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Friday, September 13, 2013

New Hybrids And Electric Cars Debut At Frankfurt Auto Show

Porsche's new hybrid sports car the 918 Spyder retails for $850,000. (Porsche)

Porsche’s new hybrid sports car the 918 Spyder retails for $850,000. (Porsche)

The 65th International Motor Show in Frankfurt is one of the biggest in the world. A wide array of the latest and greatest vehicles and technologies is on display in Germany and open to the public through September 22nd.

There are some 70 new or concept vehicles on display at the show, and just about every manufacturer is introducing a vehicle with electric battery technology.

Among the highlights is a plug-in Porsche 918 Spyder that can rocket from 0 to 60 miles per hour in under 3 seconds. But get ready for sticker shock: The price tag is $850,000.

Guest

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

The world's largest auto show is underway in Frankfurt, Germany. From ultra luxury autos to hybrid sports vehicles and electric cargo vans, there are some 70 new or concept vehicles on display at the 65th International Motor Show. Paul Eisenstein of the auto news website Detroit Bureau is just back from Frankfurt and joins us on the line. Paul, it looks like electric cars are the big trend at Frankfurt this year.

PAUL EISENSTEIN: Everybody is introducing some form of battery-based technology, whether they are plain old hybrids. You know, it's a decade old and we now call it old technology like you saw in the Toyota Prius. That's in a lot of new vehicles. But a lot of the stuff that we're seeing in Frankfurt is powered by plug-in technology, even the new $850,000 Porsche 918 Spyder. And then there's a lot of pure battery electric vehicles ranging from low-end products like the eGolf from Volkswagen, all the way up to some very, very high-end electric vehicles.

YOUNG: So a plug-in Porsche - that's a first.

(LAUGHTER)

YOUNG: I also hear that Toyota has unveiled a new Yaris hybrid that's kind of punchy.

EISENSTEIN: Yeah, the Hybrid-R. And this is a thing that you get, well, let's go back to that Porsche 918. We're talking about a plug-in that you can drive on electric power alone for something like 20 miles, which is important, by the way, because some European cities are talking about banning gas power from the inner cities. But this same vehicle can also launch from 0 to 60 in under three seconds and...

YOUNG: Oh my gosh.

EISENSTEIN: Yeah. And Toyota has recognized that if there's a market where people are willing to get these green machines, that you trade performance off for better mileage. But there's also a budding market for hybrids and other battery technologies that will deliver performance as well.

YOUNG: So Paul, you mentioned that there are shifts in the European auto market. I was interested to hear you say that, you know, some European cities are considering banning gasoline-fueled vehicles from city centers, or that they may eventually do that. But I also wonder, we've been seeing very fancy, exciting hybrid and electric vehicles at car shows for a couple of years now, and yet, you know, they still haven't made that huge leap in terms of market share. Why is that? What are the car manufacturers waiting for before they introduce, you know, a bunch of new lines to the consumer level?

EISENSTEIN: Well, there's a chicken and egg situation here. So for one thing, manufacturers have been bringing out a fair number of hybrids. They've been adding a lot. But only a few of them really gained much traction so far. Part of the problem is cost. Part of the problem is when you're talking about plug-based vehicles, like the Nissan Leaf, there's not a lot of infrastructure out there. There aren't a lot of places outside of the home where you can go and plug in, say, if you want to make an extended drive.

Then there is the issue of performance. Well, not everybody wants a Corvette or a Ferrari. People do like a little bit more acceleration when they're, say, trying to pass somebody on the freeway. And a lot of the early battery vehicles just didn't have this added measure of performance. So all these things added up to really constraining the market. The $7,500 incentive that you have here in the United States is helping a little bit, but you're also seeing governments around the world starting to take steps to build up the infrastructure, boost incentives, and in some cases by mandating changes.

So for example, in California there's a new zero-emission vehicle, or ZEV requirement, that manufacturers will have to come up with vehicles that can operate purely in electric mode. And if they don't meet certain sales numbers, they may be banned from selling in the state of California. So that has a lot of manufacturers coming up with vehicles that they don't even know if they can sell without essentially giving them away.

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:

Paul, so when you were at Frankfurt, did you get a sense that maybe we're near the tipping point when it comes to solving this chicken and egg problem, because it would be great to have the infrastructure in place, but who's going to do it?

EISENSTEIN: Yeah. That's a real issue. There's an awful lot of battery vehicles out there right now and more coming very quickly. But it is just not clear whether the consumer is going to go along with everything, even if the makers supply the vehicles and the governments supply the infrastructure. So far all battery-based vehicles of all forms account for less than four percent of the U.S. market. That's pretty small and it's going to take a lot of work to grow significantly.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, Paul Eisenstein is publisher of The Detroit Bureau. There's a link to his coverage of the Frankfurt auto show at hereandnow.org. Paul, thank you so much.

EISENSTEIN: Hey, my pleasure to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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