Why Frankfurt's battery bonanza could spark a letdown

The auto world's eyes will be on Frankfurt this week for the biennial megashow.

All of the pre-show hype has focused on electric cars.

Just about every automaker will display a model that gets all or part of its power from a battery. We have been seeing more and more of these cars at recent shows, but the crop that will be in Frankfurt is different because many of the models will be ready to launch soon.

Peugeot's full-electric iOn, which is based on the Mitsubishi i-MiEV that is now on sale in Japan, might arrive as early as late 2010.

Hyundai is deciding whether Europe will get its i10 full-electric minicar, which will go on sale in Korea next year.

The Opel Ampera, which uses batteries and a range-extending engine for power, is due in 2011, which is the same time Renault plans to start mass-marketing its lineup of full-electric vehicles.

Let's not forget that the City full-electric minicar from Norway's Think already is on sale here and that Europe will see the launch of a growing number of hybrids, models with a gasoline-electric or diesel-electric powertrain.

Terrible timing

The excitement that these models create is great for the industry, but the timing is terrible.

Car scrapping incentives are expiring so the medicine that has kept Europe's car sales marginally healthy is getting locked away.

That party is over, so what's the next big thing? It is the arrival of these low-CO2 saviors. But it is going to take time for these cars, which won't be cheap, to reach customers.

Car buyers who can afford to be eco-friendly and trendy will wait for these earth-saving, image-polishing electric cars to arrive at dealers rather than buy a gasoline or diesel car.

Much of the demand for small, inexpensive cars has been satisfied by the scrapping incentives in the major markets.

Who needs a car now and who will need one in 2010?

For all this electric-car hype to benefit the bottom line, it would be ideal if this battery bonanza started a bit sooner, but that won't happen.

Without some kind of incentive scheme in place, 2010 will be a very difficult sales year for European automakers.

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