* Carmakers call for government support for new technologies
* Electric vehicle sales estimates vary
* No single solution seen cutting emissions
By Soyoung Kim and Helen Massy-Beresford
FRANKFURT, Sept 16 From major automakers to
niche manufacturers, the race is on to get green cars on the
road in the coming years, but one question lingers: after many
false starts, are drivers finally ready for them?
Emerging from a savage economic downturn and under
increasing regulatory pressure to cut emissions, carmakers
rushed to show off a plethora of green shoots at the Frankfurt
Motor Show. While manufacturers' estimates of the size of the
market for the cars fluctuated, the need for government support
in the early days was a recurring refrain.
France's Renault (RENA.PA) which unveiled four electric
vehicle concepts previewing a new zero-emission product range,
at the Frankfurt Auto Show, forecast ten percent of vehicles
would be electric globally by 2020.
"We think the potential is beyond but it's going to depend
not so much on the technology but on how governments, mayors,
presidents and governors are willing to push this technology,"
Renault Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn, who is also head of Nissan
He said carmakers had little choice but to make the zero
emissions shift, given the high probability that oil prices
would go up, and emissions regulations would become tougher.
But the history of the industry's attempts to go green
suggests that affordability is king, after all.
Hybrids, led by Toyota Motor Corp's (7203.T) top-selling
Prius car, made up less than 2 percent of global sales last
year, largely due to the high cost of batteries that leads to a
price premium of nearly $5,000 over conventional vehicles.
Electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids are designed to go on
battery power alone and are much more expensive than traditional
hybrids, which twin battery power and internal combustion
California start-up Tesla Motors' flagship Roadster sports
car goes 240 miles on a single battery charge from a
conventional power outlet but it sells for a base price of
The company is due to start production of its $49,000 "Model
S" family sedan in late 2011 or 2012.
Tesla's third generation car -- which will benefit from
greater volumes and technological refinements -- could be priced
below $30,000, chief executive Elon Musk told Reuters.
The company intends to launch this new model in around five
years' time. "It's intended to be a very mainstream car," Musk
GM's heavily-touted Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, which is
designed to go 40 miles on a single charge, is expected to be
marketed at above $40,000.
"At the end of the day, the question for us is what is the
cost of the battery to the consumer," Renault and Nissan
(7201.T) chief Ghosn said.
NO SINGLE APPROACH
PSA Peugeot Citroen expects around 1 in 20 cars sold
worldwide to be electric by 2020.
While the industry shares the common goal toward green
technology, manufacturers have come up with differing solutions
ranging from full electric, plug-in hybrid to efficient
conventional powertrains, suggesting one standard solution is
unlikely in the near term.
"In the next 10 years I see a European market with many
technologies living together. I think it depends very much on
the customer, but it will depend also on government and local
authority decisions in terms of taxation and regulation," said
Guillaume Gerondeau, Toyota Motor Europe's director of product
planning and marketing.
An estimate endorsed by Ghosn that one in ten cars to be
sold in 2020 would be electric is "very optimistic" given the
challenge of cutting the costs of batteries, Gerondeau said.
"We don't want to put all our eggs in one basket especially
when we don't know the size of the basket," PSA Peugeot
Citroen's CEO Philippe Varin said at the show, referring to the
electric vehicle segment. "We are not cautious, but balanced."
The French manufacturer unveiled its iOn electric car, based on
partner Mitsubishi Motors' (7211.T) iMiev and is also promoting
"There is no one fuel to replace gasoline. Each automaker
will have to identify which technology they will dedicate their
resources to," said Takehi Uchiyamada, Toyota Motor Corp's
executive vice president in charge of research and development.
"There has to be a technological breakthrough for pure
electric vehicles to penetrate the market. We think plug-in
hybrid is superior than pure electric vehicles, more practical,
more reasonably priced, and close to reality."
Fisker Automotive Inc, a builder of luxury plug-in hybrids,
showcased its first vehicle, a four-door luxury sedan plug-in
hybrid called the Karma at the show.
"With fully electric vehicles, consumers are afraid of
possibly having to walk home when the batteries run out," Fisker
told Reuters in an interview.
"I'm pretty confident that by 2030 that the majority of cars
manufactured will be electric," Musk said. "Certainly by 2050 I
would expect that 70-80 percent of the cars on the road are pure
(Reporting by Soyoung Kim and Helen Massy-Beresford; editing
by Elaine Hardcastle)