and was driven 14,000 kilometres (8,700 miles) across Asia to Paris.
Electric cars may be the future but many potential buyers are likely to wait to see if the necessary recharging infrastructure can be put in place before taking the leap.
Ford Europe boss Stephen Odell told AFP that his firm was was on track to deliver five electric cars in Europe over the next five years but warned that the technology needed to improve dramatically for the market to expand.
He believes that even 10 years from now, most cars will still be running on diesel or petrol engines.
"Frankly the technology needs to get better, with a longer range ... and the cost has got to come down. And there's the infrastructure -- where are you going to charge your car?" he asked.
Manufacturers are in parallel continuing to develop hybrids, with PSA due to bring out a diesel-electricity hybrid next year.
But improving traditional engines remains a major goal. Innovations which can reduce size without also reducing performance result in cars like the two-cylinder TwinAir Turbo that Fiat is showcasing.
"New technologies are the tip of the iceberg but in fact what continues to sell and what makes up the bulk of sales are traditional cars," said Carlos da Silva.