The birthplace of the muscle car era sang a new tune this year as mounting concerns about global warming, record high oil prices, and tough new federal fuel economy laws going into effect, have the collective auto industry moving down the same road. This year's Detroit Auto Show could be summarized by the words: 'eco friendly', 'green', and 'alternative fuel sources.' Nearly every automaker had joined the bandwagon and proudly proclaimed their allegiance to alternative fuel sources and improved fuel economy.
The theme of the show was solidified when Hummer introduced their new concept, the HX. Hummer has a reputation for being large and gas-hungry; this image may improve slightly with their new HX Biofuel Concept. The Hummer HX Concept runs on E85, fuel that is 85% ethanol, and has a stature much smaller then its other siblings.
The other General Motor vehicles that were given their turn in the spot-light had a similar message, backed by new investments in Coskata, a start-up company that claims it can make biofuel from agricultural and municipal waste for under $1 a gallon.
The Cadillac Provoq Concept continues GM's commitment to displace petroleum through advanced technology. It offers luxury transportation common to the Cadillac marque, and powered by an innovative fuel cell system and a lithium-ion battery that uses no petroleum and has no emission other than water. Saturn's solution for alternative power was the Vue Green Line 2 Mode Hybrid offering up to 50-percent fuel economy increase with no compromises in performance or capability. The long-term solution was a plug-in hybrid concept, which uses GM's E-Flex System and promises up to 34 miles of all-electric, emissions-free use.
Many of the supercars went green as well. Ferrari introduced a BioFuel Concept of their popular 430 Spider supercar. It uses an 85% ethanol mix and features the experience gleaned in competition. The Fisker Automotive Company debuted their Karma car, with anticipated production to reach 15,000 vehicles annually. Power comes from plug-in hybrid technology offering clean, quiet, and economically friendly transportation. Audi introduced their R8 V12 TDI Concept, high-performance road going sports car. It has a twelve cylinder clean diesel, ultra-low emission engine that propels the car from zero-to-sixty in a mere 4.2 seconds. Chevrolet introduced their 600-plus horsepower Corvette ZR1 - official fuel-economy numbers are yet to be released. What it does offer is a supercar that trumps exotics that cost two, three, or even four times as much. It is a bargain supercar, probably built in exclusive numbers meaning many will probably be garage and trailer queens, and get very little road use.
Mitsubishi's sportscar concept was the Concept-RA, which fuses a passion for dynamic, exciting driving with a heightened sensitivity for the environment thanks to clean, efficient high performance diesel power. It has the Super All Wheel Control vehicle dynamics control system driveline and the Twin Clutch SST automated manual transmission used in Lancer Evolution. The 2.2-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel engine produces around 200 horsepower and an impressive 310 foot-pounds of torque.
Dodge and Ford made two important production truck introductions, the Ram and F-150 respectively. The Ram claims an increased fuel economy by an estimated four percent, while the F-150 has a new high-strength, lighter-weight chassis allowing more horsepower and better fuel economy. Both are aggressively vying for top spots in the truck segment by offering a slew of accessories, features, sizes, configurations, engine options, towing and payload capacity, and more. Toyota introduced a truck as well, but theirs was in concept form. It is called the A-BAT and provides modern versatility, roominess and style in a compact pickup architecture. It is a new genre of compact vehicle with good fuel economy, advanced functionality, maneuverability, and unique styling within its segment. If it makes it to production, it would be positioned below the Toyota Tacoma.
The solution to alternative energy was very broad with no clear indicator for a definitive replacement to gasoline. Solutions included hybrids, electricity, ethanol, biofuel, and hydrogen. What was obvious was that automakers were unsure of the exact alternative as well. While planning for the future, they are making attempts at the present with a slew of hybrid energy models for the near-term.
There were only a few surprises; with today's technology, it is hard to keep a secret from circulating. General Motors did a good job at keeping their Cadillac CT Coupe Concept and Saturn Flextreme concept a secret. Fisker did all they could to keep their Karma plug-in hybrid car a surprise.
The Chrysler Group had shown sketches of their concepts, the Dodge Zeo, Chrysler ecoVoyager, and Jeep Renegade, prior to the show. This seemed to help keep the actual vehicles and information a surprise for their debut. Each of these new concepts fit their respective marques rather nicely. The Zeo from Dodge is a 2+2 sports car riding on 23-inch wheels and powered by an electric-only power source. Horsepower is around 268 with zero-to-sixty taking less than six-seconds for this rear-wheel drive concept. The ecoVoyager is an elegant vehicle fitted with luxurious appointments. Power is primarily from a lithium-ion battery pack with enough juice to satisfy the typical daily commute of less than 40 miles. The Renegade Concept is an open-air, sporty, two-seater with an electric motor powering each axle.
Mazda continued their tradition of bold and exciting concepts by showing their Furai and Taiki Concepts. This was the first public unveiling for the Furai, the word meaning 'sound of the wind.' It is a concept based on the American LeMans Series racing car. Its eye-catching body rests on a Courage C65 chassis and powered by a 450-horsepower three-rotor rotary engine. Says Franz von Holzhausen, Mazda's North American director of design, 'Furai purposely blurs boundaries that have traditionally distinguished street cars from track cars. Historically, there has been a gap between single-purpose racecars and street-legal models -- commonly called supercars -- that emulate the real racers on the road. Furai bridges that gap like no car has ever done before.'
The Taiki Concept, making its North American debut, had been shown at the Tokyo Motor Show last year. It features a design that 'visually expresses the flow of air.' It too was equipped with a rotary engine. Sitting in close proximity was the updated 2009 Mazda RX-8 with minor updated styling and continued evolution and enhancements throughout the four-door, four-seater sports coupe. The big news was the new R3 sports package for the ultimate driving enthusiast.
Lexus introduced an open version of their LF-A Supercar Concept. It is based on the lightweight carbon fiber and aluminum body used for the LF-A coupe, which helps maintain the structure's strength and rigidity even without a top. Under the bonnet is a 5-liter V10 engine producing more than 500 horsepower and promising over 200 mph. On the opposite end of the show floor sat another roadster debut, the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren Roadster. This production ready vehicle is created from carbon fiber and fitted with an AMG V8 compressor engine delivering 626 horsepower. It is a refined vehicle offering high performance coupled with the long-distance attributes and sophisticated atmosphere of a classic Gran Tourismo car.
Most of the concept cars this year had very practical exterior designs; the interiors, the technology, and the powertrains were the real concepts. The powertrains of the automotive industry are evolving quicker than in any recent year. This is an industry that is furiously exploring ways to drastically reduce vehicles' fuel consumption without compromising performance. It is conceivable that in the very near future, the fusions of mean and green will be a reality for a much broader list of consumers.
It is exciting to watch the proliferation of eco-friendly technology evolve well beyond the original niches in which it was initially deployed. Early hybrid cars meant that the consumer was buying a compact car. Today, the use of hybrid technology can be found in all facets of the industry, from subcompact to pickup, and from minivan to supercar. Detroit, and the entire auto industry, is aggressively working to bring their concepts to production, and based on this years show, have made significant strides to achieving this goal.
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