2009 Detroit Auto Show Preview: Hybrids Galore!

Detroit—Left with vacant space to fill at this month’s annual auto show, desperate organizers chose to fill it with an unusual commodity in this horsepower-hungry town: green cars.

The entire 70,000-square-foot basement of Detroit’s battered Cobo Hall convention center will be filled with a test track that winds through waterfalls and trees. Visitors can drive various hybrid, electric, and green cars, slowly, while carmaker reps or professional drivers sit next to them and pitch the product. It’s the first time Detroit has offered a section for green cars—unlike some other shows, including last summer’s London Motor Show—but the withdrawal of several carmakers, including Nissan, allowed every carmaker who wanted space to exhibit on the main floor.

Media days for the internationally watched show kick off on Sunday, Jan 11. Here’s a preview of the hybrids and electric vehicles that will appear. Check back for breaking news and updates as they come.


The MercedesS400 BlueHybrid, the first hybrid from the German luxury-car maker, uses a lithium ion battery pack for idle-stop and takeoff assist. The lithium cells are a first, but it’s hardly a full hybrid like the Toyota Prius. Mercedes will also show the BlueZero E-Cell concept car, a small, full electric hatchback.

Incidentally, the Germans chose not to hold a large press event for the media. Instead, they planned a more select, invitation-only soiree the night before, to be held at the recently restored historic Book-Cadillac Hotel, now a Westin. But guests were hardly thrilled on Friday when scores of them got calls from Benz’s PR agency to DIS-invite them from the event. Seems that someone got confused over the legal capacity of the space, and they were way over fire code. Oops…


Lexus hs250h

The first images of the Lexus HS250h, an upcoming hybrid-only model from the luxury carmaker, were recently revealed in a Japanese magazine.

The luxury division of Toyota will show a new hybrid sedan with unique styling called the Lexus HS250h, reportedly the marquee’s first dedicated hybrid. Rumor says this will be effectively a luxury sedan version of the 2010 Prius being unveiled a day later.


Dodge EV

The Dodge EV, one vehicle in a wave of electric cars announced by Chrysler.

Pinning down the plans of the beleaguered automaker, whose sales last month fell 53% compared to the previous December’s, has been hard. The latest rumor says they’ll show an all-electric version of the Jeep Patriot crossover, which would be a fourth electric vehicle to add to the three electric concepts the company unveiled in September.

General Motors

Chevy Volt

Two years ago, GM unveiled the concept version of the Chevrolet Volt. This year, the company will show the production version—still two years away from hitting dealerships.

Monday is the big day for hybrid news, kicked off by a GM press conference listed only as a “technical announcement”. But BusinessWeek magazine appears to have broken the embargo: It reports that GM will unveil a small Cadillac coupe on the platform of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid. GM is also expected to announce that Compact Power Inc. will be the battery supplier for the Volt, with cells supplied by LG Chem. Cell maker A123, working with Continental Inc., had been the other contender for that crucial contract. And GM may have further surprises up its sleeve as well.



BYD’s showing of the F3DM will give Detroit attendees a chance to peruse a Chinese-made plug-in hybrid.

Following GM will be BYD Auto, the Chinese company that last fall launched the very first mass-production plug-in hybrid in the world. It will display both its F3DM plug-in hybrid sedan, and a new E6 electric crossover vehicle. Executives will describe its lithium iron phosphate cells, and the Dual Mode plug-in hybrid system. BYD might be dismissed as just another Chinese car company (there are several dozen), except that famed investor Warren Buffet acquired a 10-percent stake in its parent company last September. The car company is a subsidiary of BYD Company Ltd., the world’s second largest producer of rechargeable batteries—unlike GM, which has to buy its cells from other companies.


2010 Toyota Prius

The 2010 Prius may be the single most important vehicle at the show for hybrid fans.

One of the most eagerly awaited cars at Detroit is the third-generation Prius. While a photo or two has slipped out, little is otherwise known about the car’s size, powertrain, or features. The car is slightly larger than the current model, but as yet, rumors of a larger engine, more powerful electric motors, and even a lithium ion battery pack are no more than speculation. Toyota is holding its own parallel events during the previews, called Prius Connection, for owners, fans, and influential media. As the definitive, even stereotypical, image of a hybrid, the 2010 Prius may be the single most important vehicle at the show for hybrid fans.

As announced yesterday, Toyota will also reveal the all-electric version of its well-received iQ mini-car.


Fisker Karma

The Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid may be mere months away from production.

Less important to the global industry, but undeniably sexier than the Prius, Fisker’s sleek Karma four-door luxury performance sedan was unveiled here a year ago—with absolutely no technical details. Industry insiders snickered as former BMW designer Henrik Fisker said his plug-in hybrid would go into production at the end of 2009, an astoundingly short schedule. But a year later, the company is sticking to that schedule, promising to deliver the first production cars to paying customers this December. A few more technical details are known—it will have a turbocharged, direct-injection 2.0-liter GM EcoTec four-cylinder engine to run its generator, for example—but the company has yet to reveal any details of the 22.6-kilowatt-hour battery pack. Fisker plans to reveal a plug-in hybrid convertible concept as well.


2009 Honda Insight

Honda’s “Prius-Killer,” the 2009 Honda Insight.

The other important hybrid to appear on the floor will be the production version of the 2009 Honda Insight, which the company says will be the lowest-cost hybrid on sale in the US. A five-door subcompact with unique style, the Insight is the first of several vehicles that Honda will build on a dedicated hybrid platform—the next will be the sporty two-seater CR-Z. Few technical details have been released as yet, and Honda isn’t planning to hold any kind of event. The car will be there, it will hand out a press release to journalists, and that will be that. Honda has always had straightforward, factual press events, and this new approach—utter minimalism during a show pared of its flash, its sizzle, and its showmanship—may reflect the new reality of the industry as well as anything.

