BMW’s unveiling of its near-production i3 and i8 carbonfibre-bodied, electrically-driven, concepts was an unexpectedly triumphal affair.

The German transport minister, Peter Ramsauer, gave a barnstorming speech at the event in Frankfurt, which drew a picture of a remarkably insecure nation, one that felt other countries had already stolen a march on the electrification of the vehicle.

Nissan’s Leaf, Renault’s upcoming fleet of electric vehicles and the Chevrolet Volt had, apparently, resulted in the German car industry feeling it had made a rare mistake and missed out on a global trend.

That shouldn’t be a surprise. Nearly two decades ago, BMW, Mercedes and Audi all bet on a trend for technically innovative and brave new concepts for a ‘greener’ world, which led to then falling flat on their faces.

Mercedes’ A-class, with its incredibly clever sandwich platform, was designed to morph into a battery-powered or hydrogen-powered machine, as the trend for non-fossil fuel mushroomed at the turn of the century. Of course, it didn’t. The Smart car predicted that city centres would become no-go zones for conventional cars and that drivers would merrily downsize into tiny commuter cars. That didn’t happen, either. Both projects cost Mercedes billions.