Detroit Auto Show: Hybrid & Electric Report Card

There wasn’t a V8 to be heard. Full-size SUVs were banished from sight. And the words “electric car” and “hybrid vehicle” were on every carmaker’s video screen.

Detroit—This year’s Detroit auto show was tossed into a brave new world where every manufacturer has to show a plan for hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or battery electric cars for the new US administration that will begin next week.

We previewed the show a few days ago; now we’ll recap the results. A few automakers actually pulled off a surprise or two, a rare and welcome gift these days when everything’s previewed online. To help you sort through the hype, here’s our list of what’s real and what’s not.

Expect It (in showrooms soon)

2010 Toyota Prius

2010 Toyota Prius

Despite the auto market meltdown, Toyota executive Irv Miller proclaimed the new 2010 Toyota Prius “the most important product announcement of the show.” Other automakers may have disagreed, but Miller’s probably right. The company hopes to sell 180,000 of its third-generation Prius in the first full year—putting it solidly in the Top 10 Best-Selling US vehicles.


Lexus HS 250h />

Lexus HS 250h

The 2010 Lexus HS250h sedan, the first dedicated hybrid for Lexus, shares a basic platform with the new Prius—though its wheelbase is longer and production will be lower. Lexus projects sales of 30,000 in the first year. The HS250h could be viewed as a new Prius with a trunk, lots of luxury accoutrements, and a different balance of fuel economy and features. But Lexus has done well enough in its 20 years that competitors should fear any new model, as unlikely as this one may seem at first glance.


2010 Honda Insight />

2010 Honda Insight

The Honda Insight just showed up in Honda’s display on the second day of the show, without speeches or any media event. The company did issue a press release describing the car and its mechanicals, and it will hit showrooms this spring. It was a minimal launch from a company that believes small is good, economical is better, and clever engineering is best.


Mercedes S400 Hybrid />

Mercedes S400 Hybrid

The Mercedes-Benz S400 BlueHybrid got relatively little attention, despite a unique claim to fame: It’s the first production hybrid car to use a lithium ion battery pack. Its mild-hybrid system provides only stop-start capability, with no electric running. But Benz engineers managed to fit the 0.6-kilowatt-hour lithium battery into the same space as the car’s standard large lead-acid 12-Volt starter battery, with cooling provided via a takeoff from the car’s air-conditioning system. The S400 hybrid is identical to a standard S-Class sedan, however, so unless you customarily read chrome trunk badges, you may never notice it—which may have been the problem at the show.


Doubt It (until you hear more)

Cadillac Converj

Cadillac Converj concept

News of a Cadillac coupe on Volt underpinnings leaked out before the show, but the real thing—the Cadillac Converj concept—won rave reviews for its elegant, aggressive styling. “It’s almost like GM built a Cadillac Gallardo,” said a smitten analyst, referring to Lamborghini’s radical sports car. While GM will obviously use Volt mechanicals—collectively renamed Voltec—in various vehicles, wait for more details of the “Cadi-Volt” before you put down your deposit.


Dodge Curcuit />

Dodge Circuit

The electric Dodge EV sports car, previewed last fall by Chrysler’s ENVI advanced technology group, has now been renamed the Dodge Circuit. Heavily based on the Lotus Europa (just as the Tesla Roadster uses basic structures and components from the Lotus Elise), the Circuit has a 200-kilowatt (268 hp) electric motor and can do 0 to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds. This vehicle has somewhat more chance of production than plug-in versions of existing Chrysler products, which were joined at the show by a plug-in adaptation of the small crossover Jeep Patriot.


Fisker Karma S Sunset />

Fisker Karma S Sunset

The Fisker Karma on display at this year’s show looked almost identical to last year’s, except that this one was actually a running prototype, against last year’s mockups. Widespread industry skepticism about the company was countered by Fisker’s insistence that its first cars remain on schedule to be delivered to paying customers just before the end of the year. The company also announced a convertible coupe with a retractable hardtop, called the Karma S Sunset, which would be the first hybrid convertible if it goes into production. Still, we’d wait until Fiskers are in showrooms before writing a check.


