Electric Cars Reclaim Limelight at 2016 Paris Motor Show

By · September 28, 2016

Volkswagen I.D. concept

The year 2009 was a turning point for electric cars. It was the time right before actual battery-powered vehicles would go on sale—with major automakers rushing to show their embrace of the technology. At the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show, there were no fewer than 42 electric cars and plug-in hybrids on display. How many those plug-in vehicles ever made it to American showrooms? Three—the Tesla Model S, Ford Focus Electric and Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid.

Now, as the auto industry embraces a new wave of modern EVs—this time with longer range cars aimed at mass consumer acceptance—automakers are once again using a major European car show to show off their potential plug-in wares. The 2016 Paris Motor Show, which starts this week, will highlight newfound religion about electrics with about 24 EVs on display.

The most prominent unveiling will be Volkswagen’s I.D. concept—an EV with driving range of more than 300 miles. VW says it will be introduced in 2020. The concept EV reveals Volkswagen’s new design language for electric cars; its use of a common modular production kit for EVs; and the company’s approach to autonomous driving by using a steering wheel that retracts into the dashboard.

Volkswagen is getting the attention, in large part, because the company is still reeling from its diesel scandal. VW says it will correct its course by offering 30 electric cars by 2025, and selling one million units by that same year.

Those are grandiose futuristic plans, so a lot could change between now and those target dates. What is certainly well off into the future is VW's promise to have a 300-mile electric vehicle fully charge in a single 15-minute session. Even Porsche, a luxury division for VW, says a lot more work is required to make rapid charging speeds like that a reality.

Citroën Cxperience concept car plug-in hybrid

Meanwhile, Porsche will use the Paris show to unveil a new version of its Panamera plug-in hybrid sedan. From advanced reports, it could offer 31 miles of all-electric range, nearly doubling the electric range of the current $93,000 large luxury sedan. The Panamera has great lines, but not anywhere as sleek and shapely as the Citroën Cxperience concept car plug-in hybrid—also headed to Paris. It’s a mean-looking low-slung sedan with rear suicide doors, a short rear deck and lots of high-tech interior gear.

The show's EV concepts are years away. Meanwhile, General Motors is only weeks away from introducing the 238-mile Chevy Bolt—that’s the more important EV at the Paris show. Pricing for the European version of the Chevrolet Bolt, dubbed Opel-Vauxhall Ampera E, has not been announced. (The Bolt will sell for $30,000 in the US, after the $7,500 government subsidy.)

Additional plug-in unveilings in Paris include:

  • Renault’s upgraded version of the Zoe subcompact with a 40 kilowatt-hour battery (while we wait for another year or more for a similar long-range LEAF)
  • The 2018 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive coming in 2017
  • A Mercedes EV with a range of 310 miles, targeted for release in 2020

2018 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive

A number of major car companies, including Ford, Volvo and Mazda, are entirely skipping the Paris show. BMW is also taking a pass, although according to Reuters, Bimmer executives will be using that time to evaluate its overall electric car strategy.

Apparently, some senior executives are disappointed by sales of the i3 and want to curtail additional investment until market demand for battery-electrics is more established. Perhaps the company is recognizing that the i3’s iconoclastic looks do not have wide appeal. According to Reuters, the idea of producing an electric Mini for 2019 is on the table, even if adapting BMW’s current electric system to other platforms would be expensive. The prospect of a new all-electric Mini has been discussed for a few years, ever since the conclusion of the Mini-E pilot program.

The 2016 Paris Motor Show opens to the public on Saturday and runs through Oct. 16.

New to EVs? Start here

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