For perhaps the first time at a major international auto salon, the stars of the Paris Motor Show are electric cars.
This year’s show, open to the public through Sunday next week, also has the usual sampling of futuristic designs and prototypes.
However, this show might end up being best remembered as a tipping point for an electric car revolution poised to challenge the automobile industry’s internal-combustion “status quo” — although some of the excitement is still speculative.
Volkswagen (VW), trying to move beyond the diesel emissions cheating scandal that has tarnished its brand, is displaying an all-electric concept car it calls the ID.
VW already sells the electric e-Golf, but its limited range between charges is a big drawback. The e-Golf is considered a “city electric” for short commutes, not a long-distance road warrior.
However, at next month’s Los Angeles Auto Show, Volkswagen plans to introduce a new e-Golf, with a range the company says exceeds 199km, measured using the US Environmental Protection Agency’s test protocols.
The company says it will have an electric self-driving car by 2025, which is why the ID on display in Paris features a steering wheel that retracts into the dashboard when the car is in autonomous mode.
Mercedes-Benz used the Paris show to announce a new sub-brand of electric cars, Generation EQ. The vehicles are scheduled to roll out in stages over the next three to seven years.
Almost every other manufacturer in attendance is offering at least one new model with full electric operation or a hybrid combination of gas and electric.
Exhibit A came from the Opel division of General Motors (GM), which unveiled the production-ready Ampera-e, which is supposed to go on sale late this year in North America.
The five-passenger subcompact Ampera-e promised the trifecta of electric car must-haves: considerable utility for a car its size, a mass-market price and an all-electric range of more than 500km.
Six years ago, when the Nissan Leaf, the industry’s first mass-produced electric vehicle, went on sale, the company said its range was less than 160km.
Four years ago, Tesla pulled ahead as the new standard-bearer, with electric cars that could go up to 426km on a charge.
The company said in Paris that its new Model S P100D was rated at 507km. However, its US$135,000 price puts the car well out of the reach of mainstream buyers.
Extending an electric car’s range has been GM’s goal since the demise of its ill-fated EV1, which it produced from 1996 to 1999. The EV1 had a range of barely 160km.
However, GM claims to have solved the problem. As evidence, the company announced in Paris that its engineers had driven the Ampera-e 417km from London to the Paris show via the Channel Tunnel.
“When we arrived, we still had a further 80km of range left,”the project’s executive chief engineer Pam Fletcher said. “That is substantially more than we just announced for this car two weeks ago.”
Another Paris debutant was a next-generation Renault Zoe EV, with a projected range of 400km.
However, the Zoe, the first generation of which made its debut in 2012, has been offered for about US$27,000 without a battery. Buyers then lease a battery pack from the manufacturer for about US$100 a month.
The sexiest concept model at the show is probably the Renault Trezor autonomous-driving electric car.
The aircraft-like flight of design fancy is likely never to see production — especially its cornea-scorching red Plexiglas cockpit. Renault said future production models based on the Trezor would appear only “beyond 2020.”
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