Mercedes BlueZero E-Cell />

Mercedes BlueZero E-Cell concept

Mercedes-Benz also showed its BlueZero E-Cell concept car, one of three versions with various advanced propulsion systems. This one was all-electric, but the shape likely previews the next B-Class Mercedes, which the company is considering selling in the United States—though not as an electric vehicle.


BYD Unveiling in Detroit />

BYD Unveiling F6DM

Chinese battery and auto manufacturer BYD showed an all-electric crossover, the e6, along with its F3DM and F6DM plug-in hybrid sedans. It also announced plans to sell the F6DM in the US within a few years, although it didn’t set a firm schedule—probably wise, since the car hasn’t yet been certified for sale, and faces questions on its quality, crashworthiness, and equipment. But BYD carries an investment from famed financier Warren Buffet to certify its seriousness, and it does have the honor of putting the world’s first plug-in hybrid production vehicle on sale last fall. Stay tuned for more from BYD.


Toyota FT-EV />

Toyota FT-EV

Finally, despite its surreal and glittery paint job, the all-electric Toyota FT-EV concept was pretty much ignored in the furor over the new Prius. Effectively an electric version of the existing Toyota iQ mini-car (with some styling tweaks), the concept shows that Toyota is serious about the small electric urban car. Stay tuned on this one, too.


Smart EV />

Smart EV

Though it looks utterly unchanged from the smallest car sold in the US, the Smart EV is actually a pure electric car. It’s the latest update to the earlier Smart ED model, of which a few hundred prototypes are on the road in Europe. That car used a 26.4-kWh sodium-nickel-chloride battery driving a 30-kW motor, giving acceleration from 0 to 30 mph (yes, 30) of 6.5 seconds, with a 60-mph top speed and a range of 50 to 70 miles. A Smart that slow clearly wouldn’t do well in the US market, so the company’s big news at Detroit was a deal with Tesla Motors for a version of the battery it uses in the Tesla Roadster electric sports car. Initially, the agreement covers just 1,000 battery packs, though Tesla CEO Elon Musk said he hoped it would expand beyond that.


Forget It (never gonna happen)

Chrysler 200C

Chrysler 200C

The beautiful Chrysler 200C concept, one of the show’s surprises, mixes a variety of Chrysler and electric themes. It’s built on a cut-down version of the Chrysler 300C sedan’s rear-wheel-drive chassis, but executives also said vaguely it could be front-wheel-drive. It was called a plug-in hybrid, with the company’s new line of Phoenix V6 engines providing power. Yet not a single analyst we interviewed believed that Chrysler’s ENVI advanced powertrain unit was doing real engineering. A few even suggested that the company’s plug-in vehicles, including the electric Jeep Patriot and Town and Country, are nothing more than a PR stunt. Widespread speculation that owner Cerberus is desperately trying to sell, part out, or shut down the third of the “Detroit Three” produced a consensus that the elegant 200C may never see the light of day—whether powered by gasoline, electricity, or anything else under the sun.


  • mdensch

    I was at the Detroit previews and saw the 200C EV up close and talked to design VP Ralph Gilles. The 200C is a quality effort. This is either a hail Mary pass or the last period at the end of the last sentence in the history of Chrysler.

    My take: Chrysler needs to rush a 4-cyl. FWD version of this car to market within a year and then work on alternative fuel versions later. If that isn’t in the works, they’re toast.

    . . . . or . . . put this in the window and hope a passerby notices and buys the company . . . .

  • Cyber Joe

    Your take: Chrysler needs to rush a 4-cyl. FWD version of this car to market. In other words, sign its death warrant. With advice like that, it’s no wonder the “big three” are on death row. Then maybe they’ll learn survival means bringing the right product to market at the right time!! Not by bringing some lame, half-baked effort (4 cyl FWD sigh!) to market and then attempting to make it right. Like the report says: this car ain’t gonna happen and the company will be sold off.

  • Bryce

    The 200C is unlikely to come to market in this current iteration. Here it is an electric rear wheel drive vehicle. When/if it comes to market is many more times more likely to come as a forward wheel drive Sebring replacement……maybe with an optional electric drivetrain…..but that is a big maybe.

