Connectivity and digitalization – these were the main topics of the International Automobile Exhibition (IAA), which took place in Frankfurt a. M., Germany, from September 17 to 27, 2015. Both the media uplink to the entire globe and digital premium offers appeared much more important than clean engine technologies. The announcements did include much on electric cars, but there were mostly hybrid vehicles on-site; pure battery-driven vehicles were rare, and there were only two cars with fuel-cell technology.
The Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) had not been completely wrong when saying that electric vehicles would indeed be a topic during the IAA. A closer look, however, quickly revealed how misunderstandings were willingly accepted to provide the car industry with a greener image. Traditional e-cars, which only possess a battery and an electric engine, were very hard to find.
The only exceptions seemed to be Audi and Porsche, which both showcased so-called “Tesla fighters.” Michael Müller, CEO of the latter company based in Zuffenhausen, presented a concept study, the Porsche Mission E, which intended to combine “the typical feel of driving a Porsche” and electric mobility. The range of the 440-kW sports car was given at a minimum of 500 kilometers, even with a more aggressive driving style. Charging the battery was said to take no longer than “a normal stop at a gas station for refill, espresso and handwashing” (around 15 minutes). This would be made possible by an 800-volt charge, which would be offered, “as soon as the technology will be developed enough – in less than five years.” Tesla’s boss, Elon Musk, will now have sufficient time to widen its lead.
Audi presented the e-tron quattro concept study, which is planned to compete with Tesla in terms of range, power (three electric engines with a combined total of 370 kW) and the “sporty feel,” but in form of an SUV. As an added benefit, the four-seater has been equipped with a solar roof. But this car will be commercially available at the earliest in 2018.
One could not find any other new battery car developments at the tradeshow. Most of the other automotive manufacturers remained largely silent on the issue. When asked about e-cars, Opel‘s short reply was, “Not this year.” Honda also said that there “won’t be anything this year.” Additionally, the usual practice of using emission-free electric cars to provide shuttle service on the tradeshow premises was not continued in 2015. Instead, the organizers employed fossil-fuel engines and from time to time, a hybrid version.
Lack of motivation
Willi Diez from the Institute for the Automotive Industry (IFA) said about the transition from combustion engines to e-cars: “If oil prices continue to be as low as they are right now, then we’re rather talking about 2030 or 2040. This means that each company impacted by the transition will have more than enough time to adapt.”
Nissan allotted at least a small space to its e-NV200 and its Leaf showcases, even if the vehicle showcased at the tradeshow was a hybrid car study. Mitsubishi took a similar approach and did provide some green for its i-MiEV. BMW, on the other hand, had several i3 and i8 models set up inside and outside the halls. But it seemed like a bit of a half-hearted attempt, so that tradeshow visitors could at least try testing the seats in some e-cars.
Daimler’s current key issue is also not the electric vehicle, but rather autonomous driving. How the cars of the future are supposed to be powered seems to be less important at the moment, although Daimler’s official press conference did include the sentence: “Digitalization and electrification will completely change our industry.” What is currently more of a priority to the company based in Stuttgart than low-emission driving is their vehicles steering and braking fully automated as well as using the web to be linked to the entire globe.
In that sense, the research car F 015, which had already been shown at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January 2015, left more of an impression for its interior design. Everything inside revolved around large ultra-HD touchscreens, front seats that can be turned by 180 degrees, and lighting systems. That the luxury limousine could be powered by a fuel cell in 2030 seems both natural and hardly relevant. At the present stage, however, the F 015 is still a thing of the future: The available showcase still houses a battery that supplies the electric engine, which should provide 200 kW at some future point in time.
New Mobility World
Instead of recreating the e-car hall that the VDA still had in 2013, the association organized a special exhibition this time, entitled New Mobility World. Besides alternative drive systems, it also presented hot topics, such as connected systems, automation and car-sharing.
With an eye on fuel-cell technology, Frankfurt‘s automotive tradeshow was one big disappointment. Only Toyota aggressively advertised its new fuel-cell car Mirai – both on its website as well as at its tradeshow booth and during its press conference. The new CEO of Toyota Motor Europe, Johan van Zyl, already mentioned the market entry of the Mirai in Europe during the beginning of the company presentation. And on the first day of the tradeshow, Germany’s Chancellor, Angel Merkel, visited the Toyota booth to see how a mass-produced fuel-cell car looks like. Dirk Breuer, Spokesperson at Toyota Germany, voiced his hopes in his conversation with H2-international, that the prominent visit would encourage other car manufacturers to show some more commitment to this technology segment. From the carmaker’s Japanese headquarters: “Toyota is convinced that different technologies can exist besides each other, from electric cars to hybrid versions to probably the most innovative solution, the fuel-cell car.”
Hyundai’s President, Hyung Cheong Kim, also referenced his company’s fuel-cell car ix 35 at the beginning of the IAA and announced that from 2016 on, hybrid, plug-in hybrid as well as purely battery-powered models will follow. Additionally, Hyundai revealed a concept study of a race car, which – at least, theoretically – combines the fuel-cell expertise of the Korean carmaker with the speed of a sports car: the Hyundai N 2025 Vision Gran Turismo. This car concept study, however, was only developed for the PlayStation® game Gran Turismo®.
According to the list of exhibitors, Hyundai was the only company to showcase hydrogen. Thankfully, fuel cells were presented by three other automotive industry companies as well: CeramTec, ElringKlinger and Woco.