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At Frankfurt Auto Show, New Takes On Electric Car

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At Frankfurt Auto Show, New Takes On Electric Car

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At Frankfurt Auto Show, New Takes On Electric Car

At Frankfurt Auto Show, New Takes On Electric Car

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The world's largest car show begins this week: the Frankfurt Auto Show in Frankfurt, Germany. Dan Neil, automotive critic for the Los Angeles Times, discusses the raft of electric and hybrid cars being unveiled at the show.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The future of the global auto industry is on display in Europe this week. Thursday marks the beginning of the annual Frankfurt Auto Show in Germany, the largest car show in the world.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

If there's a theme running through the show this year, it is green. From Ford to Ferrari, carmakers are unveiling countless new electric and hybrid vehicles for every taste and budget. Dan Neil is the automotive critic for The Los Angeles Times. And he joins us from Frankfurt. And Dan, you've gotten a sneak peek of the show. Walk us through some of the more interesting electric and hybrid models that you've seen.

Mr. DAN NEIL (Automotive Critic, The Los Angeles Times): It's extensive and it goes from small city cars, Peugeot and Volkswagen and a lot of other car companies are - want to sell small urban mobility that's pure electric. And then on the other side, you have some extreme electric cars. For instance, Mercedes-Benz is experimenting with a super sports car, you know, a 200 mile-per-hour sports car that's all electric.

Audi unveiled something called the e-Tron R8. And it's got over 3,000 pound feet of torque. That's about the amount of torque a tugboat has. And there's just - the array of battery, electric and plug-in hybrids is really staggering. After years of, if not skepticism, outright cynicism about electric mobility, the European carmakers are onboard.

SIEGEL: Yeah. The majority of the vehicles that are being unveiled in Frankfurt aren't just European, these are German. And we associate green car technology much more with the Japanese automakers and even the American carmakers. The Europeans, the Germans are catching up now?

Mr. NEIL: Well, that's a perception depending on who you ask. The Germans would have argued that their work in diesel technology really has put them at the front of the line in terms of green tech. And, also, they are the most painfully conscious of social acceptance so that the theme running through all these carmakers' presentations, BMW and Mercedes and Audi, is social responsibility.

For example, you know, Mercedes sells a beautiful sedan, the S-Class sedan. Well, you know, how do you make that more socially responsible? Here they're showing a plug-in, hybrid, electric version of this car that gets 74 miles per gallon.

SIEGEL: Now, what is the American presence at the Frankfurt Auto Show?

Mr. NEIL: Well, outside of Ford, which is a very successful brand in Europe and they're unveiling something called the C-Max, which is a minivan, space wagon thing and some other engine technologies. Really, the Americans are not much in evidence. What you see at the Fiat stand is likely what you will see translated into the American vernacular somehow. General Motors, honestly, the Heineken tent is bigger.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Yes. I heard that Cadillac was a scratch for the Frankfurt Auto Show. And Dodge is over with the Fiats. Is that - is that what I hear?

Mr. NEIL: Well, yeah, that is true. And General Motors once put on this spectacular, lavish display to compete with any of the German carmakers and now they are reduced to this, you know, hovel out back. It's kind of sad.

SIEGEL: Well, okay, now time for a little bit of wish fulfillment here. Of all of the luxury cars that you've seen in Frankfurt, if you could have it all, what's the one car you'd want to drive out of there in your dream world?

Mr. NEIL: Well, the new Ferrari 458 Italia is, as they say in "Ferris Bueller," very nice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NEIL: And it's probably the most beautiful Ferrari I've seen in my time doing this job. And yesterday, a company called Bugatti, which is owned by the VW Group, unveiled a supercar called the Galibier and it has a 16-cylinder engine with two compressors. It will put out about 800 horsepower, but don't worry, it's green. It runs on bio-ethanol.

SIEGEL: Ah. I was wondering where the social responsibility in that model would come.

Mr. NEIL: Yeah.

SIEGEL: Well, Dan Neil, thanks a lot for talking with us about the Frankfurt Auto Show.

Mr. NEIL: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Dan Neil is the automotive critic for The Los Angeles Times. And he was talking to us from Frankfurt, Germany, about the auto show.

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