    The Converj looks beautiful and financially it would make sense to give the underpinnings of the Volt to lots of Voltec vehicles. Actually, the platform that the Volt rides on is already slated for the Cruze, the new Astra, the Orlando, (HHR replacement) and any other Voltec that comes along. (It’s called the Delta II platform, by the way) I am not sure if this will come to market, but I sure hope it does.

    The Toyota Ft-EV concept….well…..I hope to the good lord it doesn’t come to market. Besides the fact that I generally don’t like it, I am a little worried that a little deathtrap…..*cough*……I mean 2 seater will send the world the wrong message about EVs and just generally be bad for our little green cause.

    Dodge EV sports car…..never going to happen, atleast not based on the fabulously expensive Europa.

    Chinese EV and plug-ins……eventually, but probbaly not before the next 5-10 years.

    Fisker…..maybe….maybe not, but I sure do hope so. A Tesla Roadster with better styling and no range anxiety at a lower price point sounds good to me.

    As for the 180,000 sold Prii for 2009…..I sincerely doubt it….especially with the Insight and Fusion nipping at its heels…..and did anyone notice the current Carpocalypse. : )

  • jvoelcker

    @Bryce: Gotta say I enjoy reading your comments. A few thoughts, however.

    CONVERJ: You write, “the platform that the Volt rides on is already slated for the Cruze, the new Astra, the Orlando, (HHR replacement) and any other Voltec that comes along. (It’s called the Delta II platform, by the way)”

    Your implication is that the Cruze, Astra, Orlando, etc. could ride on Voltec hardware. While technically accurate–Wagoner drove a Cruze-Volt mule into DC for the hearings–I doubt GM will put the radically new Voltec bits under an existing Delta II gasoline car. The company has seen that the most successful full hybrids–e.g. the Prius–are those with unique styling. Given that the Volt is a further advance from Toyota-style power-split hybrids (it plugs in, it runs all-EV), I believe any vehicles built on Voltec will look quite different from anything GM produces with a gas engine, shared platform or not.

    DODGE CIRCUIT (nee EV): If Chrysler is still around in 2010, it may happen in small numbers as a halo vehicle. It’s irrelevant to the company’s future, but at least gives them SOMETHING to point to, since a Ram Two-Mode Hybrid at the same time is hardly a glamor hybrid or a crowd pleaser.

  • Ross Nicholson

    All stupid, heavy, unaerodynamic junk.

  • jvoelcker

    @Ross Nicholson: Actually, Toyota claims a Cd of 0.25 for the new Prius and 0.27 for the Lexus HS250h. Hardly “unaerodynamic,” eh?

  • Bryce

    Of course, the Cruze and the Astra will most certainly not be Voltec vehicles, however, it has been rumored that the Orlando might, and a big might, come with a Voltec option. I in no way assert that the Cruze or Astra will be Voltec. I was rather trying to point out that the the General will be saving lots of money in adopting a single platform for an array of vehicles while simultaneously adopting the same vehicles across the globe. The Cruze has already been introduced in China, Korea, and Russia. It will come to the European and Middle Eastern markets shortly and then the North American market next year. That makes it pretty widespread and will certainly give it the economies of scale to make it profitable here in north america, especially considering the new labor deals.
    Anyways, sorry to a bit misleading, I was just in a rush in trying to comment on all those vehicles.

  • ckg

    Don’t forget the 2010 Ford Fusion / Mercury Milan pair. http://www.hybridcars.com/vehicle/ford-fusion-hybrid.html

  • matthew Newman

    Why would you not have the 2010 Ford Fusion / Mercury Milan in the list? The cars will be available this spring and from the Ford web site they look great..

  • Bill Cosworth

    Its because this site gets kick backs from toyota.

    Toyota ownes this site so they dont promote a vehicle that is better than a Toyota.

    The new ford gets much better millage than the camery so the site does not list it.

    Thats why this site is fraud.

