Updated: September 15, 2009 7:02 AM | By MATT MOORE And GEORGE FREY, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, cp.org

Automakers offer new electric cars at Frankfurt



FRANKFURT - Automakers put last minute touches on fancy displays at the 63rd Frankfurt Auto Show on Tuesday, ready to show off future and current models in a bid to kick start sales amid a slowly improving global economy. Many were looking years down the road by unveiling their latest electric models that are designed to go faster and farther.

Companies from Volkswagen AG to Hyundai Motor Co. displayed their latest models in the cavernous exhibition space at the show, but the buzz centered on designs that eschew traditional gas engines in favor of more environmentally friendly electric motors or a hybrid blend of both.

VW chief executive Martin Winterkorn, unveiled the E-Up!, a small city car powered by an electric motor using Lithium-ion batteries that can reach a maximum speed of 84 mph (135 kph) and travel up 81 miles (130 kilometers) on a single charge.

"The concept car now being presented in Frankfurt very realistically shows how we envision such a Volkswagen with pure electric drive - technically, visually and with regard to a practical size," Winterkorn said of the car, which is expected to go into production by 2013 and reach production levels akin to the Polo or Opel Astra by 2020.

The European Transport and Environment association, a Brussels-based lobbying group that promotes accessible, sustainable transport, this week chastised automakers for not doing enough to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

They said Fiat and Peugeot-Citroen have the cleanest autos on the market and are closest to meeting EU standards. BMW and Mazda made the most progress, reducing emissions for cars sold in Europe by 10 per cent and 8 per cent respectively.

Other automakers are bringing their vision of electric cars to Frankfurt, too, including Renault, which has four new models planned for the show; a hybrid Mercedes B-Class, called the F-Cell, which sports a fuel cell and an electric motor; and the first plug-in version of Toyota's Prius hybrid, featuring a battery that can be charged from a household outlet.

GM will tout its Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in electric which uses an internal-combustion engine to extend its range beyond the standard commuting distances its batteries are designed to handle.

Those cars are headed for consumers soon, but BMW AG gives a look farther down the road with its low-slung supercoupe, the Vision EfficientDynamics. It's a high performance, plug-in diesel-electric hybrid powered by a three-cylinder 1.5-liter turbo engine, and by not one but two electric motors, one for the rear wheels, one for the front.

"There will be an electric car at almost every stand" at this year's Frankfurt show, said Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, an industry expert at the University of Duisburg-Essen, although he expected it would be some time before they were produced and displayed in dealer show rooms.

Analysts expect global production of purely electric cars to expand rapidly in the coming years. IHS Global Insight forecasts an increase from nearly 9,500 this year to more than 58,000 in 2011.

Organizers said 753 exhibitors are on hand for the event, which will be opened to the public by Chancellor Angela Merkel Sept. 17 and run through Sept. 27.

Matthias Wissman, president of the German Association of Automotive Industry, said that 62 vehicle makers are at the show, with 82 world premieres.

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AP Business Writer Colleen Barry contributed to this report.

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