More Hybrid News...

  • chickeee

    What – no Tesla ?

  • Bryce

    What about Ford……..nothing about the most fuel efficient mid-size car, hybrid or strictly ICE, in America??? Nothing about their ecoboost engines that use dual turbochargers to produce good horsepower with a smaller displacement engine? I am not even a huge fan of Ford, but I know about this stuff……they should atleast get a mention……the Fusion hybrid as prius like gas mileage.


    Anyways, anyone interested in the Beat concept from Chevy last auto show might be interested in the production model being shown under its real name, the Chevrolet Spark. For now it would be destined for non-North American markets due to safety and what not, but where current iterations of the Spark are sold, it is a solid improvement and should do well.

    I am happy to see the new Insight coming finally, and maybe they will finally announce the official pricing.

    I am happy Fisker decided to show up. I really admire their potential product, for it doesn’t limit itself to the boundaries of an all electric engine, plus, it is about $25k cheaper than the Tesla.

    Toyota is coming in with its new bunny looking offering, so I guess there is another disapointment for me, but, on a happier note, with the new lexus prius coming out, snobby folks that were forced to drive Priuses (Prii) can now finally drive a car with a decent interior I suppose, definetely a plus. But seriously though, it should definetly come out to be a better version and I congradulate the Lexus division for trying to make this thing less……unnatractive, unless of course it is just a cloan with a lexus badge, in which case, in the unlikely scenario I was a rich snob, I would buy the Caddy EREV.

    I find it interesting that BYD is coming to the show. I of course welcome any new fuel efficient contender, I just hope these things come to be a lot safer. In the meantime, the folks of asia can enjoy the fuel savings.

    Then there is Chrysler and their batch of EREVs…..well…..I can already tell you the Dodge Circuit, which is what is called by the way, is in an Europa body, which will make it ridiculously expensive and only for the purchasing of the fabulously rich and for a company with cash to spare. Compare this to the Elise that the Tesla roadster is housed in, and it is a steal…..should put the electric engine in there Dodge. The jeep hybrids are interesting, though given their brick like aerodynamics, they will need bigger batteries, making them more expensive and more out of reach of the consumer. : (

    Mercedez, well, given that it is a Mercedez, it is likely to be a rich boy toy, but I haven’t followed it much.

    the things I am looking most forward to, certainly the Caddy EREV and maybe a surprise from one of the automakers.

  • jvoelcker

    @Bryce: Glad you liked most of the article. We didn’t include the Ford Fusion Hybrid in the list ’cause it was launched at the LA Auto Show, and we covered it extensively then.

    As for the many GDI and GDI+turbo engines, and ultra-economical small cars like the Chevrolet Spark (nee Beat) … that’s a different article. 🙂

    Now stay tuned for more ….

  • sherry

    The high cost of fuel this past year did serious damage to our economy and society. After a brief reprieve gas prices are inching back up again. Our nation should not allow other nations to have such power over us and our economy . We have so much available to us in the way of technology and free sources of energy. WE seriously need to get on with becoming an energy independent nation. We are spending billions upon billions in bail out dollars. Why not spend some of those billions in getting alternative energy projects set up. We could create clean cheap energy, millions of badly needed new green jobs and lessen our dependence on foreign oil all in one fell swoop. I just read an eye opening book by Jeff Wilson called The Manhattan Project of 2009. It would cost the equivalent of 60 cents per gallon to drive and charge an electric car.If all gasoline cars, trucks, and SUV’s instead had plug-in electric drive trains, the amount of electricity needed to replace gasoline is about equal to the estimated wind energy potential of the state of North Dakota. Why don’t we use some of the billions in bail out money to bail us out of our dependence on foreign oil? This past year the high cost of fuel so seriously damaged our economy and society that the ripple effects will be felt for years to come. http://www.themanhattanprojectof2009.com

  • Bryce

    ic Mr. Writer

    I look forward to the articles that will come out of this auto show….there is certainly days worth of material here for you guys to write about.

  • Big B
  • LeeW

    Good article. How about an article on EV CONVERSION KITS for those of us that can’t afford such expensive cars? Also, when are the EV manufacturers going to get wise to WHEEL MOTORS? No transmission, more efficient, more torque, lighter weight and the unsprung mass problem has been solved (printed circuit motors are lightweight and rugged).

  • Jeb

    The American auto industry is dead FTW.

  • Shines

    Saw the picture in this mornings Seattle Times…
    Hybrid Cars – you gotta get a picture of the Cadillac Volt (concept) what an awesome looking car! Cadillac Converj – the styling fits Cadillac’s current edgy looks perfectly. It looks to me like little aerodynamics was lost. If I were rich I’d put my name on the waiting list today.

  • Bryce

    That Caddy Volt had me Salivating…..I wonder how much it will be……if it is only a few thousand difference….maybe I will just get one of those. : )

  • Zero X Owner

    Re: Fisker Karma range extender

    Use the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI 2.0 liter four cylinder TDI turbocharged diesel engine developing 140 hp and 235 foot pounds of torque for the generator and we’re talking – bet it’s more efficient than the crappy GM 2.0 liter Eco-boots.

  • Paul Ries

    Where is the Saturn Vue? The best milage suv for 2009 not included? G.M. I think. Oh thats why!

  • Bryce

    I think that title actually goes to the Ford Escape….I could be wrong though.