  • Boom Boom

    Though I don’t agree with the obviously false claim that this site is sponsored by Toyota, I do think that is it a bit of an omission not to inlcude the Fusion Hybrid (even though it was technically unveiled at the LA autoshow….) Early reviews by independent sources have been very good.

  • jvoelcker

    Folks … chill out a bit! We’ve covered the Fusion Hybrid before, but THIS article was about what was new at DETROIT … the Fusion was introduced last November at the LA Show. Here are a few links to various coverage of the Fusion Hybrid on the site:

    http://www.hybridcars.com/vehicle/ford-fusion-hybrid.html

    http://www.hybridcars.com/news/ford-fusion-hybrid-mercury-milan-25209.html

    http://www.hybridcars.com/forums/2010-fusion-hybrid.html

  • Samie

    Don’t see the Toyota bias and I must say the folks at Hybridcars do a good job bring unbiased reporting despite heavy advertising from the industry and I’m sure constant pressure to report fluff from their advertisers. The only thing I’m unclear about is the cost of the Hybrid Focus but this may come out later this year.

    A random thought about the Insight is we may see a weak economy for sometime keeping hedger’s from driving costs of commodities up for sometime so while the Insight may not be the champ in MPG’s torque or horsepower it may be surprisingly competitive with the Prius if consumers choice hybrids based on the price tag due to their own economic uncertainties. Dealer markup may or may not play a factor in this.

  • Bryce

    I agree, hybridcars.com does a fine job. No one is getting kickbacks, don’t you worry…….or atleast I hope not…..duh du dunh!!!

  • sean t

    Yeah, with the current financial crisis, Insight may beat Prius.

  • Boom Boom

    I think the writers make a valid point that the since the Ford Fusion Hybrid was unveiled at the LA Show and covered extensively there, that it didn’t need to be included in the list of Detroit Auto Show items. Even Ford’s own website lists it as a LA Auto Show topic.

    Given the level of advertisement from GM and Ford on this site, I think the acqusation of a Toyota bias is baseless. Look at the top of this page, who’s ad do you see? Would that automaker pay money to support a Toyota shill? I think not.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    I’ve got to jump in here in support of Hybridcars.com. Since Toyota has done the most in Hybrids, we’d expect to see a lot more about them on a site dedicated to hybrids.
    The site, however, does a great job in covering all hybrid-related technologies as well, even if some of us aren’t particularly interested or fond of some of them.
    Kudos to Hybridcars.com, probably the least biased news source I know of on alternatively powered vehicles.

  • Peter Oppewall

    The 2009 Detroit Auto show demonstrates car makers are making more of an effort to develop hybrids and introduce battery electric vehicles, but they still cost more to produce and sell. Meanwhile consumers are slacking off on buying hybrids due to temporary cheap gas. We need to move quickly to establish long term energy price (oil and electricity) stability through carbon pricing (cap and trade and carbon taxes) to drive the market for these cars or companies will go bankrupt producing them.

  • AP

    I agree with Peter Oppewall, except that I think the “Cap and Trade” system is a less honest way to tackle the problem. It amounts to a hidden tax that consumers end up paying for, so carbon taxes work better and are more predictable in their effect. Europe has had big problems in the “Trade” part, to the point that companies that reduced pollutants got no reward for it. Besides, this is the US, and taxes need to be transparent: otherwise nobody trusts them (and rightly so).

  • QuentinOcean

    I guess it’s a logical choice of the big auto companies to specialize to the hybrid cars. I admire Toyota’s boldness a lot, because with all the meltdown they had the courage to release a new Toyota Prius. I have a friend, who offers the Class B Motorhome for sale. He told me that this new model already benefits from a huge popularity among the drivers.

  • robertsteve

    “Electric Car” and “Hybrid vehicle” are really the good terms to use inorder to explain about the changing automobile industry. Yes, it’s not the old vehicles only, the new ones will be on roads, are environmental friendly, causes less pollution levels and need to be affordable.

    Government driven initiatives can make the general public follow these rules of having a hybrid or electric car, which further lowers the pollution levels by half by 2030. Also, driving defensively while using these cars is important. Drivers Safety Course Texas

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