2010 Detroit Auto Show: Electric Drive Is Here to Stay

The 2010 North American International Auto Show in Detroit puts to rest once and for all any questions about whether electricity will be integral to the vehicle powertrains of tomorrow. A sampling of this year’s Detroit announcements reveals different directions depending on whose electric navigation screen you’re viewing at any given moment.

General Motors: Volt and Converj

Motown’s home-towners have been signaling electric directions for several years now. General Motors continued the drumbeat for the Chevy Volt. Last week GM announced that it had built its first lithium ion battery pack at a special battery assembly plant located downriver from Detroit. On the eve of the Detroit show, GM Vice Chairman announced that the Cadillac Converj, a sporty luxury plug-in hybrid coupe, will go into production around 2013.


Ford: Full Spectrum of Hybrid to Electric

The real hit was the news that the Ford Fusion Hybrid won the 2010 Car of the Year award. The company also reiterated its plans for a battery-powered Focus, which in its new gasoline engine guise was Ford’s top-billed new product at the show. Ford’s electrification plans also feature home-state investments, with announcements that the Focus zero-emissions vehicle along with its plug-in models and next-generation plug-free hybrids and key components will be built in Michigan. Noting that he had been an efficiency advocate for many years, Chairman Bill Ford stated how he’s “now pleased to be preaching to the choir.”


Volkswagen: Electric Along with Diesel

Volkswagen's New Compact Coupe (NCC) concept

Volkswagen New Compact Coupe

What really underscores the industry’s unanimity on electrification is Volkswagen’s New Compact Coupe (NCC) concept, which mates a hybrid powertrain to their TSI gasoline engine. The vehicle is a veritable advanced technology showcase, with a hybrid system backed by a lithium battery and its turbocharged, direct-injection engine backed by a 7-speed direct-shift gearbox. The NCC concept promises 45 mpg in combined city-highway driving and an 8.1 second zero-to-sixty time. When the denizens of diesel amp up their electric strategy, you’ve got to know it’s here to stay.


BMW: Small and Electric

BMW Active E

BMW Active E

Any further amplification that might have been needed is provided by the next step in BMW’s electrification plan. Also coming from diesel-loving Deutschland, the Active E will be an all-electric version of the BMW 1 Series and is destined for a limited test market next year. With the lithium battery modules distributed under the front hood, center tunnel and where a gas tank might have been, the design carries ample capacity for its promised 100-mile real-world range without any impact on passenger space. The one compromise is a bulge covering the power electronics that intrudes in the hatchback area behind the rear seats. Although the Active E itself will not go into full production, BMW emphasized that it’s the next milepost along the way to their future purpose-built, all-electric Mega City Vehicle.


Nissan: Full Speed Ahead

Nissan Leaf

Nissan Leaf

The Nissan Leaf, the only car that Nissan brought to Detroit, helped anchor the show’s “Electric Avenue,” a collection of electric-drive hopefuls situated along a back wall of Cobo Hall. The exhibit featured offerings from several EV startups, including several Automotive X-Prize contenders along with some more established efforts such as Mitsubishi’s iMiEV. Tesla, on the other hand, earned itself more prominent show space, next to its chassis development partner Lotus and across from mainstream high-enders Mercedes-Benz and Audi.


Honda: Small Hybrids

Honda CR-Z

Honda CR-Z

Very different electric directions are apparent from the industry’s early green leaders, Toyota and Honda. There’s nothing cautious, of course, about the Honda CR-Z. Harking back to the CR-X pocket rocket, the new two-seater promises a big dose of zip along with hybrid electric drive zap. Slated for launch this summer, the CR-Z uses Honda’s proven hybrid technology, applying its IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) system plus a 1.5-liter iVTEC engine.
Honda CEO Takanobu Ito—who earlier in his career was part of the team that developed the CR-X—was quite clear, however, that the company still doesn’t view plugging in as quite ready for prime time. He said they are researching a short-distance all-electric commuter car, leaving unstated any plans for moving beyond research and into product development.


Toyota: Family of Priuses

Toyota FT-CH

Toyota FT-CH

Toyota’s news was the FT-CH hybrid concept car. A “don’t touch me yet” mock-up lit up the stage, sketchy on details except it will be 22 inches shorter than the Prius. The CH in the name stands for Compact Hybrid, and Toyota is targeting the car for a lower price to appeal to a younger, less-affluent but city-hip demographic. Toyota also announced that it is going forward with a Prius brand family, a marketing strategy that Toyota Motor Sales USA President Jim Lentz said is still taking shape but which will take the Prius beyond a single product and into a set of models bearing the now iconic Prius name.

Yet to hear Toyota’s guarded reiteration of its plans for plug-in hybrids, it seemed obvious that the company was maintaining its circumspection about grid-connected mobility. While other makers’ plug-in plans tout more reaching range numbers, Toyota underwhelms when talking about the Prius Plug-in Hybrid. The car will be “capable of a maximum electric-only driving range of about 13 miles,” said Lentz, and “highway speeds of more than 60 mph in electric-only mode.” Hearing such muted tones of caution makes the electrified sounds from other corners sound like cheerleading.


And so, now steering into the 21st century’s second decade, everyone in the industry agrees that Electric Avenue is indeed the road to follow. Where they don’t agree is on how many charging stations we’ll find—or even need—along the way.


  • Skeptic

    The Volt? Are they still on about that? And what? They built a battery? GOOD for them.

  • Mr.Bear

    Is the FT-CH a “don’t touch me yet” car because it looks almost exactly like a Yaris painted lime green and with heavily tinted windows?

    And who is absent from this article? Chrysler. I guess they still have their fingers in their ears when it comes to hybrids and electric cars.

