The Deep Dive: German EV Cheat Sheet

Although most of the auto industry is using billboards and Twitter feeds to announce the oncoming battery-powered revolution, German automakers have been more circumspect. At various times, they've pooh-poohed the viability of electric vehicles and, at others, tantalized us with green supercars that will, at best, be extremely expensive and extremely limited in production. But make no mistake, the Germans are coming around, if somewhat belatedly, to the idea of electric vehicles for the masses, and to that end, they are developing a veritable alphabet soup of electric small cars that you may or may not have heard of. Here's your cheat sheet on the affordable electric cars we expect from the Fatherland.

Audi A1 E-TRON

WHAT IT IS:
An electric A1 with a rotary-engine range extender.

WHERE YOU'VE SEEN IT:
Geneva 2010.

WHEN YOU'LL SEE THE REAL THING:
2013.

Audi A2 E-Tron

WHAT IT IS:
A space-efficient electric microvan built on the same basic architecture as the Up! Unlike the original, slow-selling A2, it will be made of steel rather than aluminum.

WHEN YOU'LL SEE THE REAL THING:
2013.

BMW ActiveE

WHAT IT IS:
The next step in the electric car program BMW started with the Mini E. This time, the donor car is a 1-series, with its in-line six replaced by a 168-hp electric motor.

WHERE YOU'VE SEEN IT:
Detroit 2010.

WHEN YOU'LL SEE THE REAL THING:
Leasing begins next summer in New York, Los Angeles, and possibly Washington, D.C., with current Mini E drivers getting first dibs. Less than 1000 will be produced.

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Electric vehicles don't have the same 'eco-friendly' appeal in Germany as they have in the States. First, electric energy is much more expensive and often produced in controversial nuclear or coal power plants. Second, the batteries are still considered too heavy and not capable enough, as Germans also use their smaller cars for long distances. And third, there are still many questionmarks in Germany over the battery-lifecycle of electric cars and the environmental costs involved in battery production and their 'afterlife'. How long do these batteries last, and what happens to them when they are discarded, sometimes improperly? And lastly, what kind of production/mining operations will be required for these new, rare metals which will be needed in vast quantities for the production of these batteries? Where do they come from? Many questions, not all quite fully answered yet. That's why Germans have mixed feelings to fully embrace the electric car.The discussion in the States over electric cars tends to just focus on the cars itself, which is perhaps a sometimes too narrow point of view.

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