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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.

BMW Megacity Vehicle

WHAT IT IS:
A two-door, four-seat electric hatchback that’s tailor-made for urban driving. The rear-wheel-drive MCV will be powered by a 150-hp electric motor and fed by 100 lithium-ion batteries. Despite liberal use of aluminum and carbon fiber, BMW expects to sell the MCV for less than $30,000 (before tax breaks) and make a profit.

WHERE YOU’VE SEEN IT BEFORE:
Nowhere-besides the illustration above. But the forthcoming BMW ActiveE gives us a preview of the technology. We’ve seen a vague sketch and can say that BMW is on the right track to combining ecology, economy, and excitement.

WHEN YOU’LL SEE THE REAL THING:
Concept at Frankfurt in 2011; production car by 2013.

ALSO CALLED:
MCV, for short. Might be marketed as e2, e4, or perhaps even isetta.

Mercedes-Benz A-/B-Class, F-Cell

WHAT IT IS:
Little Benzes with lithium-ion battery packs or hydrogen fuel cells sandwiched between the floorpan and the underbody.

WHERE YOU’VE SEEN IT:
Previewed by the Concept Blue Zero E-cell at Detroit in 2009, with more evolved versions appearing at Frankfurt last fall.

WHEN YOU’LL SEE THE REAL THING:
Limited leases begin this year for the F-cell in L.A. and the B-class in Berlin.

Smart FourTwo Electric Drive

WHAT IT IS:
The ForTwo has always looked like an electric vehicle. Now it is one. Power comes from a lithium-ion battery developed by Tesla.

WHERE YOU’VE SEEN IT:
Smart has been testing small fleets in London since 2007.

WHEN YOU’LL SEE THE REAL THING:
Limited U.S. leasing just started; full production in 2012.

Volkswagen E-UP!

WHAT IT IS:
An electric version of the small car that Volkswagen sees as the spiritual successor to the Beetle.

WHERE YOU’VE SEEN IT BEFORE:
The Up! debuted at the 2007 Frankfurt auto show and has since gone through many changes during development, including a transition from rear-engine/rear-wheel drive to a cheaper front-engine/front-wheel-drive layout. Technology, range, and cost for the EV are still to be determined. An electric version showed up at the Frankfurt show last year, but the artist’s interpretation above is likely more in line with the production car.

WHEN YOU’LL SEE THE REAL THING:
2013, in select U.S. cities.

ALSO CALLED:
NSF BEV (New Small Family, Battery Electric Vehicle) and, if you really want to impress your friends, Project 120/7.

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