While Detroit hits the gas pedal, Europeans embrace electrification

Russ Mitchell, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Petroleum products still power nearly all the cars driving the world's highways, minus a nano-point or two for the rare alternative-fuel vehicle. But something new is stirring. Call it elektrifizierung.

That's German for electrification. While big American companies -- and to a large extent, the Koreans and the Japanese -- keep their electric efforts low-key, European carmakers, led by the German Big Three, are aggressively dramatizing their strategic shift toward electrified powertrains at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

Visitors who walk past BMW's exhibit encounter a huge sign declaring that transition and a promise of 25 electrified models by 2025. The company's most recent entry, the plug-in hybrid i8 Roadster sports car, sits underneath, its burnt-orange butterfly-wing doors and aggressive styling attracting wide-eyed viewers.

BMW's Mini brand will produce an electric in 2019, and the company reportedly is considering making its entire Mini lineup pure electric.

Stroll down the aisle to Mercedes-Benz and you'll encounter a row of "new energy" cars: the plug-in hybrid GLE-550e and C-Class C350e, and the GLC F-Cell, which employs a hydrogen fuel cell, not the usual battery, to generate electricity. The brand plans to offer electrified versions of every car in its lineup by 2022.

The Volkswagen exhibit is a must-see for the e-curious. Three all-electric concept vehicles under the "I.D." brand name are on prominent display, each one looking bright and cheerful and cartoon-cute. They include a hatchback, a crossover and a modern take on the classic VW bus, the ID Buzz.


The hatchback goes on sale in 2019, with the Buzz and the Crozz crossover unspecified months after that. But because they are concept cars, it's hard to know what features will make it into early production. The hatchback is presented with a steering wheel that telescopes flat into the dash for full-scale driverless operation.

Despite all the attention on electrification, most of the cars being touted in L.A. are plug-in hybrids. Most of the pure electrics are concept cars.

But the European automakers are promising a flood of electrified vehicles of all varieties starting in 2019 or 2020, with momentum building to mid-decade. VW promises 50 electric models and 30 hybrids across all its brands -- which include Audi, Porsche, SEAT and Skoda -- by 2025. Porsche already offers a four-door Panamera plug-in hybrid, and the all-electric Mission-E sports car is slated for 2019.

Also set for 2019 is the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace small SUV. Jaguar, the luxury brand now owned by India's Tata Motors, signals its commitment to an electric future at its L.A. display with a race car for Formula E, the electric-car version of Formula 1 racing that recently began its fourth season in Hong Kong.


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