After a few years of subdued displays, this year’s Detroit auto show is an opportunity to demonstrate that the auto industry is fully back on its feet. Expect bigger displays from General Motors, Ford and others. It’s the first time in four years that Porsche will appear at the show. And while the smart money is on the Chevy Volt to win North American Car of the Year, plug-in electric cars are already starting to feel like last year’s news—considering the constant need for the novel and exotic at major car shows.
So, what green car news should we expect to hear in Detroit? Here’s a quick rundown.
Prius Family Is Unveiled
As we’ve been reporting, the Toyota Prius will expand its identity from a single model to an entire family—consisting of the third-generation model already on the road, as well as the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid; the Prius-V, a larger version similar in size to the crossover Toyota Venza; and the Prius-C, a concept compact version. The unveiling of these models signals the beginning of Prius hybrids becoming a sub-brand for Toyota, as it tries to establish hybrid gas-electric technology as a mainstream option for the widest possible market. With gas prices on the rise in 2011, the timing might be just right for this next wave of hybrids.
Small will be big in Detroit. The 2010 Chevrolet Sonic subcompact, replacing the Aveo next year, will join G.M.’s expanding small-car lineup. The Sonic, which will have hatchback and sedan versions, will join the Chevrolet Cruze and an upcoming minicar. Buick is also expected to a show a compact car, the smallest in its lineup. Ford will unveil the production version of the 2012 Ford C-Max—a smaller alternative to the minivans that have grown bigger in recent years. The micro-van is a popular format in Europe, but has been almost completely missing in the United States. It’s also rumored that Ford will show a C-Max version with an electric drive—but the company will debut its battery-electric Focus in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show, rather than Detroit.
High-Priced Exotic Electrics
Major auto shows aren’t complete without fantasy machines—especially from automakers that don’t have the real goods to show. So, expect Porsche and Mercedes to display crazy fun electric cars.
Porsche executives are promising something “spectacular” in Detroit—which might mean the U.S. debut of the Porsche 918 Spyder. The powerful plug-in hybrid first turned heads at March’s Geneva Auto Show. It’s a supercar with a top speed of nearly 199 mph, can accelerate from 0 to 62 in just 3.2 seconds, and fuel economy in the neighborhood of 70 MPGe. The Spyder’s two drivetrains provide a total of 718 hp, coming from a pair of 160 kW electric motors and a 3.4-liter V8 engine. One motor will be mounted to each axis, with the V8 powering just the rear wheels. The electric drivetrain will provide about 16 miles of pure electric range. Last July, Porsche said it approved production of the vehicle, which comes with a $650,000 price tag.
Then, there’s the nearly as audacious $180,000 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG E-Cell. It’s an electric version of the SLS AMG Gullwing that went on sale last year. Slow in comparison to the Porsche 918 Spyder, the E-Cell only has 526 horsepower and 649 pound-feet of torque and a 0-60 mph time of 4 seconds. It uses four motors—a pair at each axle to drive all four wheels at the same time. It’s reported to go on sale in 2013.
China Rising, Again
BYD, the fast-growing Chinese automaker backed by investment guru Warren Buffet, hopes the fourth time is a charm. The company will return to Detroit, debuting two new models and reprising its “coming to America” theme that has played for the last several years.
The threat of a Chinese takeover of the U.S. auto market—especially electric and plug-in hybrid cars—has been discussed for years. But BYD repeatedly makes and then breaks its big promises of high-volume models with huge batteries and hundred of miles of range. At this year’s show, BYD will show off a U.S.-spec crossover, the 2012 e6 Premier, which boasts a range of more than 150 miles from its iron-phosphate lithium batteries. In addition, it will introduce a plug-in hybrid SUV, the S6DM (DM stands for dual-mode, or plug-in hybrid), which will offer up to 38 miles in EV-mode until a 2.0-liter gas engine kicks in. Also expect a smaller plug-in hybrid and an all-electric bus. The company will show solar panels, battery storage systems and other aspects of its total energy solution.