Auto shows used to be about outdoing the competition with bigger, flashier and more powerful offerings. These days, auto shows are still about one-upping your competitors--only now the focus is on fuel savings and technology.

This year’s Frankfurt Auto Show will still feature plenty of exotic and unattainable concepts, but a lot of eyes will be watching the launch of Volkswagen’s new Up minicar, the BMW i3 electric car concept, and the newly revised B-Class Mercedes-Benz.

New subcompact models are a big deal in the European market, where the segment produces some 38 percent of new car sales. It’s a growing segment as well, with sales up some five percent over the last ten years.

Euros aren’t the only ones shopping for subcompacts: the cars are often a hit in markets with an emerging middle class, where price-point focused subcompacts offer a step up from scooters and motorcycles as family transportation.

The Volkswagen Up, however, won’t be priced to compete against the Tata Nano. Instead, Volkswagen is equipping its tiny commuter car with technology and safety features normally associated with larger, more luxurious cars. It will offer frontal collision detection and intervention, for example, a feature that VW calls City Emergency Braking.

The Up’s 1-liter, three-cylinder engine is expected to deliver fuel economy of 56 miles per gallon, based on the European test cycle (which is some 10 to 20 percent optimistic compared to our own EPA testing). It will eventually be offered in an electric version as well, although a launch date has not been set.

BMW i3 Concept

BMW i3 Concept

BMW’s i3 electric car will display in Frankfurt as a concept car, but production is already planned for 2013. Thanks to the extensive use of carbon fiber-reinforced plastic to shed weight, the i3 is said to offer both better acceleration and range than conventional battery electric vehicles.

For those wanting the best of both worlds, BMW will also offer a version that uses a range-extending gasoline-powered generator.

Mercedes-Benz’s new B-Class boasts improved aerodynamics over previous models, and will come packed with technology such as the automakers Pre-Safe collision prevention assist. Two diesel variants and two gasoline engines are anticipated, and all engines will benefit from stop-start technology to boost fuel economy.

The B-Class is critical to Mercedes-Benz’s success in the Chinese market, where sales of the current B-Class jumped some 140 percent in the last year.

Expect other green car debuts in Frankfurt as well, such as the all-new Fiat Panda and the Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid.

[The Detroit News]


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