This year’s Paris Motor Show is as significant for the cars being shown as much as for the cars that are conspicuously absent.
A year ago at this time, the industry was just taking in the news of the unfolding VW diesel emission scandal which compounded pre-existing concerns over that technology’s environmental value.
For 2016, the auto show in the city which last fall gave the world the Paris Accord on climate change eschewed oil burners in favor of plug-in electrified vehicles – along with gas-powered – in what is being called an “inflection point” in the industry.
Faced with ever-tightening emissions regulations, and competitive efforts such as from Tesla, and other automakers embarking on an electric avenue, several automakers have made electric cars a focal point.
While there were not a staggering number of offerings displayed, and a few automakers sat out the show, perhaps most important is that the new electric cars signal more to come, even among automakers who were formerly less than gung ho about them.
Following are electric cars revealed this year in the industry that’s also primed to pair this technology with new business models, including mobility services, car sharing, and autonomous drive.
Daimler (Mercedes) EQ Brand
The main new car Mercedes-Benz is featuring is the Generation EQ Concept, but along with that came parent Daimler’s EQ brand dedicated to electric cars, and the company says this is one of 10 new electric cars for the Mercedes and Smart brands by 2025.
As for the concept, the small “close to production” 2-motor crossover with up to 402 horsepower is estimated to deliver roughly 311 miles (500 km) on the NEDC cycle thanks to an EV-specific platform allowing batteries in the floor.
This modular platform with adjustable wheelbase and track width will let Mercedes spin off sedans, coupes, SUVs, etc. helping to save Euros on their development, when battery costs are still high, though these have been declining relatively swiftly.
Coming back to the new brand, previously it was unclear that Daimler would create a counterpoint to BMW’s “i” sub-brand, but Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said it wants to lead, and by 2025, 15-25 percent of its models are projected to be zero-emission vehicles.
Zetsche said also Daimler has established its CASE division for digital technologies overseeing incorporation of connected cars, autonomous driving, car sharing along with the electric vehicles.
“Connectivity, autonomous driving, sharing and electric drive systems – each of these four trends has the potential to turn our industry on its head,” said Zetsche. “Yet the real revolution lies in intelligently linking the four trends.”
He added the company has essentially been forced to develop new technologies in house to meet its criteria.
“We have the competence and the ability, and we cannot buy the technology from suppliers which do not yet exist,” he said while taking a thinly veiled jab at BMW which recently announced a partnership with Mobileye.
“We believe this is a unique selling point, and we cannot be ahead if we appoint a camera manufacturer to be our lead developer,” said Zetsche.
The market is in such a state of flux that BMW’s top executives – who four years ago led out with the i3 and i8 and “i” sub brand, called a timeout from attending the show to powwow on what their next moves should be.
One of their next moves, not on display and only seen in spy shots for now, is an all-electric Mini due by 2019, to be followed by an all-electric BMW X3 SUV the following year.
According to Bloomberg, CEO Harald Krueger painted these as further positioning BMW to counter the rise of others, implicitly including Daimler, as well as VW Group, and more.
“Competitors are now in phase one on their electric strategy, while we’re entering phase two,” said Krueger. “We’re already well on our way to electrifying the core portfolio, using powertrain technology from BMW i.”
What’s next for the i sub brand was not stated, as the company is still gestating the rapidly changing landscape. Since release of the i3 and i8, the company has set its stake, but seems to be sitting back on new i models, though an i5 has long been rumored and is believed pending.
It will also remain to be seen how BMW integrates plug-in variants into its existing product line. Its iPerformance line is what it calls plug-in hybrids, some of which were built on early not very successful performance hybrids that don’t plug in.
No doubt BMW knows more will be needed with rivals announcing major plans through 2025, and even snubbing BMW as they do so.
Updated Renault Zoe
Not a full redesign, the popular Renault Zoe gets an update where it counts with a next-generation LG Chem derived battery pack with 41 kWh. A 22-kWh pack will remain as an offering, but the new pack is good for a theoretical 248 miles (400 km) – if you believe the exceedingly generous European NEDC test cycle.
Realistically, it probably will have little difficulty doing 175-185 miles. Renault officially states it’s good for 186 miles in the “real world,” meaning 200 could be in reach on a good (easy going) day, and compact EV otherwise is looking competitive.
