FRANKFURT, Germany – Judging by the slew of electric and hybrid vehicles being rolled out at the Frankfurt Auto Show, it might seem carmakers are tapping a large and eager market.
But in fact almost no one buys such cars – yet.
More and more automakers are coming out with electric versions of existing models – such as Volkswagens all-electric versions of its Up! city car and Golf compact – or ones they have designed as electrics from the ground up, like small BMWs electric city car i3.
Auto analyst Christoph Stuermer called Frankfurt the first full-throttle electric propulsion show thats about getting electric drive cars out of the eco-nerd, tree-hugger segment and into the cool group.
To whet appetites, automakers are making high-performance, luxury versions that give up little or nothing in performance to conventional models. BMWs i8 goes zero to 62 mph in a speedy 4.5 seconds. Audis Quattro sport concept – meaning its for demonstration, not for sale – is an aggressive-looking sports car with large air intakes flanking the grille and a whopping 700 horsepower from its hybrid drive.
It can reach 190 mph.
The Mercedes S-Class plug-in hybrid version, meanwhile, has a powerful six-cylinder internal combustion engine plus an all-electric range of about 20 miles. This way, owners could commute all-electric during the week, recharging overnight – but use the gasoline engine on a family vacation. The car gets 78 mpg.
All this, to cater to a market that doesnt really exist in mass terms. Only 0.2 percent of all cars registered in Europe are hybrids, which combine batteries with internal combustion engines, or electrics, according to the ACEA European automakers association.
In the United States, the Toyota Prius hybrid has broken into the top 10 best-selling passenger cars. However, electric vehicles have struggled to catch on because of high prices and range anxiety: buyers fear of running out of power.
Analysts and executives say there are several solid reasons to make and promote such cars now. They can help lower average fleet emissions to meet government requirements – in Europe, offsetting increasing sales of conventionally powered sport-utility vehicles. And automakers want to be ready in case governments – perhaps in heavily polluted China – push people into emission-free vehicles.
Short term, nobody will get a return on these investments, Daimler AG chief executive Dieter Zetsche said. But definitely, long term, the development will go in this direction, and if you dont learn this lesson today you will not be in the game tomorrow.