In the two years since the world’s biggest automakers last gathered in Frankfurt for the biannual International Motor Show, the future of their industry has shifted dramatically. The opening of the 2015 festivities came just as the world learned Volkswagen had sold millions of diesel-powered cars that used illegal software to cheat emissions standards. Two years on, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Renault, and Nissan have faced accusations of running similar schemes.
Consumers are hardly flocking to electric cars in response—EVs account for less than one percent of US sales—but the tarnishing of so-called “clean diesel” and the goals set by the Paris climate accord have convinced governments it’s time for a forced migration. They’re no longer settling for gradually more fuel-efficient or less-polluting cars. They’re pushing to end the reign of the internal combustion engine altogether—and usher in the age of the electric car.
China, the world’s largest car market, just declared it intends to ban the sale of gas- and diesel-powered cars some time soon. The United Kingdom and France plan to do the same by 2040. Norway and the Netherlands are shooting for 2025, India for 2030. The feasibility of such a drastic switch remains unclear, but the auto industry isn’t much for taking chances, and has responded with its own grandiose promises. Volvo and Smart will phase out fuel-powered cars in the next decade. BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz have pledged a host of new electric models. Volkswagen’s ongoing “sorry we tricked people into choking the planet” apology tour calls for 80 new electric models across its brands (which include Audi, Porsche, and Lamborghini).
All of which means it’s high season for electric car concepts, and this year’s Frankfurt show—the largest of its kind in the world—was packed with designs that preview all those new models coming over the next few years. If you want to see where the auto industry’s headed over the next…