Green Cars You Didn't Hear About at Detroit Auto Show

After reading the headlines from this year’s North American International Auto Show, you would think the only worthwhile green news—other than the upbeat sense that the auto industry is in rebound—was about electric cars and other plug-in and hybrid models, sprinkled with some new sleek small cars. But, as the man on the TV says, “Wait, There’s more!”

While this site, and our sister site PluginCars.com, focus on electricity as the killer app of cleaner more efficient automotive technology, it’s important to acknowledge the role of all technologies that can help us use less oil, or none at all.

In one of his 17 paragraphs on the show, the Wall Street Journal’s Dan Neil mentions that diesels have made a breakthrough as Volkswagen introduced its new midsize, to-be-built-in-America Passat with a 43-mpg (highway) turbodiesel, and Mercedes showed a V6 diesel for both its flagship S-Class and the redesigned C-Class, which will bring its total diesel offerings to six models. (Mercedes will offer a four-wheel-drive diesel S-Class sedan, the 2012 S350 Bluetec 4Matic, in the U.S. this summer that the automaker says gets 35 miles per gallon on the highway.) Add comments from both Mercedes and Audi that they intend to least double stateside diesel models and you have the making of minor movement on the oil-burning front.

The other new technology news that didn’t seem to make many headlines was on the fuel cell front. Mercedes presented its B-Class F-Cell and announced plans to lease 70 of them in Southern California as the last step before commercialization of the next generation in 2015. Company executive also launched the B-Class F-Cell on a solo tour of the world. While focusing mostly on its new Prius family of hybrids, Toyota also reiterated its plans to sell a fuel cell vehicle in 2015 in Japan, in the U.S. and Germany. That news was joined by an announcement in Japan of a consortium of 13 automakers (including Toyota, Nissan and Honda) and energy companies that were combining forces to build 100 stations to provide the infrastructure needed for the 2015 launch.

Just ahead of the auto show Hyundai joined the “2015″ chorus, announcing its third generation of fuel cell vehicles and looking ahead to “mass production” in 2015.

2012 Honda Civic Concept

The Honda Civic GX, which runs on compressed natural gas, will benefit from the 2012 redesign of the Civic.

The only thing missing was a sighting of a wave of CNG passenger cars heading for our shores—that is, until Honda unveiled its redesigned 2012 Civic and announced that a version running on compressed natural gas, the Honda Civic GX, would expand to nationwide availability. In September, Elmer Hardey, Honda’s senior manager of alternative vehicles, told HybridCars.com, “We’re considering doubling sales [of the Civic GX] in the next two- to three-year horizon.” With the redesign, the Civic GX will be offered for the first time with nicer amenities, such as a navigation system and premium stereo package.


  • eric

    I’ve never been clear on where one fills up a CNG car. Can someone explain?

  • BillyG

    There is a home fill kit that ties in to the existing NG system. The only commercial CNG filling station I have ever seen (I’m sure there are others) is in San Diego near the airport. Like EVs, at this point CNG vehicles are confined to the commuter segment.

  • FamilyGuy

    I love hearing about fuel cells. Electric cars with today’s ICE range. I wonder if 2015 means mainstream by 2025. That’s still in my life time.

  • Anonymous

    Use this to find a CNG filling station near you, or you can buy a home refiller that ties into your gas line:

    http://www.afdc.energy.gov/afdc/locator/stations/

  • Anonymous

    I don’t understand why Honda doesn’t make their CNG car able to switch fuels better NG and normal gas or diesel. OK, so when running on liquid it would not be as clean, but it would be orders-of-magnitude more practical.

    My in-laws had a fuel switching car in Italy several years ago already.

  • Nathan

    I don’t understand why honda doesn’t make their CNG cars able to switch fuels between CNG and gas or diesel. OK, so it would not be as clean if running on liquids but it would be orders-of-magnitude more practical.

    My in-laws had a fuel switching car in Italy several years ago, so I know that it is possible.

  • JJJ

    Nathan, I remember reading about a flex, FLEX fuel car being released in brazil, that would take gas, ethanol or cng.

    One issue with CNG is that most cities have fueling stations for CNG buses…but don’t allow private use of them, what a waste.

  • KMCoates

    @Family Guy–the major companies (Toyota, Honda, Mercedes, GM) that are talking fuel cells, say the 2015 models will be in the thousands, so something like what we’re seeing with plug-ins this coming year. In 10 years they hope they’ll be as plentiful as ICEs.

    @Nathan–there are some great bifuel models around the world, but you won’t see them in the US as long as the incentives and manufacturer credits are only for dedicated fuel vehicles.

  • Eric

    Oh well, no CNG for me. There are no natural gas lines in our neighborhood.

  • Yegor

    VW Passat TDI is actually a very major new car!
    It has a very, very good fuel economy – very close to midsize sedan hybrids!
    It competes with Ford Fusion Hybrid, Toyota Camry Hybrid and the upcoming Toyota Prius V.
    It is going to be a major shake in mid-size car class in the fall of 2011!

  • John K.

    * CGN industry website for promoting CGN vehicles at:
    http://www.cngnow.com/EN-US/Vehicles/Pages/default.aspx

    * I read an article on a business website (CNBC?), that said CGN has been hamstrung by the “chicken and egg” problem until now — Investors/companies won’t build a lot of CGN filling stations (or add CGN pumps to existing gasoline stations), w/o a lot of CGN cars/customers on the road. Car companies won’t build a lot (or any) CGN vehicles until there are a lot of CGN filling stations available nationwide. This year the big CGN producers will start building those stations/pumps to break open the market over the next 2-3 yrs. (Funny, but that’s the same time line given above for Honda to ramp up their nation-wide release of Civic GXs. . . . coincidence or conspiracy?)

    * I believe *CGN hybrids* are the best way to get the greatest number of Americans off of foreign oil RIGHT NOW! They’d be affordable (don’t have huge expensive batteries of plugins), extremely clean running, and most people could fill up their tanks right at home. Unfortunately, I don’t believe anyone manufactures one. :(

    Personally, I’d LOVE a Civic Coupe GX (CGN) hybrid. :)

    * I’m sure it would be very easy for someone to make an iPhone app that would show you every CGN filling station near your route.

  • John K.

    Nathan, while you can have a flexfuel vehicle that runs on gasoline or CGN, you can’t have one that also runs diesel (compression ignition). You may want to read on Wiki how diesel vs spark ignition engines work.

  • SSM

    Not sure if CNG hybrid will be legal or not.
    And,if local gas company will allow you to fill you natural gas tank at your home

  • Leandro

    I’m from Argentina, we started using GNC convertion kits on standard gas cars about 20 years ago (you can switch GNC from gas any time you want). I remember the cost of the kit plus the installation was $2,000 us dollars. Back in the days Soon there was dozen of GNC filling stations, then hundreds, now most of the stations have gas/gnc.

    The people including mysefl made the switch looking for better mpg…

    Now The manufactures like Fiat, Renault, Peugeot has their factory version of gnc / gas cars. But the convertion kits are still a suscces.

    By now near 2,000,000 gnc/gas cars are running on the streets of Argentina. (20% of the total cars on the street)

  • Anonymous

    ” VW Passat TDI is actually a very major new car!
    It has a very, very good fuel economy – very close to midsize sedan hybrids!
    It competes with Ford Fusion Hybrid, Toyota Camry Hybrid and the upcoming Toyota Prius V.
    It is going to be a major shake in mid-size car class in the fall of 2011! “

    I hope VW is not dumbing down the NMS just like what they have done to the U.S. Jetta. What a disappointment!
    Resurrection of a decade old 2.slow engine, less quality material thru’ out the cabin, adoption of rear drum brakes (what age VW think Americans are in? Stone, bronze or iron?), losing rear independent suspension….

  • Anonymous

    ” VW Passat TDI is actually a very major new car!
    It has a very, very good fuel economy – very close to midsize sedan hybrids!
    It competes with Ford Fusion Hybrid, Toyota Camry Hybrid and the upcoming Toyota Prius V.
    It is going to be a major shake in mid-size car class in the fall of 2011! “

    I hope VW is not dumbing down the NMS just like what they have done to the U.S. Jetta. What a disappointment!
    Resurrection of a decade old 2.slow engine, less quality material thru’ out the cabin, adoption of rear drum brakes (what age VW think Americans are in? Stone, bronze or iron?), losing rear independent suspension ….

  • Dom

    Anonymous (above) – from what I’ve read and heard, the new American Passat hasn’t been “dumbed down” nearly has much as the new Jetta. I’m pretty sure it still has four-wheel disc brakes (which can be had on the new Jetta in some trims). Manual parking brake instead of a button, which might be a good thing. It should be a very nice car. The TDI coming back is awesome, plus you can get it with a manual transmission too! 43mpg hwy is pretty sweet for this class vehicle.

  • Priusmaniac

    We didn’t hear about them because they aren’t green.

    Diesel produces cancer-generating particles that are a real plague in Europe.

    CNG cars use gas that is a fossil fuel, so what’s the point?

    Hydrogen in a Fuel cell is either fossil fuel in a suit or an energetic efficiency non-sense since electricity can more efficiently be used directly in a BEV.

  • Nathan

    Hi John,

    Sorry, but my intention was not to say that we needed an engine that could switch between all 3 fuels, but to have engines that could switch between NG and gasoline, or NG and diesel. I think that is possible but I might be wrong.

    In any case, it does seem like CNG hybrid would be a fantastic way to quickly replace oil consumption with NG and be better for the environment also!

  • cliff

    Hi!

    Honda has been selling the CNG Civic for a number of years now, and it has been on the road, filling up at home, and at CNG stations for those same years. It IS and HAS BEEn legal.

    Honda has sold a home refueling CNG station for the CNG Civic for the same number of years mentioned above.

    cliff
    GRB

  • labimmerinsider.com

    It’s a pity the news about the fuel cells didn’t make it to the headlines. Anyway, these news about greener cars are great. You can also find interesting information by visiting my site at http://labimmerinsider.com

  • wxman

    @ Priusmaniac,

    “Diesel produces cancer-generating particles that are a real plague in Europe.”

    Please show me a valid peer-reviewed scientific study – JUST ONE – that shows that DPF is ineffective in eliminating “cancer-generating particles” from diesel engines.

    While you’re at it, please show me a study that shows that gasoline engines, including Atkinson cycle hybrid engines, do not have nanoparticle emissions.

  • Priusmaniac

    The gasoline engines do not produce PM because the fuel either burns or not, in diesel the auto ignition is used which produces uncomplete combustion if the time is to short or if there is a lack of oxygen. PM are an inherent effect of this particular operation.

    PM are divided in categories that incorporate PM 10 larger then 10 µ and PM 2.5 larger then 2.5 µ. Filters tend to retain the PM 10 but not the PM 2.5 and even less so the PM that are smaller then 2.5 µ. Unfortunately, the carcinogenicity of PM tends to increase with smaller size, which is why filters are not a solution. There is then still the possibility of a PM combustion by further oxidation in a special catalyst chamber placed on the diesel exhaust, but these are really expensive. The result is that diesel usually don’t have those catalytic burners, most even don’t have filters, so new diesels still do emit carcinogenic particulate matter. Furthermore, the PM emissions of a diesel are more important when they a cold. This is also the case when the diesel engine is aging. Unfortunately these increases are geometric not linear which makes it even worse on a ten year old diesel.

    A last reason is the upcoming thermal engine revolution in the form of ethanol detonation engines. These new engines are still more efficient then diesels, so diesel are already kind of old technology.

  • greenscene

    Thanks for filling us in on the “other” green cars. You know, it’s ironic that people who profess to be about saving the environment and global warming all seem to be jumping on the electric car bandwagon, when plug-in hybrids and electric cars may actually increase carbon emissions, given that most places in the US use primarily coal to generate electricity, according to articles from Scientific American quoting research from Carnegie Mellon, MIT and other sources. Battling global warming and protecting the environment requires a battle on all fronts–hybrids, clean diesel, natural gas, hydrogen, fuel cells, etc. However, automakers won’t keep pushing this research unless the public wants it. So, Hybrid Cars, please keep covering ALL green technologies so the public can stay informed. Thanks!

  • cleanscene

    Hybrid Cars, I remember awhile back there was someone trying to create a petition to have honda increase sales of the GX natural gas civic. While Honda is planning to double sales, that only amounts to about 1000 more natural gas cars–a drop in the bucket, likely to be washed away by all the interest in electrics. Is there still a lobby/push to have automakers sell more CNG and diesel cars?

  • tapra1

    that the automaker says gets 35 miles per gallon on the highway.) Add comments from both Mercedes and Audi that they intend to least double.Tech Follow

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