Europeans are far ahead of North Americans in eco-awareness, and it’s most evident at auto shows. This year’s British International Motor Show, July 23 to August 3, is a perfect example. Despite the UK’s traditional abundance of small supercar-makers and its luxury brands, the popular market seems now to be all about green cars—specifically those with low carbon emissions, or electric cars with no emissions at all.

Lots of marketing and prominence is assigned to the “EV Village” containing 10 brands of electric vehicles—although once visitors pass the relatively well-known Tesla, Smart, and Th!nk brands, they quickly encounter a scattering of little-known vendors selling low-speed fiberglass electric cars of highly variable quality and design.

Exiled to Birmingham on alternate years, the British International Motor Show has struggled to attract globally significant car launches. Much was made in the local press of the decisions by some German manufacturers to forgo an exhibit in London altogether. And the cars throughout two halls of East London’s ExCeL Center are laid out either spaciously or sparsely, depending on your view.

CO2 Matters

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited the show, very early on the morning of press day. He reportedly stopped at the “Act on CO2” standard for tips on greener driving, although the present leader of Britain’s government does not drive. Brown had previously said all cars sold in the UK should be electric or hybrid by 2010, a suggestion mocked by some of the auto press as deeply out of touch with technical and economic realities.