Updated infotainment and other minor details come along with the same basic body design that has been good enough to see the Zoe as a best-seller in Europe. Most recently, however, its sales have fallen behind the BMW i3 which just got a new battery too, good for roughly 124 miles real world range.
Unfortunately for U.S. consumers, this now slightly more peppy EV is not sold here, but it otherwise holds implications for the Zoe’s sister in the Renault-Nissan Alliance – the 2017 Nissan Leaf.
Rumors have been the Leaf might get another booster shot until gen 2 arrives, and the 41 kWh battery is conjectured as possible.
Worth a mention also, Mitsubishi, another bullish but until now under-resourced company with big plug-in plans, is also now coming under the Alliance and may now have a better shot at fulfilling its ambitions.
While speaking of unattainable offerings for the U.S., Renault also showed the wild looking autonomous-capable Trezor.
Mainly a design exercise, it comes with 350 horsepower and 280 pounds-feet of torque from a motor derived from Renault’s Formula E race car.
To get in the car, the entire top canopy lifts upward, while neat exterior lighting is fitted to alert people when it is in fully autonomous mode.
The steering wheel is also able to tuck away when the car is driving itself, allowing the driver and passenger to use the windshield in front of them like a massive panoramic screen.
It’s all good stuff, even if there are no plans for production, as lessons learned stand to be incorporated in production cars planned.
New Smart Electric Drive Models
Featuring a next-generation platform for the Cabrio and Smart ForFour models, the mini cars otherwise tie in with aforementioned Daimler’s grand plans.
The new EVs feature 80 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque, and 99 miles (160 kilometers) range under European rules, but expect that figure to be less on the U.S. cycle.
Of note is that Smart says it will be the world’s only automaker to offer its entire lineup with both combustion engines and pure battery-electric drive, though for some unstated reason, a Smart ForFour won’t be available in the U.S.
The electric drive powertrain shared among all three models offers 118 pounds-feet torque and 80 horsepower. Preliminary U.S. charge time estimates are 2.5 hours compared to 5.5 hours for the previous generation.
U.S. deliveries are slated for spring for the new Smart ForTwo coupe, and the Smart ForTwo cabriolet will show up soon after in the summer. Pricing on the ForTwo models will be announced later.
Volkswagen I.D. Concept
As we originally wrote, and as others have now said as well, VW wants you to forget dieselgate, and the I.D. Concept at Paris with plans to eventually supplant the eGolf is this month’s forget drug of choice.
Not a converted ICE-mobile (internal combustion engine car), the new EV concept rides on the modular MEB platform and present configuration promises 168 horsepower and between 249 and 373 miles range on the NEDC cycle.
The Volkswagen I.D. will be rear-motored and rear-wheel-drive, much like the original Beetle – a success story in its own right whose memory VW is invoking.
Unlike the Beetle, the I.D.’s motor is actually between the wheels, which is part of what gives it a front-to-rear 47/53 weight distribution. This is helped by the battery packs which sit in the middle of the car, under the passengers.
Unfortunately, the car is not projected to be built until 2020.
Volkswagen has otherwise been at work on more models, and its Audi and Porsche divisions also have electric cars in the works.
What may well be the best – in terms of what mainstream consumers can get soon – is saved for last, and Americans know it as the rebadged Chevy Bolt called for Europe the Opel Ampera-e.
Touting its Leaf withering range, Opel staged a publicity stunt that saw it travel 260 miles on a single charge from London to Paris, with 50 miles left on the range-o-meter.
Officially, the NEDC rate it 311 miles (500 km), and the U.S. EPA says the Bolt is good for 238 miles combined, or 217 highway, 255 city.
A zippy compact crossover with 150 kW/204 horsepower and 360 Nm (266 pound-feet) torque, the car originally developed in a GM design studio in Australia with battery in floor and excellent interior space utilization promises 0-31 in 3.2 seconds, and 50-75 mph in a brisk 4.5 seconds.
The front wheel drive vehicle does not offer different battery options or all-wheel-drive as Tesla’s promised Model 3 is supposed to.
It is however the first bona fide 200-plus-mile EV in its price category. It also benefits from a thermally managed battery built by GM utilizing LG Chem cells, and shares in lessons learned from the Spark EV and Volt whose powertrains have proven relatively reliable.
Unfortunately for UK customers, a right hand drive version is not being made under the Vauxhall nameplate.