Car manufacturers electrify Frankfurt

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Frankfurt motor show 2017 highlights (The Car Expert)

Nearly every car company at Frankfurt was keen to talk about electric power. Given the spectacular nose-dive of diesel sales in the UK, and governments everywhere looking to ban diesel cars from entering major cities, electric power appears to have reached a tipping point. Suddenly the UK government’s plan to ban non-electrified new cars from 2040 seems very conservative.

Whether a familiar hybrid setup, a plug-in model with more electricity and less fossil fuel, or a fully-electric motor powered by a battery or hydrogen fuel cell, there was electricity everywhere in Frankfurt as manufacturers showed off their plans for augmenting or replacing the internal combustion engine.

BMW’s i division steps up

BMW showed off a concept for an electric sports saloon called the i Vision Dynamics, which previews an upcoming i5 saloon to join the company’s i3 and i8 all-electric models. Longer, lower and wider than a regular 3 Series saloon, the i5 is set to reach roads by 2021.

Also on the BMW stage was the Concept X7 iPerformance, previewing a large luxury SUV to take on Range Rover. Powered by a plug-in hybrid drivetrain, as well as regular petrol and diesel models, the production BMW X7 is set to arrive late next year.

Finally, Frankfurt marked the public premiere of the already-announced upgrades to the successful BMW i3 city car, including a high-performance i3s model.

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Volkswagen wants you to forget dieselgate

Frankfurt 2017 marked Volkswagen’s most determined effort yet to set out its plans for an electric future and try to make people forget about the diesel scandal that continues to dog the company (and the rest of the car industry).

VW showed off its T-Roc small SUV, which offers nothing revolutionary but which will follow the likes of the Range Rover Evoque and the MINI brand in offering enormous personalisation. Compared to the more strait-laced models in the Volkswagen range, the T-Roc attempts to be more emotional and exciting. We’ll see about that when it hits showrooms next year.

Volkswagen also served up further evolutions of its electric vehicle concepts, the ID Buzz and ID Crozz. Leading the way for up to 80 new electrified models from across the Volkswagen Group by 2025, the production Crozz should arrive in 2020, ahead of the Buzz in 2022.

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Mercedes-Benz makes the case for hydrogen

While most car manufacturers are looking squarely at batteries to deliver electricity, Mercedes-Benz remains part of the minority who still insist that hydrogen fuel cells will play an important role in powering electric cars over coming decades.

In Frankfurt, Mercedes showed off a different kind of plug-in hybrid; a GLC SUV that combined a hydrogen fuel cell with a battery to delivery electricity in two ways. Promising considerable advantages over a regular plug-in hybrid (the fuel cell and the battery both supply electricity to the same motor, rather than having to fit both a petrol engine and an electric motor on board), the GLC F-Cell could enter limited production in the next year or so.

Mercedes also previewed an upcoming electric small car and its next-generation A-Class hatchback with the EQA concept car. The production EQA will not replace the A-Class, and will likely be built on a completely different platform to maximise the advantages of its electric drivetrain. It’s possible that the next A-Class, due in 2019, could be the last conventionally-powered small car from Mercedes-Benz.

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MINI and Honda preview new electric city cars

With large cities likely to be the major battleground for electric vehicle sales over the next few years, both MINI and Honda rolled out concepts that preview production models that will go on sale by 2019.

The MINI Electric Concept gave an early indication of what the production model will look like, smoothing out some of the traditional MINI design cues to improve airflow. Interior design was not part of the project, so the car on the Frankfurt stand had simple blacked-out windows. Also not up for discussion was any detail of the electric powertrain, which will be revealed at a later date.

The Honda Urban EV combines retro design cues with future tech in a far more successful way than any MINI design since the original BMW MINI back in 2001. Paying homage to the original 1970s Honda Civic, the Urban EV previews an all-electric city car that is set to hit the streets by 2019.

Set to be the flag-bearer for Honda’s electric programme, the Urban EV will lead a wave of electrified models starting with the CR-V Hybrid, set to be launched next year. Honda’s target is for two-thirds of all European sales to be hybrid or electric models by 2025.

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Jaguar goes electric SUV racing

Despite many thousands of Jaguar fans wishing that the manufacturer would throw its hand into world-class racing series like Formula One, WEC/Le Mans or even GT3 racing, the company has again dodged its major rivals by announcing a single-make race series for its new I-Pace electric SUV.

Billed as a support series for the Formula E championship (best not to ask about how Jaguar’s debut season went), we can expect to see the I-Pace eTrophy series get underway in conjunction with the 2018/19 Formula E season.

Meanwhile, the F-Type sits in the corner, just begging to be developed into a GT3 race car…

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Next page: Looking further ahead – will we even drive in the future?

Stuart Masson

Stuart is the Editor of The Car Expert, which he founded in 2011, and our new sister site The Van Expert. Originally from Australia, Stuart has had a passion for cars and the car industry for over thirty years. He spent a decade in automotive retail, and now works tirelessly to help car buyers by providing independent and impartial advice.

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