The European automotive market has come unplugged recently, which may explain why brands as diverse as BMW, Volkswagen and Porsche are introducing hybrids, plug-ins and battery electric vehicles at the Frankfurt Motor Show this week.
Manufacturers see potential benefits from electric propulsion, especially in a market where regular unleaded gasoline goes for the equivalent of over $9 a gallon. The technology also will prove critical if makers hope to meet Europe's increasingly stringent restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions—a tough challenge for high-end makers such as Mercedes-Benz, which will unveil a new plug-in version of its big S-Class sedan at the show.
The range of battery-based offerings will be "all over the map," said Stephanie Brinley, an industry analyst with IHS Automotive—from the compact Volkswagen e-Golf to Land Rover's plug-in diesel hybrid for its flagship Range Rover SUV.
Nonetheless, Brinley is among the many skeptics who question how much impact battery technology will have in Europe, where, despite sky-high fuel prices, electric propulsion has gained about as much traction as it has in the U.S.—less than 4 percent of the total market.
(More from The Detroit Bureau: Honda Accord hits 50—MPG, that is)