Any green car advocate visiting Europe can’t help but feel a pang of envy for the sporty fuel-efficient models found across the pond, but not here. What’s up with that? Well, Europeans drive diesel, drive small, and are coming to terms with vice-grip legislation on carbon emissions—while we maintain our love for all things supersized.
That’s starting to change—very slowly—with models like the Ford Fiesta, FIAT 500 and BMW 1-Series finally making their way over. The schedule of European releases in 2011 reveals a number of cool green models that will indeed become trans-Atlantic—and at least a couple that will stay out of our reach.
The first units of the all-electric Nissan LEAF, just now arriving here, are being delivered in Europe in early 2011, just about the time that the company’s Infiniti M Hybrid hits shores in the U.S. and Europe. But don’t expect the cute as a button Nissan Micra—sold in Europe for a couple of decades and mostly targeted to emerging Asian markets these days—to show up on American’s SUV-dominated roads.
The Chevy Volt is already here, in small numbers, but will barely trickle out to Europe, as the Opel Ampera, in late 2011. The Lexus CT 200h luxury hybrid hatchback went on sale last year in Europe and was definitely not coming to America—until it was. The CT 200h, the first luxury hybrid hatchback, arrives here in the next few months. For years, hybrid and diesel versions of the 380-horsepower Porsche Panamera have been officially and unofficially scheduled, delayed, denied and then rescheduled for both Europe and the United States. Only time will tell.
But the two models producing the most saliva for hybrid fans are the diesel-electric Peugeot 3008 Hybrid4, expected by fall 2011, and the Honda Fit/Jazz hybrid. That’s because the Peugeot’s unique combination of diesel and hybrid, and the Fit’s combo of hybrid and compact, are firsts.
The Peugeot combines a 163-horsepower 2.0-liter diesel engine driving the front wheels, and a 37-horsepower motor operating independently at the rear axle. It drives through a six-speed manual gearbox that can be shifted manually or left in automatic. The electric motor helps with power to the wheels, or can generate energy for the nickel metal hydride battery pack—the stored juice later made available for motive use or for the system’s stop-start no-idle function. The net result is impressive: 200 horsepower, 369 pound-feet of torque, a four-wheel drive mode, and mileage on U.S. test cycles that could approach or exceed 60 miles to the gallon. It’s the first full diesel-hybrid production car in the world—but missing from our fair streets. (No word on price, but the combination of diesel and hybrid batteries is a double-whammy of extra cost.)
The Honda Fit Hybrid went on sale in Japan last fall, and will be offered in Europe early this year. But the company remains indecisive about selling it in the United States. “We haven’t decided on a U.S. launch,” Koichi Kondo, Honda Executive Vice President, said at the Fit’s launch event in Tokyo. “As for the future, it’s open to question. We will carefully be watching the market situation.”
Why should we care? Because the Fit is a great small car—loads of room for such a small package—that could be made even greater with a hybrid drivetrain boosting mileage well into the 40s. Honda announced at the L.A. Auto Show a few months ago that it will produce an all-electric version of the Fit by 2012—but the economics of a battery-heavy compact don’t seem nearly as accessible as a hybrid version that might go for below $20,000. So, at this time, there appears to be little hope that America will have a compact hybrid—even though Toyota also announced last year that it will produce a Yaris hybrid (sigh) for Europe and Japan only.
Even with these shortcomings, the global push for reduced emissions and higher fuel economy is bringing the European and U.S. car markets closer than ever before. After all, what comes out of the tailpipe here or there ends up in the same place—a global atmosphere that’s warming up at an alarming rate.