Thursday, January 10, 2008

Green machines: Auto show is all about fuel economy

International auto show in Detroit opening next week
Thursday, January 10, 2008

One word sums up the soon-to-open North American International Auto Show in Detroit: green.

Not that cars and trucks are going to sport an emerald hue, but instead environmentally friendly products are at the forefront. As part of a growing movement in the industry to reduce pollution and save gasoline, cars and trucks that run on electricity, hydrogen fuel cells and other sources of energy will be the biggest news at the show, which opens to the public on Jan. 19 and closes Jan. 27.

This follows what has happened at other auto shows of late. The recent Tokyo Motor Show, for instance, featured mostly small, economical subcompacts and alternative-energy vehicles, many of which likely would be considered too small for American consumers.

It remains to be seen how many of the "green" cars at the Detroit show actually will be practical models that could be introduced to U.S. consumers. Some of the "green" vehicles will be production models, but the majority will be concepts that will reveal the direction of the auto industry as it strives to save both fuel and the environment.

Chrysler LLC, for instance, will unveil three new "green" concept products, one each for its Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep brands. The Jeep Renegade, a small two seater, runs on electricity stored in a lithium ion battery and supplemented by a small diesel engine.

There also is the Chrysler ecoVoyager, a "people mover" vehicle powered by electricity from batteries along with a fuel cell. And Dodge, ever the performance brand, unveils a sporty, sleek wagon concept, the Dodge Zeo, that runs solely on electricity from a lithium ion battery.

Mitsubishi's EvoX concept coupe, expected to preview the next-generation styling of its popular Eclipse sport coupe model, has an aluminum space frame structure and an environmentally friendly turbo diesel power plant.

BMW is keeping mum about some new diesel models that it will unleash at the show. Quantum Technologies and Fistker Coachbuild LLC, known for its BMW 6 Series-based one-of-a-kind luxury models, will unveil what the firm bills as the first in a line of environmentally friendly premium cars. Looking like a cross between a Mazda RX-8 and any of several Jaguar cars, the four-door coupe has "cutting-edge" plug-in hybrid technology, and will go on sale in 2009 with prices under $100,000. About 15,000 will be produced.

But green also is the color of traffic lights when you hit that gas pedal. And despite the noble aims of reducing emissions and our dependence on oil, high-performance cars also will make headlines at this year's show.

In fact, two of the most anticipated products will be the all-new Chevy Corvette ZR1 which puts out an astounding 620 horsepower from its supercharged 6.2-liter V-8, and the 2009 Nissan GT-R, which is a highly revered Japanese supercar that is coming to the United States for the first time.

The Corvette has long been rumored, and even spotted by "spy" photographers in the industry. It can be distinguished easily from other Corvettes by a carbon fiber hood with a raised polycarbonate window that allows onlookers to see the engine, a full-width body color rear spoiler, and dual lower vents.

Top speed is 220 mph, and the car is expected to cost around $100,000 when it is introduced next summer, making it the most expensive Corvette ever.

Powered by a 3.7-liter V-8 that reportedly produces 450 horsepower, the Nissan GT-R has been sold in Japan as the Skyline and is known the world over for its torrid performance and sterling handling. The cost is expected to be around $65,000 to $70,000, and it is expected to be a sellout with extremely low production numbers.

There will be other cars introduced that will buck these two predominant trends at the show. They include Hyundai's production version of the Genesis, the company's first luxury sedan; a new small luxury sport utility from Mercedes Benz; and Kia's long-awaited seven-passenger Borrego sport utility vehicle.

And as for trucks, Ford will reveal the all-new version of what is arguably their most important vehicle, the Ford F-150 pickup, for many years the best-selling vehicle in America.

No comments: