Green Cars To Watch For at 2011 Detroit Auto Show

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.

Downsizing Continues

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

Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG E-Cell

Step aside, Tesla Roadster. Ultra-expensive and rip-roaring fast electric supercars, like the $180,000 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG E-Cell, are on the way.

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.

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  • Pierre

    I’m interested to know what’s the EPA rating for the ‘larger’ Prius wagon/MPV: 45 or closer to 40 MPG combined.

  • Pierre

    “… the Prius-V, a larger version similar in size to the crossover Toyota Venza; …”

    I thought I read it’s similar to a ‘Verso’.
    VERZA, a CUV? OMG.

  • sewa elf

    Very nice car, thanks for the information.

  • FamilyGuy

    That picture of the Prius v does not look like there is a third row of seats back there. Since it looks like the seating will max out at 5, I say that we can get rid of the MPV tag. It might be a wagon, we’ll see. Nonetheless, I’m super bummed that there is no third row. As for the EPA estimates, I’d be pleasantly surprised to see something in the 40’s. The Camry is a sedan and that only gets the mid 30’s. Something bigger getting more MPG? Maybe I’m wrong. Heck, I hope that I’m wrong.

    Why is Ford going to show off the 2012 C-Max? Is it going to sold here in North America? If not, what’s the point? There are so few choices in the micro-van market. Mazda5? Rav4 with a third row? I keep waiting, and waiting and one day my current family car is going to be done and I’m still going to be waiting.

    Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing what’s might come out of the show.

  • Yegor

    “50% more cargo room”
    Yeah, it looks like Venza.
    Currently Venza cargo room is 50% more than Prius.

  • Anonymous

    don’t like the toyota’s trend of creating larger prius vehicle (albeit a different name) at all. this is how the auto industry get into trouble through size creep of existing vehicles.

    while not likely, i do see that a potentially larger vehicle may allow more battery capacity and perhaps use less fuel. will have to wait and see about that.

  • BillyG

    Toyota needs to provide something akin to the Sienna with room for 6+ and luggage. The Highlander Hybrid has the seats, but with the third row in place no room for luggage.

  • Rob D

    I’m dying to see a Mazda 5 size hybrid. We recently rented a Maxda 5 when we were out in Oregon and simply lloved the way it drove, smooth ride, relatively quiet and acceptable acceleration. Assuming the price was fair, I’d by a Mazda 5 sized hybrid as my next car. It is also very diverse in what it can haul. I currently own a 2004 Honda Accord V6 which gets averages aroun 22 mpg of mostly expressway miles. I should have gotten the 4 cylinder which gets a little better mileage.

  • GM

    Buy a Toyota??? Are you nuts! Stick to the Hondas! Toyota does nothing to help the public, just reap huge profits from those of us trying to help mother nature. Toyota continues to produce gas guzzler pick-up and SUVs. Sorry Toyota a Honda Insight in in my garage!

  • H

    Detroit needs to realize killing the large 4 door sedan and making these matchboxes is gonna cost them.
    Not everybody is 5′ tall and 98 lbs. So until they biring back big and roomy Iwill drive my 08 until it falls down.

  • jeffro

    geez here we go again will i ever see a new GEO METRO prolly not because this world is run by idiots and batteries!! i give up i want my 3 cylinder city car a economical viable cost effective ride and no im not talkin about the stupid smart car.

  • mwc32278

    ya know i love driving my truck even though it gets 10 mpg i love it. now i seen over sea’s they have a mini cooper diesel no hybrid getting around 80mpg. hummm why is it we in the U.S. have all these emissions they cant produce the cars to meet U.S. spec’s. but yet everywhere else in the world dont matter? i dont understand that part. should’t we all have the same spec’s? i dont see buying a electric car for twice the cost to save not enough to notice. now a deisel powerd lil car now i mean come on VW can do a deicel getting a ave. of 40mpg and not a hybrid.. and cost less hummmm maybe someone needs to look into deicel powered insted.

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  • venice

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  • Sanfords Automotive

    Why is electric automobiles seems to be the dominate force in the world today, electric vehicles range or mileage is so limited, it seems we should be putting more of and focus on hydrogen and less on electric vehicles

  • tapra1

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