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As we write, the 2012 New York Auto Show has opened its doors to the public, and from what we gather, this could very well be the last time it’s hosted at the Jacob Javits Center. This famous location has now been earmarked for redevelopment into residences and a new NYC convention center is slated to be built on the site of the old Aqueduct race track in Queens.
From a green vehicle perspective, this year’s show seemed very much about making existing vehicles more efficient rather than developing new concepts in sustainable motoring. There weren’t many EV start-ups present; instead there was plethora of larger, more luxury oriented vehicle introductions; machines that will either spawn hybrid derivatives or boast greater use of technology to increase efficiency (such as multi-speed transmissions and stop/start).
If anything this stance illustrates that while the idea of sustainability is becoming more prevalent, the costs generally associated with producing green vehicles still mean such cars are currently tailored to buyers with greater disposable income, rather than mainstream car shoppers. Perhaps it could be viewed as working on an automotive trickle-down theory – what is now aimed at the well heeled will eventually be made available to all of us.
Following, we’ll take a look at some of the green vehicle highlights of this year’s New York show:
2013 Acura RLX Concept
A descendant of the original Legend, Acura’s flagship, subsequently renamed RL, has essentially withered on the vine, becoming barely visible on the radar of most luxury vehicle shoppers. Acura is hoping to change that with the RLX. Falling in line with the brand’s now customary three-letter nomenclature, the concept sports a 3.5-liter direct injected V6 engine teamed with a Sport Hybrid Super Handling (SHSH) AWD system. In this case, there’s one electric motor mounted up front that supplements the gas engine, plus another two (one mounted at each rear wheel), designed to optimize handling and traction under all driving conditions. If there was one saving grace of the previous RL it was the superbly engineered AWD system that enabled the car to pivot on just one wheel, providing amazingly sharp turn in. As a result, with this new, next generation flagship, Acura aims to build on that agility while providing better power (370 horsepower) and improved fuel efficiency.
However, what we did find interesting was the fact that Acura is being cautions with its new flagship; besides the Hybrid AWD version, it will also offer a conventional, FWD gas version, projected to sell at a lower price. The RLX is slated to be available sometime during 2014.
Infiniti LE Concept
This was big. While we’ve seen the likes of Tesla pursue all-electric executive transportation, until now, none of the major OEMs have really done so. That said, given Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn’s stance on EV technology and the automaker’s push toward all electric vehicles, beginning with the Leaf, it’s seemingly a logical step for Infiniti to be the first “mainstream” luxury brand to do so. As a result the marque’s first pure EV broke cover in New York, even if it was billed as a concept. Naturally, the LE utilizes a similar driveline to the Leaf, featuring a 134-horsepower electric motor that sends power to the front wheels and laminated 24- kw lithium ion battery pack. Yet, it’s rather a pretty thing, showing that a pure EVs need not be weird looking. In fact, it almost represents the next evolution of current Infiniti design language, found in cars like the contemporary G and M. It also boasts some novel features, including a 50-kw DC wireless (inductive) quick charging system. This incorporates a special coil pad that mounts on the garage floor, which you simply drive over. A magnetic field, created via energy flow, allows electricity be charged from the coil in the floor to a secondary coil mounted on the car.
Now while this might still seem a bit Buck Rogers, other automakers have hinted inductive charging is a direction they’ll take as well. But what really caused us to take note was that Infiniti says that a production version of the LE will be ready within two years.
2013 Lexus ES300h
In the past, the Lexus ES sedan was seen largely as a gilded edge Toyota Camry, a not particularly inspiring machine aimed at entry level luxury buyers that offered slightly better appointments but not much more than its more pedestrian counterpart. For 2013 Lexus has delivered a car that’s substantially reworked. Not only does it boast styling that’s no longer the work of a committee, it features a number of improvements designed to deliver a more dynamic driving experience as well as improve fuel efficiency. And while there’s a regular ES 350 (powered by a 3.5-liter V6), most eyes in New York were on the new ES300h Hybrid.
Utilizing a version of Toyota/Lexus Hybrid Synergy Drive system, the E300h sports a 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder gas engine teamed with an electric motor and battery pack, that’s said to deliver 40 miles per gallon in combined city/highway driving. There’s also four different driveline “modes,” ranging from Normal (designed to optimize acceleration and fuel consumption for daily commutes), Sport (to provide that extra bit of acceleration when needed), Eco (which lowers fuel/energy delivery to boost mileage and reduce emissions), plus EV, which enables lower speed driving on pure electric power.
The new ES is planned for an introduction sometime this summer, with prices likely to start in the low $40k range.
2013 Ram 1500
Now, full-size pickups aren’t generally the first thing that comes to mind when we’re talking about green vehicles but, the 2013 Ram sports a number of features that represent firsts in its segment and in most cases are designed to improve fuel efficiency. To begin with, there’s the eight-speed automatic transmission that will be offered with both the 3.6-liter base V6 and Hemi 5.7-liter V8 engines. There’s also a new frame that is both stronger and lighter than found on the 2012 Ram, plus a true first in the segment – active air suspension.
This automatically adjusts the vehicle ride height and suspension settings depending on the surrounding environment. For example, it lowers the truck to provide easier cab and bed access as well as to provide better stability and reduced drag at cruising speed. There are also active grille shutters and a new front spoiler to improve aerodynamics, as well as a thermal heating system that warms up vital fluids faster to reduce friction on the moving parts. Finally, electrically assisted power steering reduces parasitic loss and helps contribute to better fuel economy; said to be improved by 20 percent on V6 trucks and 10 percent on Hemi engine models. With Ford having already turned pickup conventionality on its head by introducing its EcoBoost V6 in the F-150 and now Ram’s new features aimed at greater fuel efficiency, it will be interesting to see what General Motors has in store when it launches its next generation full-size pickups in 2014.
2013 Volkswagen Alltrack Concept
It’s already on sale in Europe, but as far as we’re concerned, the diesel-powered Volkswagen alternative to the Subaru Outback is strictly a concept in North America, at least for now. In fact, the example on display in New York was locked and the windows darkly tinted to deter wandering eyes. Although this particular example featured a 140 horsepower 2.0-liter clean diesel engine (VW offers two diesel motors in Europe) along with VW’s signature 4Motion all-wheel drive system a 1.2-inch increase in ride height and electronic differentials (designed to give it some semblance of off road capability), all we could get from VW officials was that it’s merely a concept, designed to gauge public reaction in New York.
If it does eventually make it here, the Alltrack will no doubt represent a frugal and worth alternative to many crossovers currently in the market, whether conventional gas or hybrid models. And with the gradual proliferation of diesel passenger vehicles stateside, there’s a very good indication it could show up at your friendly neighborhood dealer in the not too distant future.