  • Samie

    A typical rant but a reflection on the future also…

    What gets me going is the different directions and angles all of the manufactures are taking. Sometimes car companies don’t lead and play it safe, but now with the slight shift towards diversifying our energy needs, its a great time to be a consumer.

    Nissan could be the biggest winner but production problems could hinder them from being a top tier car company. They will need to continue to update the Leaf and do I say add a luxury model to the Leaf lineup. 23-24k – Gov. rebate I don’t know how the Leaf could not grab attention away from GM or Toyota. How the Leaf is marketed could also be a key factor in American attitudes towards the first generation of EV’s.

    No more concept cars or silly cars powered on grass clippings like we seen a few years back when many did not take EV’s seriously or they played up unrealistic alternative vehicles. I only wish we had the vision and leadership after 9/11 to bring some of these vehicles out faster. I don’t see EV’s or hybrids being a fad and I’m hopeful that soon we will not associate hybrids or EV’s with “greenie weenies”, as it should be a patriotic move to try to reduce some of the leverage (petro $$$ for those w/ false ideologies) that many with hatred have against us. If only we could get rid of the political theater that surrounds hybrids and more fuel efficient vehicles. Diversifying our energy needs does not seem wasteful and long-term may be a conservative thing to do, if we want to reduce traditional military spending, uplift global women’s rights, and minimize wacko leader’s from oil producing countries. I’m not naive in not thinking that we will continue to see more demand for petro vehicles across the World but the U.S. could actually lead in supporting the type of vehicles shown in this story and be a leader to the rest of the World. Let’s hope we can think long-term w/ EV’s and Hybrids and not the silly 24hr political news cycle mentality that bogs us down in short-term thinking and does nothing for us as a nation to sacrifice anything, say a V8 to a V6 or think of more fuel efficient vehicles as being a part of our national security interest. I hold great hope for things to change, especially with the younger generations of Americans and many car companies that have shown vision and commitment in producing more fuel efficient vehicles.

  • Old Man Crowder

    Small, small, small and small. Except for the Fusion, where are the mid-size vehicles and minivan/crossovers?

    I’d love to have one of these little buggies for my daily commute but I’ve also got 2 kids in car seats. Our current Pontiac Vibe barely contains them and I don’t think these 2-door models are going to help at all.

    Kudos to all these manufacturers for (apparently) committing to the electric drivetrain, though. Baby steps, I guess.

  • John K.

    Still no word on what type of batteries the CR-Z will use. I’m hoping Li ion, since this is supposed to be a sporty car (not necessarily a “sports car”).

    Samie wrote: “I only wish we had the vision and leadership after 9/11 to bring some of these vehicles out faster.”

    Unless you want the gubberment to run the auto industry (Which is more frightening: Dick Chenny choosing the car you’ll drive or Obama choosing what health care you’ll get? LOL!), manufacturers will produce only what will sell and EVERYBODY wanted SUVs, particularly big ones (even if they NEVER go off roading, they want to project the “image” that they are athletic and adventurous — otherwise they’d drive a mini-van).

    I live in the most liberal part (SF Bay Area) of a liberal state (CA), and believe me, until 2008 when gas prices went thru the roof, there were a TON of huge SUVs around here. Liberals are the biggest hypocrites around. (No, those gas guzzling polluters did NOT have NASCAR or NRA stickers on them!) It was only when gas got over $4/gal that people started dumping them for more rational and sensible vehicles like station wagons. (“Oh no! I can’t drive what my grandmother drove in the 1950s.”)

    Old Man Crowder: the current Honda Civic Hybrid, Prius, or Hybrid Fusion are your best bets for now. Chevy Volt will also work if you’ve got the $$$ will be coming out late this year. IIRC, the Plug-in Prius will come out in either 2011 or 2012.

    I sure hope 2010 is “The year of EEStor” . . . .

  • TD

    I’ve got a Civic Hybrid and my family of four fits comfortably even with the car seats in the back.

    Best car I’ve ever had. No trouble at all since I drove it off the lot. The downside is I’m a little bit slower at figuring out how the gas pump works since I don’t visit them that often.

  • John K.

    Over at Car & Driver, I found that the CR-Z has a “100-volt nickel-metal hydride battery.”

    Oh well. Maybe in 2013 they’ll upgrade it to Li ion.

  • Mr.Bear

    Old Man Crowder, you may not have noticed but the Honda Civic Hybrid, Ford Fusion, and both the Toyota Camry & Prius are all four door-midsize and on the market today. I have no problem fitting a booster seat in my Prius and its the smallest of the four. I don’t think putting a booster seat on each side would be that much worse.

    If you want a car that has lots of room for car seats and still gets decent mileage but isn’t a hybrid, look at the Scion xB or xD.

  • Mr.Bear

    I just read Chrysler bought a 60 minute Super Bowl ad. I guess that was bailout money well spent.

  • Bill
  • JAMES1205

    I relly support for this, I hope this future car will go through to the production as soon as possible, coz the price of oil will go higher and higher…..so lets support fot this I hope here in the Philippines this thing will roll on with in this year…..

    let’s go for it….we much show to the oil producing country;s that can find an option out of there oil…

  • Pratik Joshi

    I always felt that Detroit Auto Show is the best among all auto shows. 2010 Detroit Auto Show is as per me the first show ever which advertises electric cars from almost all major car manufacturers. I am sure this show will rock this year also. This show is always a treat for auto lovers. Thanx for such a lovely show.

    All the best for future.

  • James999

    The Detroit auto show is one of the best autoshow I have seen. This show always fullfill my expectations about cars. This time the show goes with Hybrid & electric. Its nice to see all the auto maker focusing on Hybrid & electric vehicle. The Pics above shown of the Hybrid & electric cars of different auto makers are awesome. This show Rocks.
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  • tapra2

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