Sustainability Hits the Fast Lane at the Frankfurt Auto Show

As we reported earlier this year from Geneva and New York, sustainability is more important to the auto industry than ever before.

At the 64th "Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung," Frankfurt's annual auto extravaganza in car-crazy Germany, nearly all of the significant vehicles revealed have a sustainability story to tell. The September 13-14 press preview will be followed by a public show through the 25th of September, with 900 exhibitors from more than 30 countries here.

Small (and Light) is Beautiful

Sustainability is the dominant theme in the auto industry today because of aggressive legislation that targets manufacturer-average fuel economy of 54.5 mpg by 2025 in the U.S. and an equivalent of 57.6 mpg in Europe by 2020.

bmw i8But to meet new regulations, automakers have to first satisfy the laws of physics. Moving more mass takes more energy, which consumes more fuel. After decades during which car model became heavier with each generation, we're finally seeing the trend reverse. For example:

  • The new Porsche 911 is 100 pounds lighter than its predecessor.
  • Daimler's Smart Forvision concept -- a hint at the next-generation iconic city car, features extensive use of weight-saving plastics, including what partner BASF calls "the first all-plastic wheel suitable for high-volume production."
  • The stunning i3 and i8 concepts (i8 pictured at left) from BMW preview the production cars that will arrive in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Aside from their EV credentials, both vehicles feature weight-slashing carbon fiber as replacements for the steel used in conventional vehicles. The Audi A2 concept follows a similar theme but hints at less carbon fiber and more aluminum, with a minimalist design direction compared to the curves of the BMWs.
  • Even Land Rover, previewing the 2015 replacement for its venerable Defender (which can easily trace its routes to the 1948 original) showed a DC100 concept that features "a lightweight, mixed-alloy platform" with "cutting-edge, sustainable, hi-tech materials taken from aerospace industries." A report from an industry insider suggests this may drop more than 1,000 pounds -- critical to meeting fuel-economy targets.


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