Facts replacing flash at Detroit Auto Show
Although it’s not what it used to be in terms of relevance and impact, the Detroit Auto Show—or North American International Auto Show—is still the most anticipated show of the season in North America and continues to feature more new-car unveilings than any of the others. Maybe it’s because it’s the first one out of the gate in the new year or because it takes place in the Motor City, but whatever the reason, when they open the doors at Cobo Center in January, the joint is jumping. If you only go to one car show in North America, it should probably be this one.
Until now, that has meant an almost overwhelming display of horsepower, glitzy paint, chrome, and blustering auto executives. Want to make a splash in Detroit? Then break out the T & A and dry ice and get someone up there who can fill a room.
But things seem to be changing. The pyrotechnics and special effects are slowly disappearing, and corporate bigwigs factually extolling the virtues of their companies have replaced cars dropping out of the ceiling and SUVs crashing through walls. The best stunt ever at the Detroit show was in 2008, when Chrysler brought in several truckloads of Texas longhorns and herded them down Jefferson Avenue to promote its new line of Dodge Ram pickup trucks. Just as the major networks got their cameras rolling and the corporate execs got ready to deliver their spiel, a particularly randy steer at the front of the herd decided to hump the cow ahead and mounted her, much to the delight of the several thousand onlookers. It’s all on YouTube.
This year, there was no Texas-longhorn BS but rather hybrid and alternative-fuel cars in abundance. As Toyota COO Jim Lentz observed during the introduction of his company’s Prius C, 10 years ago there were just two hybrid cars on display at Detroit. Now virtually every manufacturer has something to offer, and they come in all shapes and sizes.
The Prius C, for example, which is aimed at city drivers, will be introduced for the 2013 model year and delivers a purported overall fuel economy of 4.7 litres per 100 kilometres. It will come with an estimated price tag well below $20,000, the idea being to put hybrid technology within everyone’s reach, according to Lentz.
The same principle applies to the soon-to-be-released Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid, which will apparently consume 20 percent less fuel than its non-hybrid counterpart. VW took the wraps off the Jetta Hybrid at this year’s show, and it’s expected to go on sale in North America at the end of 2012.
Claiming to offer fuel economy of about two litres per 100 kilometres, the Ford Fusion Energi Hybrid is also of the plug-in variety, which means you can recharge the batteries at home. Aimed directly at the Toyota Camry Hybrid, Ford’s newest hybrid will debut worldwide for the 2013 model year.
Also of the plug-in variety is Volvo’s XC60 Hybrid SUV, which, thanks to its turbocharged 2.0-litre engine and some 280 horsepower on tap, should be a bit of a hot rod. Volvo is claiming that the XC60 Hybrid will have a range in excess of 900 kilometres.
Not to be outdone, BMW unveiled its ActiveHybrid 3 and states that the 335-horsepower power train will zip this one from zero to freeway speed in less than six seconds. This kind of defeats the purpose, you could argue, but it does demonstrate that hybrid technology can be used as a performance boost as well as a fuel-economy aid.
Not content with just one new hybrid model, Mercedes introduced two at this year’s show: the E400 and E300. While the latter model features a turbocharged diesel engine mated to an electric motor, the formeris gas-fuelled, with better performance but inferior fuel economy. The E300 will be offered as a station wagon and sedan.
Arguably the biggest crowd-pleaser was VW’s eBugster, although it isn’t a hybrid vehicle. This concept car is 100-percent battery-powered, with a purported range of over 160 kilometres. Based on the garden-variety Beetle but with a lithium-ion battery pack, the eBugster may or may not make it into production, but it does show that an electric car doesn’t have to be boring. The same applies to the all-electric Smart For-US city pickup truck. As cute as a Tonka toy and with room enough for two bicycles in the back, this one is likewise 100-percent battery-powered and strictly a concept car at this point.
Two hybrid performance concept cars were also front and centre this year: the Lexus LF-LC and Acura NSX. Both are spectacularly styled and embody their respective companies’ take on hybrid technology. The LF-LC features Lexus’s patented Hybrid drive, with a front-engine/rear-drive layout, plenty of carbon-fibre construction components, and a pair of LCD touchscreens acting as a “driver-machine interface”.
The NSX, meanwhile, will have a V-6 internal-combustion engine, a pair of electric motors, and a seven-speed transmission. To the delight of the American journalists, Acura also announced that the NSX, when it goes into production (probably within three years), will be built in Ohio.
Originally designed to bridge the gap between electric and internal-combustion technology until the perfect battery came along, hybrid cars are clearly here to stay. Even in Detroit.