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The 63rd International Motor Show in Frankfurt, Germany, has plenty of machismo on display with exotic cars and scantily clad models. But there is one other thing that is hard to ignore.

While automakers have focused on environmentally friendly hybrid and electric cars for the past few years, many manufacturers at the Frankfurt show now seem to have an increased focus on delivering style and performance along with the latest ecological advances.

Forget going “green;” that was so 2008. Automakers now are using “blue” — the color of the sky and sea, two areas most affected by climate change — to refer to the latest in innovations for reduced fuel consumption and emissions. The term describes more fuel-efficient cars and is used for diesel- and gasoline-powered cars as well as hybrids.

From the Mercedes-Benz Blue Zero fuel cell concept car to Volkswagen’s BlueMotion technology, blue is definitely the buzzword at this year’s show. And while these cars are claiming spots next to the cars that have been pioneers in the hybrid and electric movement, such as Toyota’s Prius and the Tesla Roadster, they are doing so with enhanced designs.

Two of the more popular examples of fusing hybrid technology with a stealth appearance are the Karma and the Karma Sunset concept car by Fisker Automotive. The California-based company, founded in 2007, is promoting what it calls the world’s first luxury plug-in hybrid. This Eco-chic model with a full solar roof that recharges the car while parked will have a top speed of 125 mph and will go from zero to 60 in less than six seconds.

Gianfranco Pizzuto, CEO for Fisker Italia, the company’s international importer, says the company has received deposits for 1,500 Karmas, which start at $87,900. He says that hybrid technology is already expensive with a limited market, so Fisker decided the car also should be aesthetically pleasing. Later, he says, the company hopes to market lower-priced models.

“We had to bring emotion in; we wanted people to say ‘That’s a gorgeous car,’ ” said Pizzuto. “With the Karma, you have a sexy and electric car … there is not another four-door that looks as good as this car.”

German car legends also were touting their latest environmentally friendly models.

Audi is showing off the Spyder, a convertible version of the famed R8, but the crowd-pleaser on opening days was its e-tron concept car. This muscular-looking beast has four electric motors — two each at the front and rear axles — driving the wheels. The sportster accelerates from zero to 62 mph in 4.8 seconds.

And the gee-whiz doesn’t stop on the outside of the car: Sensors provide information about traffic light cycle times and the flow of traffic to help the driver, according to its literature, “compute an optimal driving strategy.”

Imagine styling mixing a motorcycle with a bullet and you have the Volkswagen’s L1 concept, which the company says will average approximately 170 mpg. This full-diesel hybrid vehicle weighs just 837 pounds with a carbon-fiber-reinforced body. The passenger seat is behind the driver’s seat, and instead of door and rear-view mirrors, the L1 has cameras that display these images in front of the steering wheel.

Not to be outdone, BMW unveiled its new concept car, the Vision EfficientDynamics.

“We want to combine driving dynamics and styling,” says Manfred Poschenrieder, a BMW spokesman. “It is the future on one hand, but it also shows what engineers and designers can create when given freedom to design a car.”

Although nobody expects the demise of internal combustion engines, now that technology is developing, its anyone’s guess which alternative format will win out. Like Betamax vs. VHS or Blu-Ray vs. HDVD; the battle between fuel cell, battery electric and plug-in hybrids is just beginning.


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