FRANKFURT, Germany -- Volkswagen is coming to the electric car market later than many other major manufacturers, but it's bringing its own scooter.
The German automotive giant touted the E-Up!, an all-electric city car at a party on the eve of the International Auto Show taking place this week in Frankfurt. It shares a lot of similar characteristics with the Nissan Leaf. That is, it will be sold to urban commuters. The car will have a maximum range of 130 kilometers (81 miles), hit top speeds of 130 kilometers per hour, and run on lithium-ion batteries.
It will go from zero to 100 kilometers an hour (62.5 miles per hour) in eleven seconds.
"Electric cars are going to be a fundamental technology enhancement," said Ulrich Hackenberg, a member of the VW board and the head of the technical committee.
The main difference is that the Nissan Leaf will come out next year. The E-Up!, though, may not hit the roads until 2013, when VW believes it can mass produce affordable electric cars.
"It is going to be an engineering marathon, not a sprint," he said. "In 2013 this is what electric cars could look like."
Even though it will be released later, the E-Up! will have something the Leaf doesn't: a scooter powered by lithium-ion batteries that fits in the trunk so people can park on the perimeter of a city center and scoot in. Hackenberg pulled it out and rode it around a stage.
"Let's go shopping. Bye bye," he said as he drove the scooter off the stage.
The car also comes with a solar panel that will run the ventilation system to keep the car cool while you are out on the scooter.
The prototype E-Up! shown at Frankfurt also came with a fake engine revving noise so passengers would know it is coming.
The VW group, which includes brands such as Audi, Lamborghini, Skoda and Scandia, reflects some of the ambivalence German automakers have felt toward electrics. German automakers have put more emphasis on diesel and hydrogen than batteries in the past several years. Now, German companies are saying that they are embracing electrics, but still somewhat cautiously. The company in all has nine car brands, and most of the cars shown off during the evening emphasized performance and styling – like the new Lamborghini that goes from zero to 100 kilometers in 3.4 seconds. Only 15 of those will be made a year.
Hackenberg, for instance, said that VW is looking at all manner of electric cars: hybrids, plug-in hybrids and all electrics. Still, the worldwide market share for all-electric cars might only come to 1.5 percent to 2 percent of the worldwide total by 2020, he cautioned.
Overall, though, VW execs emphasized that fuel efficiency as an issue will dominate the car industry. In the past, consumers looked at horsepower and performance factors, said Prof. Martin Winterkorn, chairman of the Volkswagen group. In the future, they will look at carbon dioxide emissions.
"We are going to bring the electric car from the environmental niche to the mainstream," Winterkorn said. "The future will belong to low-emission transportation. All of these issues are not transitory."
The company will "step on the gas" to become the leader in efficient cars, he added.
Photographers then mobbed Winterkorn on the stage to take photos of the E-Up!