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Frankfurt Auto Show Dominated By Batteries and Plug-ins

Originally published on ClimateProgress
by Andrew Breiner

Image Credit: Associated PressEvery year, automakers of the world fill the Frankfurt convention center with the newest car technology and designs. This year at the Frankfurt Auto Show, that means hybrids and full-electric cars are stealing the show, with a large number of the 70 world-premier vehicles running on either battery power or hybrid gas-electric systems.

That’s in part a result of increased Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards spurring technological innovation. The Obama administration set new standards in 2012 requiring fuel economy to reach 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 for 90% of vehicles sold in the US.

That standard will require significant market penetration by hybrid electric vehicles, and battery electric vehicles, over 50% according to a study by the Center for Automotive Research. That would reduce US oil consumption by 12 billion barrels and reduce the amount of CO2 produced by cars by about 5%.

Meanwhile, proposed European Union efficiency standards would limit CO2 per kilometer to 130 grams by 2015 and 95 grams by 2020. A report by Transport & Environment finding “both premium and mainstream carmakers are on track to achieve their 2020 targets,” with gains coming mostly from strides in efficiency. The popularity of efficient diesel cars in Europe has reduced the appeal of new electric options, though the hybrid and electric market is growing.

BMW 7 Series ActiveHybrid Image Credit: Associated Press

Electric motors are proving especially popular with high-performance luxury cars, due to their ability to accelerate extremely quickly, and in near-silence. The BMW i8, for example, is a hybrid that can go from 0 to 62 mph in 4.5 seconds. Audi, Toyota, BMW, and Mercedes also introduced high-performance vehicles with electric engines. In that vein, the Spark-Renault SRT_01E was unveiled, a fully-electric car that will race in the first-ever Formula E competition intended to push electric cars into the mainstream.

But while the Auto Show tends to focus on higher-end cars, there were a few examples of more accessible options. Volkswagen has typically avoided electric vehicles, but it’s introducing an electric Golf hatchback and an electric Up! mini city car.

The move toward electric engines comes as U.S. car sales rebound, with 1.5 million in August, the highest level since the recession. At the same time, Americans don’t seem to be returning to driving at the same rate, with rates of licensing of young people and total numbers driven dropping across many states. And as the U.S. Public Interest Group found, the drop isn’t linked to economic hardship as measured by unemployment.

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