FRANKFURT -- Wandering around the Frankfurt auto show, you might think the electric era of the automobile is at hand.
Virtually every automaker is displaying an electric vehicle or plug-in hybrid.
But behind the enthusiasm for green vehicles lies a sharp split in executives' views of the potential of EVs. Some say EVs will be high-volume second cars for busy families. Others say they will be pricey niche players with limited utility.
On one side are conservatives such as Ulrich Hackenberg, Volkswagen AG's board member for product development. At a press event here last week to introduce VW's E-Up! concept EV, Hackenberg said zero-emissions vehicles will be important. But, he said, getting significant market share for EVs "is going to be an engineering marathon. It's not going to be a sprint."
Electric powertrains, Hackenberg said, will be "a supplement" to internal combustion engines in the next decade. He predicted that by 2020 EVs will have a global share of 1.5 percent to 2 percent.
On the other end of the spectrum is Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors Inc., an upstart EV manufacturer in California.
"A majority of new cars manufactured will be electric in 20 years," Musk says. "It will take much longer for the fleet to be replaced."