Sexy electric: Frankfurt Motor Show’s promise of a petrol-free future

Editor’s Note: Jared Zaugg is author of the newly released book on classic sports and racing cars, “Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!” The views expressed are his own.

Story highlights

Big name automakers showcased their electric car models at this year's Frankfurt Motor Show

Tesla's electric car currently leads the business

Porsche's Mission E and BMW's i8 are driving new electric car design

CNN  — 

Whether addressing issues of safety, congestion, efficiency, pollution or just changing consumer tastes, most of the major automobile manufacturers at this year’s prestigious IAA motorshow in Frankfurt unveiled a concept powered by alternative energy.

Up until now, it has been the American upstart firm Tesla headed by the Tony Stark-like figure and billionaire iconoclast Elon Musk that has pioneered the concept of a totally electric high-performance vehicle. Toyota may have famously solved one-half the equation by bringing a gasoline-electric hybrid car to the mainstream, but it was Tesla that went a step further and made an all-electric car that was practical, powerful and attractive.

Spurred by this healthy competition – a recipe that surely includes equal parts economics and prestige – it was Porsche whose results in the all-electric category garnered the most attention at IAA.

Star of the show

Without a doubt, Porsche was the sensation of the show when it unveiled its Mission E concept car. With plenty of pre-event buzz circulating and plenty of anticipation, crowds of international media representatives gathered in the Porsche hall to await the first official viewing. Then, in the Stuttgart-based company’s signature understated style, without drama but with plenty of bravura, Porsche CEO Mathias Muller addressed the standing room only audience and revealed a sports car that could very well change the direction of the electric car industry.

porsche concept frankfurt car show electric
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The Mission E is a 4-door, 4-seat, 4-wheel drive sports car boasting an incredible 600 horsepower. It’s able to accelerate from 0-62 mph (0-100 km/h) in 3.5 seconds, and reach a top speed of 155 mph (250 km/h), all with a range of 310 miles (500 km) on a full charge. Not only that, but 80% of its battery can be recharged within just 15 minutes. Incredible, yes, and also plausible given Porsche’s track record. So while it’s merely conceptual at this point, it’s evident that Porsche has Tesla clearly in its sights and aims to win the crown.

I spoke to Porsche’s Head of Style, Michael Mauer, who confirmed my suspicions. “We believe that competition is healthy and produces excellence,” he said. Admitting that Tesla made an impressive impact in the industry, he confidently asserts that Porsche is now looking to lead the future.

Down at the Tesla hall, the Vice President of Global Communications, Ricardo Reyes, seemed genuinely pleased with Porsche’s vision of the future. Speaking with the poise of a pioneer, he said, “Tesla has always been about trying to change the industry. Our mission has been to get the world off fossil fuels. We’re not out to target any one car maker or category, our purpose has been to create an entirely new category. If Porsche or anyone else can help us achieve this, then that’s a good thing.”

Like Porsche, who already has quite a lineup of hybrid cars, including the Panamera sports sedan, the Cayenne SUV and 918 Spyder supercar, BMW also made its mark at IAA.

Attainable futurism

Building upon the sensation of its i8 gasoline-electric hybrid uber car, Munich-based BMW unveiled the next generation i8. Unlike, say, another famous German automaker whose flagship concept car was astonishing yet too space age for serious consideration, the i8, whose first year models were delivered last year, exuded attainable futurism.

Possessing 357 horsepower and able to accelerate from 0-62 mph (0-100 km/h) in 4.4 seconds with a top speed of 155 mph (250 km/h), the i8 may not be as supersonic as the Mission E hopes to be but the plug-in hybrid does offer the best of both worlds and is actually available for purchase.

With gorgeous, unexpected but wholly organic lines the i8 looks like a car that could have been designed by starchitect Zaha Hadid. I asked Adrian van Hooydonk, the design head at BMW Group, who oversees the design of cars from BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce brands, what inspires his team when they’re faced with designing a car as unconventional as the i8. His response was simple: “Anything.”Then he added, “We draw inspiration from forms in nature, art, fashion – multiple sources.”

And that’s what is so impressive about the ideas and concepts put forth at IAA – the fact that anything seems possible.