ATLANTA - Volkswagen and other German car makers are investing heavily in electric vehicles and bringing more green autos to dealerships near you soon, industry experts said Thursday.
"It's one of the mega trends," said Karsten Schmidt, chief executive of the U.S. office of global engineering design company Bertrandt AG, about the increasingly key role of electric cars in the auto industry.
Nearly a dozen industry officials outlined the future of electric cars at a conference here sponsored by the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Southern U.S.
VW, which is building a production plant in Chattanooga, plans to bolster its fleet of electric vehicles with hybrid autos in the next few years and with a pure battery-powered car in 2013. It has a goal of becoming the industry's market leader in e-mobility by 2018.
While there are no plans to make those vehicles in Chattanooga, a clean diesel version of the midsize sedan slated for production at the plant could amount to 30 percent of all cars assembled at the factory, officials have said.
At the conference, there was uncertainty about how fast electric vehicles will gain market share, but there was no doubt the trend is up.
"People are taking hybrids and electric vehicles seriously," said Joachim Taiber of Clemson University's International Center for Automotive Research outside Greenville, S.C. "The numbers are debatable but the trend is clear."
Dr. Taiber said CU-ICAR is working with BMW, which has a production plant in South Carolina, and an electric vehicle company that recently moved to Greenville.
He said what's needed is a test center open to all auto companies to develop standards for clean transportation technologies.
Darrin Nowicki of Continental Automotive Systems, one of the world's largest auto suppliers, said fuel prices, technology and "the coolness factor" are driving electric vehicle sales.
"There's a lot of buzz in the market," he said.
But, Mr. Nowicki said, people aren't just talking about electric cars.
"There are a lot of key actions behind them," he said.
Mr. Nowicki mentioned Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn's recent comment that "EVs are real."
Just last month, Nissan broke ground on a manufacturing facility in Smyrna, Tenn. When ready, the plant will produce lithium-ion batteries for the pure electric Leaf, with the production of the vehicle itself scheduled to begin in 2012.
* 2010 - Hybrid Touareg unveiled at auto show in Geneva, Switzerland
* 2011 - Company to expand electric vehicle test fleet by adding 500 Golfs
* 2012 - Hybrid Jetta to hit U.S. market
* 2013 - New E-Up pure electric car to go into production; Passat and Golf hybrids to debut
Guido Woska, chief executive of auto supplier Hoffmann + Krippner, said his company recently was part of a project with Volkswagen unit Audi on a new electric vehicle.
He said the Audi E-Tron was shown off at an auto show in Frankfurt, Germany, and is expected to be brought to the market soon.
Mr. Woska said battery-powered vehicles are progressing differently in Germany, where pure electrics are popular, than in the U.S., where hybrid-electrics are attracting more buyer attention.
Kristian Wolf, the German Chamber's CEO, said electric vehicles are driving a lot of commerce, and there's a lot of interest in how the South can be at the forefront.
The official said the "ugly spill" of oil in the Gulf of Mexico shows the importance of technologies which can lead to energy independence.
He said Germany has a national goal of putting 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2020.
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