Sustainable Energy

Preview of EVs and Hybrids at the Detroit Auto Show

Several automakers plan to unveil advanced vehicle technologies next week.

Jan 6, 2012
Several automakers plan to unveil advanced vehicle technologies next week. Hybrid and electric vehicles have stolen the spotlight at auto shows in recent years, and next week’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit won’t be an exception. Several automakers are showing off new production cars and concept vehicles designed to take advantage of battery power, whether to improve fuel economy, boost acceleration, or both. Here’s a glimpse at some of the most interesting examples. Volvo will introduce a plug-in hybrid concept in Detroit, a vehicle in which an electric motor powers the rear wheels and a gas engine powers the front ones. Drivers can select three different driving modes. In the first mode, which Volvo labels “pure,” the car will operate with electric power only, provided there’s enough in the battery. Volvo says the car will go about 35 miles on a charge this way. In the standard “hybrid” setting, the car uses both battery and gas power, and is expected to get 50 miles per gallon, far better than the GM Volt’s 35 mile-per-gallon rating. In the “power” mode, the car pulls as much power as it can from both the electric motor and the gas engine. The multiple modes are similar to those in the Fisker Karma. One useful feature is the ability to save battery power for when driving in congested areas, or areas where you’d like to be quiet (rather than, say, on the highway, where road noise covers up the gas engine anyway). In the GM Volt, the car always uses up the battery power before switching on the gas engine.
Toyota is bringing the subcompact version of its Prius to the U.S. for the first time. The car debuted last month in Japan, where it’s called the Aqua. It’s being marketed as an entry-level vehicle, so presumably it will be cheaper than the standard Prius. (In Japan, the Aqua sells for a few thousand dollars less than a conventional Prius.) The smaller vehicle will also have better fuel economy in the city than the standard Prius.
Toyota also says it is unveiling a plug-in hybrid concept vehicle called the NS4. It released this teaser image. Toyota started taking orders for the plug-in hybrid version of its Prius in November.
Mercedes premieres two hybrids. One, the gas-electric E400, is engineered for power, getting only 27 miles per gallon. The diesel E300 (pictured) gets roughly 50 miles per gallon (4.2 liters per 100 kilometers).
The electric vehicle startup Tesla will start selling its Model S sedan later this year, so it will likely have it on display in Detroit. Late last year, Tesla announced that it would also display the electric propulsion components of the car (shown above) in its showrooms. Unlike the battery pack in the Volt, which protrudes awkwardly into the passenger compartment, the slim and flat pack in the Model S will be inconspicuous.
BMW started its long trek toward producing an electric vehicle by making a limited number of electric MINIs and offering them as part of a test program. The company learned that some drivers needed greater driving range than the battery alone could provide, so the company has changed its concept electric vehicle, the i3 (shown here), adding a small gasoline generator that can charge the battery. BMW will show both the i3 and the electric sports car concept, the i8, in Detroit (it’s already shown the vehicles at other auto shows). It’s also showing its new Active Hybrid 5, which uses the electric motor in part to boost performance and in part to achieve fuel economy of between 40 and 44 miles per gallon.
Last month, Honda introduced a suite of energy-efficient technologies it calls its “Earth Dreams Technologies.” These included a new hybrid system, shown here, as well as more efficient engines and an electric vehicle propulsion system. In Detroit, Honda’s Acura brand will introduce a concept version of a hybrid car that it will start selling this spring. The new ILX luxury sedan will be Acura’s first hybrid vehicle.
After photos of a new concept vehicle leaked to the public, Lexus has confirmed that it will be debuting a new hybrid sports car called the LF-LC. There don’t seem to be any plans to produce the car. Lexus says it was “conceived as a design exercise.”