Electric Cars Set the Tone in Frankfurt

At the World’s Largest Car Show, Electric Vehicles Make Big Noise

Leading car-makers from around the world are gathering in Frankfurt, Germany for the International Motor Show. This is the world’s largest car event and it offers major manufacturers an opportunity to show off their latest models and outline their long-term strategies.

Electric vehicles have been expanding their presence at the event over the last few years and they’ve now become a clear focus. Growing concerns about the environmental effects of internal combustion engines combined with the so-called “Dieselgate” emissions scandal have made clean cars a dominant theme as never before.

Car-makers have been making significant investments in research and development to bring out electric vehicles. This has been driven by the need to comply with increasingly tighter government regulations limiting air pollution, but it’s also a response to rising demand for these cars. The market is currently small, but the future of electric cars is clearly large. Tesla isn’t an exhibitor at the show, but its life-force is certainly felt.

However, electric cars have had a limited impact on volume sales, hindered by their limited range, premium cost and a lack of fast-charging stations — factors that have made consumers cautious. Americans bought 160,000 plug-based vehicles in 2016, or 0.9 percent of total vehicle sales. By comparison, Norway leads the world in adoption, with 29 percent of new car sales being plug-ins in 2016. Globally, less than a half of a percent of car sales are plug-ins.

Momentum for electric vehicles is now having a strong effect on strategies. Perhaps more than any other European car-maker, Volvo began a headline shift by committing to have only electric or hybrid cars by 2019. Volkswagen has a goal of developing 80 new electric cars by 2025 and plans to offer an electric version of each of its 300 models from its various brands by 2030. These are bold business adjustments if they come to fruition.

More than half of the concept cars displayed at the show are electric vehicles. There’s no guarantee that these will become production cars, but enough probably will. Mercedes-Benz is exhibiting a compact electric vehicle under its EQ sub-brand, demonstrating the company’s electric vision, and BMW is showing off its four-door i Vision Dynamics concept vehicle to join its i3 and i8 electric models.

Car models tend to last about 11 years, and it will take time for fleets to reach a tipping point, but the energy is building. However, in reality, we believe that many countries wouldn’t be able to cope with a rapid shift to electric vehicles. The extra demand for electricity to charge them all would require many more power stations to be built, something that typically takes years to realise.