Frankfurt Motor Show goes electric

Sept. 18, 2009 at 3:56 PM
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FRANKFURT, Germany, Sept. 18 (UPI) -- Resource-friendly electric cars dominate this year's Frankfurt Motor Show, but not every company agrees.

"The electric car will account for 10 percent of the global market in 10 years," Carlos Ghosn, head of Renault-Nissan, told the BBC. "It is time for zero emission motoring."

Those are bold words, and most European carmakers are trying to paint their image as "green" as possible at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show:

Volkswagen is showing off its E-Up, a tiny snub-nosed electric vehicle that the German car giant wants to throw on the market in 2013. The Wolfsburg-based company is also presenting the L1, a bullet-shaped concept car that has a range of 168 miles per gallon thanks to super-light construction materials and a state-of-the-art diesel/electric hybrid motor.

Swedish brand Volvo launched an all-electric city EV, the C30 BEV, which has a range of around 90 miles.

Toyota is revealing the plug-in hybrid version of its Prius, which can drive on its electric motor only on shorter trips and relies on the fuel engine for longer trips.

French-Japanese alliance Renault-Nissan has arguably the world's most ambitious EV program, with four models presented in Frankfurt.

The four-door Renault Fluence ZE, to be sold as early as 2011, features a swappable battery that can be exchanged automatically at battery swap stations, enabling long-range driving. Renault-Nissan has teamed up with Better Place, a company that plans to build a large infrastructure of battery swap stations in Israel and in several countries in Europe.

Renault also unveiled an electric version of its delivery van Kangoo, for sale in 2011, and a small city cruiser, the Zoe ZE, out in 2012. The Twizy ZE, a four-wheeled city scooter for two people, rounds off the EV product line.

Even Porsche, the German brand famous for its horse-power-studded sports cars, may one day go electric: "I am convinced that one day Porsche will have an electric sports car in its line-up," Michael Macht, Porsche's new president and CEO, said in Frankfurt.

But experts say the batteries of today's EVs are too heavy, too expensive and some say unsafe. A battery pack for an EV costs between $22,000 and $30,000, and its range usually doesn't extend beyond 90 miles.

That should change over the next few years, says Ian Robertson, head of sales and marketing at German car giant BMW. "The battery manufacturers are advancing so fast at the moment," Robertson told the BBC.

The Frankfurt Motor Show is one of the industry's biggest fairs. A total of 781 car and car parts manufacturers from 30 countries are to present around 100 new models, according to the German Automobile Association.

The European car sector has been hit hard by the global downturn, and many companies are now trying to green their image to generate new sales. While domestic cash-for-clunkers programs have helped revive sales, 2010 is expected to be a tough year for the sector.

Because of the crisis, the show is smaller than in previous years -- Asian brands Honda and Mitsubishi, for example, decided not to come to Frankfurt.

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