German Electric Car Battle: Audi A2 v BMW i3 v Benz B-Class E-Cell v VW Golf Blue eMotion

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2014 BMW i3 concept live photos, 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show

2014 BMW i3 concept live photos, 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show

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With the dust settling on press days at the Frankfurt Auto Show, we can take a breath, think about what we saw, and start to sort out our impressions.

One very clear message: German carmakers are taking electric cars seriously. Finally.

Both Audi and BMW unveiled electric-car concepts that are thinly disguised versions of models that will go into production in 2013 and 2014. Mercedes-Benz showed a range-extended electric version of its new B-Class compact hatchback, and Volkswagen again showed its Golf Blue eMotion prototype electric car.

Together, these are four plug-in electric cars from the four makers that are the bulk of German car sales in the U.S.

All are subcompact or compact five-door hatchbacks. Two are dedicated minicar or subcompact designs that share no body panels with any other model in the carmaker's range; the other two are adapted versions of gasoline compact cars.

2011 Audi A2 Concept

2011 Audi A2 Concept

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How do they compare?


  • Audi A2 Concept: With the exception of the beltline light band that encircles it, the A2 Concept isn't that adventurous, although it does pay tribute to the original, highly fuel-efficient A2. If you ignore the blanked-out grille, you might never know it was electrically powered--or even particularly special.
  • BMW i3 Concept: The division between the aluminum lower portion (which holds the powertrain and seats) and the carbon fiber-reinforced plastic upper body sets the little i3 apart from the rest. The glass roof and doors (which won't make it into production) add flash, but the absence of a B-pillar and the rear-opening "carriage doors" at the rear to ease access make the i3 the most distinctive of the group.
  • Mercedes-Benz B-Class E-Cell Plus: The new B-Class is less upright and stodgy than its predecessor (not sold in the States), and it will be the smallest Benz ever sold in the U.S. Styling changes for the E-Cell electric model are unknown.
  • Volkswagen Golf Blue eMotion: The production version of the all-electric Golf will be built on the next (seventh-generation) Golf, which will be launched in 2013 or so. Today's prototypes use the previous, current generation. We don't know what the next Golf will look like--but expect the electric version not to vary much from the rest of the lineup.

The Mercedes-Benz B-Class E-Cell Plus concept. Image: Mercedes-Benz

The Mercedes-Benz B-Class E-Cell Plus concept. Image: Mercedes-Benz

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  • Audi A2 Concept: 31-kWh lithium-ion battery pack; 85-kilowatt (114-hp) electric motor driving the front wheels; optional range-extending gasoline engine of unspecified design and output.
  • BMW i3 Concept: 21- or 22-kWh lithium-ion battery pack; 125-kilowatt (170-hp) electric motor driving the rear wheels; optional rear-mounted 600cc twin-cylinder range-extending gasoline engine.
  • Mercedes-Benz B-Class E-Cell Plus: Lithium-ion battery pack of unspecified capacity; 100-kilowatt (134 hp) electric motor driving the front wheels; front-mounted 1.0-liter turbocharged three-cylinder range-extending gasoline engine.
  • Volkswagen Golf Blue eMotion: 26.5-kWh lithium-ion battery pack; 85-kilowatt (114-hp) electric motor driving the front wheels; no range extender.

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Comments (16)
  1. Lots of new and some better shapes (compared to the Volt) but
    nothing new at all in terms of what a bona fide electric car should be. Tesla Model S still has no competition as far as I can

  2. Putting aside the fact that I don't think any of them are all that serious about producing EVs, I rather like the BMW i3 both for its "look at me" appearance and a nice little range extender system.

  3. What makes you think they're not all that serious about producing EVs, John?

  4. One of the good things about Nissan is they are clearly in-it-to-win-it with the LEAF. They are swinging for the fences with LEAF and are producing as many EVs as they can sell. They are also doing it world wide.

    Is there anyone of BMW, MB, Audi, or VW that have shown anything like Nissan's commitment? When is the earliest that I might possibly purchase one of these vehicle in Massachusetts?

  5. Klingler (VW): “The electric car is not a request from the customer, the electric car is a request from the government”

    Zetsche (Daimler):“In 10 years’ time, the overall market share of electric cars is likely to be still in the single-digit percentage range”

    Stadler (Audi): "We should not overplay euphoria for electric vehicles. Our industry is in the middle of a system change and we still have a lot of challenges to solve".

    Safe to say these are not true believers, it's about government regulations and covering their bases.

  6. Well constructed comment Chris. I still having gotten over Audi's comment about the Volt being for idiots (paraphrasing I know). Not True Believers indeed.

  7. ** have not gotten **

  8. Son-of-a-gun John! Audi has hit the nail right on the head. Congratulations Audi! After that comment, there is no need for me to make anymore negative comments about the Volt..Audi's comment says it all. I think I will buy an Audi now and not wait for the Ford electric.

  9. @James: Regrettably for you, the Audi A2 is not yet on sale, not likely to be until 2014 or so, and (if you live in the U.S.) it remains unclear whether Audi will offer it at all in the U.S.

  10. I guess the slow roll-out of the Audi (and other) Germany EVs really says it all. How excited can anyone get about a vehicle that they are never going to see.

  11. I'll go with the BMW - just for looks.

  12. The i3 wins by a knockout when comparing these three. The only issue is the unknown cost. If they are all around 40K which is expected, than BMW has he best package by a longshot in my opinion.

  13. Audi and VW look closer to production models (no glass doors), and beyond the Gee Whiz concept stuff, it will be a good trick to get the 10kW smaller battery and bigger motor in the i3 to match range with target A2 specs. Which VW concept (Bulli, Space, Eco) might come to production seems Up! in the air. Any of these three could be my next car, but the BMW i3’s highly visible development seems much closer to actual production and US sales.

  14. Do we know the Cd of any of these? The old Audi A2 was 0.25, and the new one could be this good, or close to it. Too bad no one has gone all-out on lowering aerodynamic drag, to maximize the range.

    The A2 *should* be able to go over 200 miles (maybe even 250?), if they had maximized it's efficiency i.e. made it as low aerodynamic drag as possible. The Illuminati 7 goes 210+ miles on a 33kWh pack and it weighs 2900 pounds. The electric Edison2 Very Light Car went 91 miles on *less* than a 10kWh pack, so with a 31kWh pack it could come very close to 300 miles.


  15. Unrealistic comparisons. Those for competition only cars have no where near the standard creature comforts, insulation, sound deadening, safety etc. very few people would actually buy one if available. Tesla Roadster has 51kwh battery pack and is good for 210 to 250 miles, LEAF 24kwh 70 to 100 miles

  16. Can't wait until they are available. I believe electric cars will be like smart phones - not used by everyone, but will be the majority. Just wait for $6 gas in US and see.

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