New Mercedes SLS is unveiled in Munich -- photo: dpa / photoalliance
New Mercedes SLS is unveiled in Munich -- photo: dpa / photoalliance

 Frankfurt (dpa) – Some of the greenest cars you can buy are among the stars of next week’s 2013 Frankfurt motor show, the most important grandstand for Europe’s automotive industry.   The expo, in Germany’s financial centre, is a key gauge of global automaker health, which is rebounding after sharp sales drops.

Dozens of world and European premieres will be unveiled at this, the 65th, show.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel officially opens the exhibition on Thursday as the campaign for this month’s German election reaches a critical stage. The expo goes public from Saturday.  Apart from being one of Germany’s key export industries, the car business is one of the nation’s biggest employers.

There will be strong showings from Germany’s premium brands and their continental rivals, along with plenty of new mainstream cars and some more exotic machinery.

Peugeot head, Maxime Picat with the new 308 model -- photo: dpa / photoalliance
Peugeot head, Maxime Picat with the new 308 model — photo: dpa / photoalliance

The real show-stealers are purely electric low-emission cars.  The auto industry is bullish for 2014, yet – amid the swagger – Europe’s car market remains crowded, and profit margins are tight.

China offers the most growth potential, along with the United States, where car sales have rebounded. Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche all boosted stateside sales in August. Overall, US sales surged to a six-year high.  China’s status as a massive market was emphasized this week by Germany’s powerful VDA manufacturers’ federation. VDA chief Matthias Wissmann said figures showed the Chinese bought 15.2 million cars in 2013 – an increase of 15 per cent over the previous year.  The number of Chinese exhibitors at the biannual horsepower parade has also increased to 129 – far more than the last time, in 2011. By contrast, there are just 21 US car companies, even though the markets are similar in terms of volume – at least for this year.

BMW’s first electric car, the i3, goes on sale in the U.S. next spring. It’s expected to go 80 to 100 miles on a single charge and has an optional, gas-powered generator that can maintain the battery’s charge if the car is too far from a charging station. (Photo by Jon Furniss/Invision/AP Images, File)
BMW’s first electric car, the i3, goes on sale in the U.S. next spring. It’s expected to go 80 to 100 miles on a single charge and has an optional, gas-powered generator that can maintain the battery’s charge if the car is too far from a charging station. (Photo by Jon Furniss/Invision/AP Images) dpa / photo alliance

   German car expert Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer said manufacturers will stifle their worries and pull out all the stops to impress.  “You won’t find any trace of problems. No one in Frankfurt is interested in spreading bad vibes,” he said.  Most industry watchers expect an improvement in the European markets soon. Carmakers will focus in Frankfurt on the challenge of finding a strategy for meeting stringent EU and US economy targets.

Carmakers who once dismissed electric propulsion as a fad are launching all-electric or hybrid models with an e-motor linked to a petrol or diesel engine.  In some northern European countries, such as Norway and Sweden, motorists are embracing electric cars. Yet, in Germany, buyers are shying away from them, despite ambitious government plans to boost the number on the roads. The German government wants to see one million electric vehicles (EVs) on the roads by 2020 – that figure includes hybrids.

BMW has high hopes for its new i3 – one of the marque’s most important launches on home turf for years, after several sneak previews. The car was designed as an EV from the outset and is full of new technology.  The car has features like a 22-kilowatt lithium ion battery mounted amidships. It provides power to a rear-mounted electric motor that turns the rear wheels. With 170 horsepower, the i3 boasts lively acceleration, although top speed is lower than in many cars with a conventional engine. The downsides are limited range and the price. The cheapest i3 sells at 35,000 euros (around 46,000 dollars).

The newly-revamped Opel Insignia Sports Tourer -- photo: dpa / photoalliance
The newly-revamped Opel Insignia Sports Tourer — photo: dpa / photoalliance

BMW’s baby will square up in Frankfurt against the first all-electric Volkswagen Golf, a zero-emission version of Germany’s best-selling car, from Europe’s biggest carmaker. VW is also unveiling the electric version of its Up minicar. Both the e-Up and e-Golf share architecture with their respective internal combustion equivalents.

A conscience-soother for moguls is the plug-in hybrid version of the new heavyweight Mercedes-Benz S-class saloon. Meanwhile a coupe concept on the Daimler stand will showcase the more sporty next member of the high-tech flagship family. Not to be outdone, Audi is showing its made-over A8 range-topping limousine with innovative LED matrix headlamps.

Visitors on normal salaries will probably be more interested in the jacked-up Country version of the made-over Opel Insignia and revamped Skoda Yeti compact sports utility.

French volume maker Peugeot is bringing a bigger hatchback to Frankfurt, the upmarket-styled 308. This potential Golf-beater will not have an easy time of it against the German bestseller, or the equally popular Ford Focus.