Frankfurt Auto Show: Blue is the new green, green is the new . . .

Our recent visit to the Frankfurt Auto Show illustrated two trends in the European automotive industry. The first one has to do with design rather than technology: virtually every car manufacturer now uses badges and design accents in all imaginable shades of blue to signal that a particular model is (a) an electric vehicle or some sort of hybrid; (b) a fuel-efficient vehicle; (c) an alternative fueled vehicle; or (d) a Euro 6–compliant vehicle. We saw some real commitment to improving environmental performance, but there was also a good measure of “bluewashing” in this strategy that gave us the blues. Some manufacturers tacked on shiny blue badges to market models with very different technologies and environmental performances (some of which left us rather unimpressed). Volkswagen was notably all over the place using the Bluemotion moniker for hybrids, gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Bluewashing? (Montage)

Fuchsia hybrida will remain confined to the garden for now

In spite of the labeling jumble, we were pleased to see fuel-efficient cars prominently displayed in almost every manufacturer’s exhibition hall (and that’s trend number two). It was good to see plug-in hybrids of all sorts, from the compact Audi A3 E-tron (45 grams of CO2 km over the European type-approval cycle NEDC) to the Volvo V60 Diesel PHEV [48 g/km] or the Porsche Panamera S E-hybrid [71 g/km]. It was also great to see that fuel efficiency/CO2 performance has become one of the strongest selling points for new vehicles. PSA’s funky compressed-air hybrid technology is looking quite promising (they talk about savings of up to 45% in urban driving), as were the CNG vehicles in the show (e.g., Mercedes-Benz E Class, Opel Adam), but we were left wondering whether we will see many of these on European roads any time soon.

Another sign that fuels our optimism: at last the environmental scientists and the car guys and girls within us weren’t having tiny fights in angel/devil costumes hovering above our shoulders. Instead, images of full-electric, carbon-fiber-bodied BMW i3s running (silent) circles around the gas guzzling SUVs that took center stage in auto shows not so long ago made us grin.

Brabus, Frankfurt Auto Show, 2013

Monster SUVs like this Brabus would be best left to pick up dust

As we took the train back to Berlin, we concluded that the sleek 261 mpg (0.9l/100km) Volkswagen XL1 (expect real-world fuel consumption to be higher than that) and the all-electric Tesla Model S (“is this for sale here?” being the question in every showgoer’s mouth) were some of the most lust-worthy cars on display. Definitely, green is the new cool.

VW XL1, Frankfurt Auto Show, 2013

The VW XL1 is one fuel-sipping, futuristic machine