Green Cars Star at Frankfurt

Mercedes E-Cell plug-in

Carmakers, having had a pretty miserable year, are trying to put the face of the future on the Frankfurt Auto Show, which begins this week. It’s notable that almost every exhibitor has something green to show, and they are showing more green cars than we know or can tell you about. But here are the highlights, as we see them before the show opens tomorrow.

The Germans

Mercedes-Benz presents its fuel-cell-powered B-class compact called the F-Cell (above). Deriving from the plug-in E-Cell, this ugly brute is supposed to get 250 miles on a tank of hydrogen. Where the hydrogen will come from is another matter.

Mercedes Vision S500 plug-in

More exciting and immediately practical is the Benz plug-in electric version of its S-class, working off the F700 Vision Concept the company showed two years ago, which was then viewed, at least in Europe, as a breakthrough in hybrid design. The new S500 Concept (right) is sure to be a show-stopper: 18.5 miles on pure electric power, a V6-electric-motor combo producing, says the company, very low CO2 emissions and 73.5 mpg (yes, as reported), 0-62 in 5.5 seconds.

We’ve already told you about the BMW Vision EfficientDynamics concept—M-car performance through a complex marriage of three diesels, electric motors, and a plug-in powertrain. It would be worth the price of admission just to ogle this super-complex yet sexy machine. Good photos are here. The concept reflects the tremendous competition emerging among German companies as to who can produce the most sophisticated green machine.

Audi E-tron ConceptAudi has its electric e-Tron Concept, too (right)—an R8 with very different innards. Not much info has emerged, but the car will turn heads (as it was designed to do). Volkswagen is showing its E-Up! Concept, about which we know a little more. The car has zero-emissions and is due by 2013:

VW E-Up! ConceptThe electric drivetrain in the E-Up! is composed of an 18-kWh lithium-ion battery and an electric motor capable of outputting 60 kW (80 hp). A full charge should deliver a range of approximately 80 miles and top speed is about 84 mph. Charging time on a household 220-volt line is expected to take less than five hours.

The E-Up! Uses solar panels on the roof and on interior sun visors for supplemental generation, manual windows, and accommodates a host of mobile phones, personal electronic devices, and so forth to monitor the car’s condition.

The Rest

Hyundai Blue Will ConceptHyundai and Kia are showing off “hybrid city cars, a hybrid crossover SUV concept, an all-electric city car, a plug-in hybrid, diesel vehicles with micro-hybrid stop-start technology, and midsize lithium-battery-powered sedans running on liquid petroleum gas.” The futuristic Hyundai HND-4 “Blue Will” (oh where, oh where do they get these dopey names?) is sort of an answer to the Volt, but uses carbon fiber, a solar roof, and parts made from biodegradable stuff, all with a promised 40-mile all-electric range. Kia is showing the 2010 Sorento, an all-new twin-turbo 1.6-liter diesel hybrid, and a new mild-hybrid version of its best-selling model in Europe, the Cee’d (as in “cee’d off”?).

Citroen Revolte ConceptThe French have the Renault Revolte, a “battery-electric mini car with the styling inspired by the old 2CV, or ‘deux chevaux.’” Now that’s a concept! Peugeot has an all-electric small car called the iOn, which is supposed to be ready for Europe late next year. Renault “says it will unveil four electric vehicle concepts—cars that are expected to share the technology developed for the Nissan Leaf EV recently unveiled in Yokohama.”

Well, fans, this is but the tip of the iceberg, as they said on board the Titanic, but we will try to follow up with more cars and more details on these cars as they emerge.

Frankfurt is still the most interesting car show in the world. Do you agree?

—jgoods

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