The huge Frankfurt IAA motor show is now in full swing, and to mark the opening day, 10 Greenpeace protestors gathered around an old Volkswagen Touareg with a smoking exhaust planted into the ground, holding banners exclaiming "the oil age is ending!".
But this wasn’t news to the auto industry execs inside. Indeed, they didn’t have time to worry about the Greenpeace protests: they were too busy launching their own oil-free models to the world’s press.
BMW showed the i Vision Dynamics, a svelte saloon that will become its all-electric rival to the Tesla Model S. Mercedes-Benz’ EQA Concept Car previews its 2020 entry-level EV. Volkswagen announced plans to sell 3 million EVs a year by 2025. And it wasn’t just the German brands; Honda’s Urban Concept EV is an electric supermini we already want, the Mini Electric Concept previews 2019’s new model to be built in Oxford, while Jaguar went as far as launching an electric car racing series for the new I-Pace EV.
Many car makers were contrite. We’ve got the message, they said. No more extravagance for them, they insisted. Time to get down to work and prepare the electric cars of the future – because it’s companies like VW Group that will lead the electric car breakthrough, said CEO Matthias Müller, not “the self-styled pioneers”.
Just in case we didn’t get the message he was talking about Tesla, he continued: “It will come from those who can get a new technology up and running on a truly relevant scale. We are not talking about a company with annual sales of 200,000 or 300,000 cars. We are talking about a Group that puts more than 10 million vehicles on the road per year… in all segments… almost anywhere in the world.”
Last year, Tesla sold around 84,000 cars; by 2020, it plans to sell 1 million cars annually, although analysts are less sure. By committing the entire Volkswagen Group – including Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Skoda, Seat and various others – to electric and electrification, Müller believes that by 2025, 1 in 4 of all new VW Group cars could be a pure EV. “This figure alone show what it means when a Group like ours focuses all its energy on one goal.”
It was a similar message from BMW. Mercedes-Benz chief Dr Dieter Zetsche stated that the Smart brand will move entirely to electric drive – first in Europe and North America by the end of the decade, and the rest of the world shortly after. Making it the world’s first car brand to switch from all-combustion engines to all-electric.
Which clashes with the Greenpeace claim that, “amidst a growing number of announcements from governments banning the sales of new fossil fuel powered cars by 2025-2040, many traditional car makers refuse to embrace the change”.
Perhaps Greenpeace should have spent less time protesting outside and more time checking out the exhibits. “Greenpeace Germany is demanding a sustainable transport system that consists of cleaner, smaller and shared electric cars.” It won’t be long before it gets it.