After many years struggling for recognition, electric cars suddenly are big news in Europe.
At the Paris auto show last month, Chevrolet, Nissan, Renault, Mitsubishi, Subaru and Smart displayed electric passenger cars. Other companies presented hybrids, battery-powered sports cars, light commercial vehicles and tiny electric city cars.
No model captured the change in attitude more dramatically than the B0 (pronounced "B zero"). The B0, a collaboration between French industrialist Vincent Bollore and the Italian design house Pininfarina, was unveiled on the Pininfarina stand alongside a Pininfarina-styled Ferrari California. The stylish, battery-powered B0 stole the attention from the Ferrari.
None of this would have seemed possible two years ago. But recent fuel price spikes and the threat of mandatory carbon dioxide emissions standards in Europe have led automakers to add zero-emission vehicles into their product plans.
In London, the city-center congestion charge has led to a number of tax-exempt, battery-powered commuter vehicles from start-up companies. Stockholm and Milan, Italy, also levy a congestion charge. With other cities likely to follow, automakers now are taking electric-car development much more seriously.