Carmakers are desperate for ways to excite young buyers, who are increasingly apathetic about car ownership.
“There are products that are hipper for young people than cars,” said Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, a professor at the University of Duisburg-Essen in northern Germany and an industry analyst. “The car companies are still using the old marketing pitch — more horsepower. That doesn’t speak to young people any more.”
Interest in battery-powered cars has faded after disappointing initial sales, but it could pick up again this year with the market introduction of the BMW i3. The vehicle has perhaps the most revolutionary new design by an established carmaker in years, not only because of its electric propulsion system but also because the passenger compartment is made of carbon fiber rather than steel, to save weight and extend the distance the car can travel between charges.
There is also speculation that Continental, a German parts supplier, will announce an alliance with Google next week to further develop self-driving cars. A spokesman for Continental, which will hold a news conference at the auto show on Tuesday, declined to comment.